I thought it fitting to build on two previous posts: The Top Five Premium ESV Bibles and Top Three Premium NASB Bibles, by now describing my top three goatskin KJV Bibles. I don’t use the King James Version all that often. I was not reared on it, nor do I agree with those who believe its textual basis superior. My earliest memory of the KJV was the church-based, Bible-memorization program for kids: AWANA. All the verses in my AWANA books were originally KJV, but I came into the program just as they were beginning to allow use of the NIV instead. Yippee!
But all of that notwithstanding, I pay attention when scholars I respect suggest giving serious respect and attention to the KJV (Daniel Wallace and Leland Ryken here and here). I owe a lot to the KJV’s legacy, as do all English Bible readers. And if you, like I, use the ESV primarily–well, you’re dealing with the direct offspring of King Jimmy. So I think, if nothing else, the KJV deserves homage for its legacy! Moreover, 400 years later it still rings with a beauty and cadence that few modern versions can achieve; so literarily, it deserves admiration.
If you, like I, want to use this homage and admiration as a pretense to own (at least) one premium KJV, then hopefully this top three (plus one) list will help in your decision.
3. Westminster Reference Bible (Schuyler) … reviewed here
If you’re a modern reader who wasn’t weaned and reared on the KJV, I think this is an edition to strongly consider. This size is quite suitable to carrying or preaching as well as sitting and reading. Its helps are quite helpful: 200,000+ cross-references, marginal lexicon of archaic words, chapter summaries, etc.
Vitals: 8.5″ x 6″ x 1.3″; 8 point font; 32gsm paper; two column verse by verse layout; references on side margins; edge-lined goatskin binding; available in black, brown, purple, green, blue and red.
2. Brevier Blackface Reference Bible (R. L. Allan & Son)
R. L. Allan doubtlessly has produced the most luxurious range of KJV Bibles, their “flagship Bible”, their “bread and butter”, being the 53 KJV Longprimer. But I’m going out on a subjective limb and calling the Blackface in Highland Goatskin (#20) my current favorite. It is a highly portable book (the smallest to make rank), while remaining readable. The bold font is very nice, and the ghosting is surprisingly minimal. Allan’s Highland Goatskin KJVs have the most liquid bindings and richest art gilt… and with their full yapp, they look very old-world. These factors (as well as some other intangibles) are why they’re the favorites of many.
Vitals: 5.25″ x 7.5″ x 1″; 8 point font; India paper; two column verse by verse; center column references; edge-lined goatskin binding; available in black or brown.
1. Clarion Reference Bible (Cambridge) …reviewed here
The 8.75 Lexicon no. 1 font, single-column setting, optimal character per line count, and generous leading make this possibly the most readable KJV I’ve seen– a fine choice, thin paper notwithstanding. Though the Clarion’s Indopaque paper is high quality, the opacity on #3 and #2 is without a doubt better, as is the clarity of the font as a result. So why do I chose the Clarion over those? Because of the layout. I’m not a single-column only guy, but here’s my logic: The KJV has enough factors that inhibit smooth reading in the language alone. So to have a format that further inhibits smoothness, i.e. verse by verse, creates one more obstacle to understanding. And lets face it: The vast majority of KJV Bibles seem to be double column and verse by verse. So I love the new world design (single column paragraph) combined with the old world language achieved in the Clarion, all in a portable package.
And as an aside on the thin paper: Without this thin (yet still high quality) paper, we couldn’t enjoy the unique and handy proportions of the Clarion–it would have to be a larger book to sustain thicker paper. And so I, for one, am happy with this compromise.
Vitals: 7.5″ x 5.5″ x 1.75″; 8.75 point font; 28gsm paper; single column paragraph; side column references; available in black (edge-lined goatskin or paste-off calf split) or paste-off brown calfskin.
Photo Comparisons Gallery
Honorable Mention(s): R. L. Allan’s other Highland Goatskin KJVs (notably, in order of size: the 63 Longprimer Sovereign, 53 Longrpimer, Brevier Clarendon, and Ruby).
A Side Note on the R. L. Allan Range
Some may label me a heretic for not including the Longprimer in my top three. Let me make two defenses: (1) My opinion could change tomorrow. (2) I only wanted one Allan on the list, and I am in love with the smallness/readability balance achieved in Allan’s mid-size range at the moment. If you want a larger font, I would say that the 53 Longprimer is #1 (featured here). If you hate self-pronouncing text but want a similar Bible, the Clarendon is your choice (which has paragraph introductions, an ever-so-slightly thicker form than the Blackface, and in my copies a slightly less-crisp font). And if you want something cute and tiny in trim size (yet slightly thicker than the Blackface and Clarendon), get the Ruby. Finally, if you want a beast with super opaque paper and wider margins, get the 63 Longprimer Sovereign (reviewed here).
Photos of the Allan Range:
Now what are your thoughts?
And lest we get lost in leather-bound English-Bible luxury, please remember to pray for translations in the remaining 1,859 Bible-less languages in our world. Click here to see my heart on the matter and to even support the work of Bible translation.