ESV Classic Reference Bible (ESV1) in Burgundy Goatskin by R. L. Allan & Son

P1060723Join me for a moment of melodrama. There has been a famine in the land for roughly a year now. No, not a famine for bread and water, at least not where I live. This famine is not deadly, though it is still felt acutely by certain people: A famine of Allan ESV Bibles!

Since it has been so long, I feel I must make new introductions. R. L. Allan is a 153-year-old U. K. Bible publisher (formerly based in Glasgow, now London). Nobody has quite matched Allan in certain qualities that make their Bibles stand out:

  • Ultra-limp edge-lined bindings
  • Old-world styled “yapp”–when the cover overlaps and curves around the book
  • Masterfully rounded spines
  • And the deepest, richest red (and sometimes blue) art gilt–which is dye applied under the gold or silver foil on the page edges


Since Allan caters to what I imagine is a pretty specific clientele, and due to the labor-intensive process required for their fully hand-made Bibles, they make their Bibles in limited batches…and when they make a popular one, they run out pretty quickly! So it is with their ESVs. Allan’s ESV history has included, in order: the original Classic Reference (ESV1 and ESV3), Personal Size Rerefence (ESVP1), Reader’s (ESVR1), Single Column Reference (ESVSCR1), Compact (ESVC1), Personal Study Bible (ESVSB1), and New Classic Reader’s (ESVNC1).  From beginning to end, the quality has definitely improved, both in the bindings and the text blocks, culminating in the Jongbloed-printed NC1 (still my favorite).

Now, after a lengthy Allan ESV famine, we have come full-circle back to the beginning…the ESV1! This time, Allan has used the updated 2011 ESV “New Classic Reference” sheets from Crossway. But this text block is a major improvement over the original Classic Reference. So lets turn to an internal examination…



P1060566When a title page looks like this, people often groan. China has a bad reputation when it comes to high quality Bible printing, but I think the ESV1 is another proof that this criticism is either outdated or an unfair generalization…or both. Let me tell you, this Bible showcases The Middle Kingdom’s ability to print really well!


The paper is 36gsm (grams per square meter), which is on the upper-end of the spectrum for Bible paper. As a result, the show through (or ghosting) is very minimal, even without line matching. The print is crisp and clear. In fact, I almost didn’t believe my eyes at just how good this text block is!


My other Allan ESV is the New Classic Reader’s edition, printed at the inimitable Royal Jongbloed in the Netherlands. With its 32gsm paper and wonderful printing, many fellow Bible aficionados join me in hailing it as the best ESV. Look at the two side-by-side in the gallery below…the Chinese-printed ESV1 has a tad less ghosting than the Dutch-printed ESVNC1 (!!!), and the quality of printing is really a toss up (though I give a slight nod to the NC1 here). The only other difference between the two text blocks is that the ESVNC1 has a creamier shade, larger print, and wider margins. Even the page numbers are identical. Click to enlarge and cycle through:

This is a red-letter edition, which is often a chink in the armor of otherwise well-executed text blocks. But in this case, the red letters are dark and consistent–its almost enough to make me like having the words of Christ in red. Just kidding.

P1060588I was surprised when I turned to the back of the Bible. Of course it includes maps (glossy in this case, as opposed to the matte maps on my ESVNC1), but it also includes illustrations–a great idea in my opinion! And of course, the ESV1 has the typical and very useful 32 pages of lined note paper in the back, which I like to use for end-notes.

The font is about 9 point, which is not quite “large print” but extremely readable nonetheless. The readability achieved by this crisp 9 font printed on good paper, combined with the relatively portable size, makes for a admirable balance…which leads us to consider the externals.


At about 8.75″ x 5.5″ x 1.5″, the ESV1 is quite versatile–it would be a great preaching Bible, but not at the expense of being a great reading Bible.

This particular Allan is different than any I have reviewed in that it was bound at a new bindery: Ludlow. Those who pay close attention will know that most Allans are put together at the famous and unnamed “London bindery”, which I’ve learned is B. J. Chant & Sons Ltd. But in order to meet their high demand, Allan has begun developing another bindery in “Allan style” Bible binding. This new ESV1 is the first taste of the new Allan-Ludlow partnership, and I am blown away by the quality of the results.


This particular natural grain goatskin was sourced from New Zealand as opposed to the typical Allan “Highland Goatskin” sourced from Nigeria.

God bless you, New Zealand goats, for your sacrifice! (Sorry PETA)
God bless you, New Zealand goats, for your sacrifice! (Sorry PETA)

It is a very soft, smooth goatskin, and my copy has a nice pebble grain. This goatskin cover paired with its ultra-supple leather liner equals pure, pliable, buttery bliss. Personal background: Because I have handled the Allan NASBR1, which was bound at yet another bindery (Jongbloed in the Netherlands), I expected the ESV1 to have the same stiffer cover. So imagine my surprise when I opened it and the cover was just as buttery and flexible as their Highland Goatskin, if not more so! This effect does not seem to be easy for binderies to achieve, and so this is a very promising start for Ludlow (to say the least). To say it more strongly, Ludlow has produced a binding that is tactilely and aesthetically better than any I’ve seen, save for Allan’s London-bound Highland Goatskin bindings.

P1060673 P1060674The burgundy is a beautifully rich shade. When combined with a navy blue linings, end pages, and luxuriously thick navy blue Berisfords ribbons, this Bible has a unique and surprisingly appealing effect. I could also imagine it with burgundy linings and ribbons, but I think I actually prefer this blue-red contrast. The deep red-under-gold art gilt is just the same as always for R. L. Allan–spectacular:


This Ludlow-bound ESV deviates from previous Allan ESVs in four particular ways: First, the spine reads “concordance” rather than listing the translation. Second, the cover is imprinted with “Holy Bible” whereas other Allan ESVs have had a bare cover. These two effects call to mind the KJV Longprimer, Allan’s flagship Bible…a recollection some people will love. Third, the spine, while  somewhat rounded, is more square than the typical London-bound Allan. Fourth, the yapp on this one is less pronounced than usual for Allans. Some people will prefer these “deviations” and some won’t– they are stylistic features and do not speak to lower or higher quality.

For a comparison with the London-stye Allan binding of the ESV New Classic Reader, see my gallery in the “Internals” section above. For comparison with a few other premium Bibles available in the English Standard version, see this gallery:


P1060676If R. L. Allan had to utilize another bindery, I’m glad it was Ludlow. The Allan-Ludlow ESV1 has an incredibly luxurious binding–rivaling any I’ve seen by any publisher. Combine that with an entirely worthy text block and the results will please just about any purchaser. I recommend grabbing one before they’re gone.

If you wait a bit longer, you may like the ESV New Classic Reader’s edition even more– it has bigger margins and bigger font, but is a bigger book as a result. It remains my favorite, but I am certain many will prefer the ESV1 for its handier proportions. [Note: The new printing of the ESVNC1 will have a coated 36gsm paper–I am eager to see it! But please note that it will be a thicker book than the ESVNC1 featured in this review due to its thicker paper]

ESVNC1 atop ESV1
ESVNC1 atop ESV1

One final word: At $140, this is the most affordable goatskin ESV on the market–a full $60 less than the Allan ESVNC1 and $80 less than the Schuyler Quentel! The price is lower, but the quality is not…other publishers, take note!

You can buy from or directly from R. L. Allan–both options are great.

P1060671 P1060707And 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.

12 thoughts on “ESV Classic Reference Bible (ESV1) in Burgundy Goatskin by R. L. Allan & Son

  1. Love your reviews. Seems like you love the Allans, just like me 🙂 I put the blue ESV1 next to the Marine Blue NCR and the similarity is pretty striking!

    I hope you do a review of the new NCR as well. I got the black one on the way, will post pics in the Bible Colector group. -chris

  2. Balanced and down-to-earth review. I was lucky enough to have bought one of the last few copies of NC1 in March last year. I’ve been blessed to own it and, more importantly, it’s my ‘daily driver’ for reading and studying.

  3. I’m looking for a new ESV Classic Reference. I’m told the Allen version uses the same text block as my original that I’d purchased from Crossway. Crossway told me the original was 36gsm. Is there a difference in the Allen text block as far as ghosting? I’m also told the line matching on the Allen is the same as the Crossway original. Do you see that?

    1. Hi Larry! I believe you have the correct information– from what I understand, the R. L. Allan ESV1 text block is identical to Crossway’s New Classic Reference ESV in every way.

  4. Great review, I have a Heirloom Thinline bible with Crossway and I am seriously considering the ESV1. I love my Heirloom for the portability of it. Do I get more in terms of readability and experience, without losing the portability of my Heirloom? Do you use this for carry and reading purposes?

    1. Hello Ji. Its hard to say for sure because I don’t have the Heirloom Thinline to compare. However, I have seen inside one and I can say this: With the ESV1, you get more opacity, larger font, and a more flexible binding. You’ll lose some portability, as the ESV1 is nearly .5″ thicker than the Heirloom Thinline…but I think the footprint is similar. So… “Do you gain readability with the ESV1?” Most definitely, not to mention the paper won’t curl like it maybe does on your Heirloom. “Do you lose portability?” Sure, a bit…but the ESV1 is still quite portable in my view.

  5. I ordered one in Black. I had a Schuyler Quentel ESV a while back, but it was simply too big. I’ve also had Clarion’s in each binding, but the page curl annoyed me, and I found that for a regular, every-day Bible I think I actually prefer a double-column format (I love my ESV reader when I want a paragraph format for long reading sessions though). I’m thankful for your review, because it helped me understand a little better what to expect. I’ve only seen/held one Allan bible and I hope this one lives up to that even though it was bound in Ludlow. Thanks for your review! You can’t beat the price if it is as great as a London bound Allan.

  6. Great review Jeffery!
    Thank you for taking the time to show the comparisons and detail the differences. This is a great time in the bible market to purchase a very accurate translation enclosed in a high quality binding. Now if only Allen would produce the SCR ESV that I missed purchasing when it was available. I would love to have a copy of the Allen rebind of the Crossway compact ESV Study Bible Allen did as well!

  7. Hi Jeff,

    Just like one of the guys who made a comment here, this very blog had got me started with R.L. Allan. I just wanna say thank you. I never even knew these really fine Bibles ever existed! Since 1994, I think, I’ve gone digital. Never thought I’d be going back to the written Scriptures. Well, now I just want an NIV navy blue you reviewed in one of your posts. And I’ve completely fallen in love with the R.L. Allan Bibles.

    R.L. Allan must be happy with your blog posts, working as “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

  8. I appreciate your review.
    It does raise one question in my mind however. I note that in several of your photos the spine is folded in instead of rounded out. Is this normal for your copy or was it merely the way you were flexing it?

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