Bible Review: R.L. Allan NASB R1 Reader’s in Black Highland Goatskin

It has been a long time since I’ve done a Bible review. Thanks to R.L. Allan, who sent me this NASB R1 Reader’s Bible just over a year and a half ago to review. Your patience is much appreciated! If you know my penchant for single column, paragraphed Bibles, you can probably guess that the formatting of the text isn’t really my thing, and it’s not. I’m still looking for an elegantly bound and formatted NASB. (Allan, if you could produce one of those–maybe with the Zondervan NASB Thinline block–as well as bind the new ESV Personal Reference Bible, I would be two steps closer to my ideal Bible.) As usual, the R.L. Allan binding is absolutely exceptional.

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(Note that, to keep their costs down, R.L. Allan sent me a “seconds” Bible: on this copy, the book block isn’t exactly aligned with the gilt line on the cover. A new one from them should, of course, be properly aligned.)

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Packaging

I’m surprised I didn’t write about the box in my R.L. Allan ESV1 review. It’s a fantastic box–a sturdy, textured, navy blue protector and container of its contents. On one side of the box, there is a label that tells you exactly what is inside: “Allan’s New American Standard Version Bible / NASB Reader’s Edition / Black Highland Goatskin / NASB R1.” I actually really like this box. It serves well in both aesthetics and functionality. I have used this box to store my NASB R1 for one and a half years and I love that it not only looks great on my self, but protects the Bible inside from being unnecessarily worn.

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I have friends who ask me how I keep my ESV Personal Reference Bible looking so tidy, and I tell them that it’s because I keep it in its box whenever I put it in my backpack–no need to wear it down prematurely through rough treatment when it could be protected. I completely agree that a Bible is meant to be used, even an Allan NASB R1 or a Crossway Omega. I just don’t think that means that it has to be the one to go with you to your prison ministry, or street preaching, or cold-contact evangelism. Nor do I think it has to knock around in your backpack with other notebooks and folders. The box will help keep it in good condition, covers unbent and pages uncreased. And this box has the added benefit of being handsome!

I think non-seconds Bibles come with a tissue paper wrapping for those who are paranoid about the ridiculously small probability of their covers being affected inside the box in the mail. (Not sure what the tissue paper will do for them, but to each his own.)

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Binding

Opening the box gives way to the Bible–grained, smooth, supple, and… fragrant. It’s the smell of leather. There’s a sensorial experience that R.L. Allan delivers, in addition to the physical Bible itself. The slight texture of the box and the matte navy color, the heft to it as you open it up revealing the black grained leather inside and the smell of a fine, genuine leather craftwork. The cover is the real reason to buy an Allan Bible. It’s leather inside and out and constructed for maximum longevity.

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The inner front cover is stamped with “Highland Goatskin” in gold. (The inner back cover is stamped with “Allan Binding” in similar fashion.) It looks like Times New Roman, point 8 or so. I kind of wish a sans serif font had been used, or something less obvious and mundane than Times New Roman, like a Garamond or Lexicon. Maybe even the same font used on the spine. It just seems a little out of place.

Anyway, the covers are made from highland goatskin, and are extremely supple and flexible. This is due in part to the use of a leather lining. On economy Bibles, the material that lines the inside of the covers is usually synthetic, like viunyl or paper, and the rigidity of that material (and perhaps the glue required to secure it?) make the cover less flexible, even if the cover is made of leather. Here, Allan pairs a black goatskin cover with a black leather liner to provide maximum flexibility. This should help the Bible lay flat in Genesis and Revelation after it has been broken in.

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There is one reason why the Bible might not lay as flat as you want it to, even after it’s been broken in, and this is due to the hinge. (You can see this in the picture above–it’s the 1 cm tab to the right of the fold.) More properly, this is called “edge-lined binding,” and it results in a stronger connection between the book block and the binding. When you don’t have it, the book can fail (that is, tear) where the block meets the cover. As I was reading the Bible Design Blog earlier this week, I learned that this happened on the Crossway Omega of my friend Tranwei, who is also a fan of well-crafted Bibles. In the link prior, you can find a good method for helping break in an edge-lined Bible. It’s something to be thankful for, because it makes the Bible stronger. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Allan constructs Bibles for maximum longevity.

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(Ever since one of my friends teased me about my corner shots, I have to include one. Look at how subtle and uniform that is!) Here’s the thing. I said earlier that your art-gilt, goatskin-covered, leather-lined Bible doesn’t have to be the one you take with you for street preaching. But thanks to Allan’s work on the cover, it could be. If you’re going to make one Bible your main Bible, it might as well be the NASB Reader’s (or ESV Reader’s, or your translational cup of tea). It’s been bound to withstand years of regular use. The cover is all-natural, so it will hold up a lot better than a synthetic cover (think about how durable skin is). The book block is Smyth-sewn, so it will hold together better. This is not a $150-200 dollar investment for two or three years, it’s an investment for two or three decades. That’s where the beauty of an R.L. Allan Bible lies.

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Here’s a picture of the gilding. It’s the traditional red and gold, although the red turns into more of a pink when the Bible is open. The way art-gilding works, the edges of the pages look gold when the Bible is closed and red when open and you’re looking at the Bible straight on. It’s a lovely effect and adds a delightful but subtle aesthetic to the Bible. I have to say that I prefer the deeper red “overdye” on my seconds ESV1, but this one shows a very classy level of restraint. (Art-gilt pages are supposed to look like the one on this NASB R1. The “overdye” on my ESV1 is an accident, making it a seconds.)

Text

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The book block is printed and bound Jongbloed, and the cover by R.L. Allan. Both have done a great job. The book block is Smyth-sewn, and the printing is crisp and even. The pages are an off-white, cream color, which goes along with the subtle elegance of the rest of the Bible. My quibble is not with the quality of the print, it’s with the formatting of the text.

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I understand that some people really like double-column Bibles with center references. Some people–for reasons I do not understand–even prefer a verse-by-verse layout. (I’ve heard it’s easier to preach from. Having preached out of a single-column, paragraphed Bible, I say that the advantage is marginal at best. Granted, I do my teaching from the Bible I read everyday, so there’s that.) Look at Isaiah 53 in the picture above, a passage of Hebrew poetry. There are so many lines wasted on one word. It doesn’t look good, and it doesn’t flow.

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Now look at a section of prose, from John 4. It’s worth noting that the verse-by-verse layout uses bold verse numbers to denote new paragraphs. But why not just use paragraphs altogether? For me, breaking up the text into verses and placing a verse on its own line ruins the flow of the text. I think this also makes it easier to pull verses out of context, when it’s not visually grouped with other verses in a paragraph. The best example I can think of to illustrate this is the connection between John 7:52 to John 8:12. Even the chapter number here breaks up what is otherwise a continuous narrative, indicated by the word “Again” in John 8:12. John 8:12 begins another discourse by Jesus immediately on the heels of John 7:52. Occurrences like these are exacerbated by a verse-by-verse layout.

The text is not line-matched, meaning that the verses on one side of the page are not aligned with the verses on another. Even in good lighting, the words on the next page are visible, so if ghosting is a big concern, maybe look for something else. In a quick comparison against my ESV PRB, I’d say the PRB does a better job of handling ghosting than the NASB R1. My guess is that it’s due to the PRB’s whiter pages and line-matching. Line-matching really helps reduce the effects of ghosting.

Miscellaneous

The NASB R1 comes with lined note pages, maps, and a concordance. I think the note pages are great (except for the double column–why?) as a space to write down some important verses for a gospel presentation, or thoughts that you always want to have with you when you have your Bible, etc. I’ve included a college-lined sheet of binder paper so you can see what the ruling is like. The maps and concordance are pretty standard. (Although I’ve never seen a three-column concordance before–the columnization on this Bible reaches new heights.)

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Comparisons

I’ll include a few notes on each comparison, though mostly pictures, since I think that’s what will be the most beneficial.

R.L. Allan NASB R1 vs. R.L. Allan ESV1

The NASB R1 is bigger than the ESV1 on length and width, but smaller on thickness. I have both in black highland goatskin with art gilding and navy blue ribbons. I do love the punchy accidental overdye on the ESV1, and I like the ESV1’s proportions better. The ESV1 is paragraphed, though still double-column. One other distinction between the two is the curved semi-yapp (overhanging cover) on the ESV1 versus the more straight semi-yapp on the NASB R1. Personally I like the curve better, adding a nice clamshell effect and possibly a bit more protection for the pages closer to the covers. I’m not sure R.L. Allan would endorse this, but I’m sure you could… convince… the yapp on the NASB R1 to curve a bit with some bands wrapping around the Bible.

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R.L. Allan NASB R1 vs. Crossway ESV Personal Reference Bible (PRB)

The PRB is certainly more personal-sized than the NASB R1. One big difference here is the text layout, where I think the PRB wins hands down. I’ve included a picture of Job 39 in both Bibles so you can see how a single-column layout allows poetry to flow naturally. The other big difference, of course, is the binding and covering, where the NASB R1 wins hand down. The cover of the PRB is synthetic, although they do have a top-grain leather version out now, which I’d like to get a hold of.

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R.L. Allan NASB R1 vs. Crossway ESV Compact

This comparison is just for size.

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Closing Comments

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Somehow, I forgot to include a Bible yoga shot. You can see how flexible those covers are. And those art-gilt pages! And those rich navy ribbons! The longer I interact with R.L. Allan and their Bibles, the more I think I get it. These Bibles are the remnant of a time when mass-market publishing did not exist. The Bible you received at age 16 may have been the Bible you died with, and so they had to be constructed with quality. Allan takes this to a new level, with aesthetic flourishes that complement the beauty of the text inside (the actual living Word, and not the book block). But at the core, the point of an R.L. Allan Bible like the NASB R1 is the longevity and the posterity. It’s so you can take notes in it and share it with your future spouse or children.

The text formatting on the NASB R1 just isn’t for me. I’ve tried using it on several occasions for my daily Bible reading, and I couldn’t get past the verse-by verse layout. I can live with double column, and I do, on my ESV1. But verse-by-verse, I’ve learned, is a dealbreaker for me. That being said, I know that there are people who like this formatting. Most–if not all–of Lockman’s NASBs are formatted this way. And if you want an R.L. Allan-bound NASB because you like the translation, it’s either this or the Single-Column Reference (SCR), which is single-column but still verse-by-verse.

The NASB R1s are £135 GBP directly from R.L. Allan in the UK (about $208 USD as of writing), or $215 from their U.S. distributor. If you’d like one, order it! You’ll definitely be happy that you did, and you’ll have a Bible to last you a decade or more. Me, I’ll be waiting for a single-column, paragraphed ESV or NASB to get the Allan treatment. (Please, please do this!) I can’t wait for something like the ESV Personal Reference Bible book block or the Zondervan Thinline NASB to be bound by R.L. Allan!

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(This Bible was provided free for review by R.L. Allan at Bibles-Direct.co.uk, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own.)

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