By Joe LaGuardia
Several weeks ago, I discovered the esoteric, slightly geeky, intensely interesting world of premier Bibles. I have been a Bible nerd for some time–researching various translations and study Bibles, perusing bookstores for editions and bindings–but I learned only recently that a world like this existed.
You see, for over twenty years I’ve been an Oxford man. By Oxford, I mean those Bibles published by Oxford University, specifically the Annotated New Revised Standard Version Bibles for which Oxford is best known. I have five Oxfords: My first was the softcover student edition required for college; then the hardcover of that same edition once the softcover edition died; and then the third and fourth editions in leather. My most recent purchase was a leather NRSV thinline for everyday use.
With the Oxford, I meant business when it came to Bibles and Bible studies–but then (thanks to YouTube) I realized that a whole other world existed, that of the “Premier Bible.” Let me explain:
My last Oxford Study Bible cost $90.00. It was the fourth edition, genuine (vs. bonded) leather, with two ribbons and personalized embossing. It was costlier than the third edition, but vastly superior in binding, notes, leather, and gilding (that’s the gold on the side of the pages). I thought this price placed it squarely in the “premier” category. Not so.
The real “premier” Bibles run between $175.00 – $250.00. These Bibles have covers that range from Moroccan fine leather to calfskin. The inside of the cover also includes leather end pages. The binding is often hand-sown. The materials, including the paper, is of either European (from Norway, for instance) or Italian origin. You can run over these things with a truck, and they will last.
I also learned that there are three companies that produce these Mercedes Benz of Bibles: Cambridge University (one of the oldest publishers in the world), Schuyler (pronounced “sky-ler”, get it right!), and Allan. They have limited runs, select translations (usually, NKJV, KJV, ESV, or NRSV; Schuyler also produces a NLT, pictured above); and they take months to produce, order and ship. There are waiting lists.
Some collectors scour the internet searching for editions that are vintage, out of print, or at a reduced rate. And even the most used of these Bibles can run over $100.00.
There is a community of people on the internet — YouTube, really — who review the Bibles. They own, buy, sell, and trade multiple copies. They compare and contrast them, show multi-year “crash” tests (to see how Bibles hold up to the test of preaching and usage); and go into minute details as to binding and features of each one. Some of them purchase a version in every color leather.
I told you it was esoteric, but I find these videos captivating, and I confess I have spent many late nights watching reviews of pitt minions and reference Bibles and quentel (I’m not sure what that means–I think its a typesetting of some sort) versions, of rebound Bibles, and of the newest King James Versions (how many times and how many ways can one publish a Bible that’s been around since 1611?). Very few, if any, premier Bibles are study-Bible versions, though many include concordances and Bible maps. This goes deep, folks.
Over the last month, I had a chance to purchase a new Bible. I dislike purchasing new Bibles (although I love looking at them, my version of retail therapy), but I needed to replace two Bibles in my arsenal of God’s Word. I took my time reviewing these and other Bibles.
I chose another Oxford NRSV (the travel version I mentioned earlier– I’m so loyal!), but it was hard to bypass some of these beautiful Bibles that really stand the test of time and capture–if not for sake of aesthetics, then for tradition–the sacredness and value of God’s Word, which neither withers nor fades.