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–with its specialty sewn bindings, hand-stitched leather, and fancy double-sided satin ribbons costing well over $150.00 — 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 six Oxfords: My first was the softcover student edition required for college; then came the hardcover edition once the softcover died; and then I purchased the third and fourth editions in leather. My most recent purchases included a leather and (later) a hardcover thin line Oxford NRSV for everyday use.
With my Oxford Bible in tow, I thought I was being real fancy. But that is not the case. Let me explain:
My fourth-edition Oxford Study Bible cost around $84.00. It came in the standard 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 “premium” category. Not so, I have since learned.
The real “premium” Bibles run between $150.00 – $300.00. These Bibles have covers that range from Moroccan fine leather to calfskin. The inside of the cover also includes leather lining (end pages) and materials of either European (Norway or Denmark, for instance) or Italian origins. (Some now come from China, which has caused no small controversy according to Bible reviewers online.)
I also learned that three companies produce these Mercedes Benz Maybachs 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, NRSV, and NLT, pictured above); and they take months to produce, order and ship. There are waiting lists.
Zondervan, one of the best-selling Bible publishers out there, came out with its own version of premium Bibles, the “Premier” collection, for 2021 (catch a review of the NRSV, single-column edition here).
Aside from the Bibles themselves, there is an entire community of people on the internet who review these 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 after years of usage); and go into minute details as to binding and features of each one. Some of them purchase a version in every color of leather.
I told you it was esoteric, but I find these videos captivating. I confess that I have spent many late nights watching reviews of pitt minions and reference Bibles and quentel Bible (I’m not sure what that means) versions, of rebound Bibles, and of the newest King James Versions (how many times and ways can you publish a Bible that’s been around since 1611?). 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 and required a larger font to read from the pulpit. I took my time reviewing these and other Bibles.
I chose a Cambridge NRSV reference edition with apocrypha. It was pricey, but it certainly communicates the sacredness of God’s Word, which neither withers nor fades.