- Recognizing a Fine Bible
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Leather binding materials
- List of University Printers
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
- New American Standard Bible
- New English Bible
- New International Version
- New King James Version
- New Living Translation
- New Revised Standard Version
- Revised English Bible
- Today's New International Version
Recognizing a Fine Bible
The quality of any Bible depends primarily on the materials, and the processes used in manufacture, as well as the more immediately apparent factors such as text design and layout. The following offers a few guidance pointers for prospective customers looking for a fine Bible.
Can you always judge a good book by its cover?
Not necessarily … as first impressions may be misleading! Bibles may come in a variety of cover styles and materials, but the options available within a particular edition almost always share a common printed book-block – the inside of the book – and the true measure of quality therefore begins with an assessment of the text design, and the paper and print quality. We may often see high-quality supple leather covers wrapped round a book whose quality is better suited to a basic and inexpensive mechanical binding style. Conversely, in the Cambridge Bible list even the simpler hardback books have similar quality features – design, paper, print quality, sewn bindings – to the fine bindings within the same edition.
Consider the essential elements of the book, from the inside out…
The Bible publisher’s first challenge has always been to compress within one book the same number of words (more than three quarters of a million in the Old and New Testaments) as might constitute perhaps half a dozen novels or more. Traditionally this has been met by printing on very thin paper in carefully chosen type sizes, typefaces, and page layouts.
The printed page should be easy to read, but a small Bible cannot be printed in a large typeface without increasing the number of pages and consequently the thickness, so the designer fights a constant battle to find the optimum balance between readability and portability. The outer margins should be even, and in the centre of the book the ‘gutter’ margins should be sufficiently generous so as not to interfere with reading.
Many designs of typeface or ‘font’ are available to the printer. In order to be economical in the space it occupies and at the same time easy to read in small sizes, the font needs to be what printers traditionally describe as ‘large on the body’: the central part of the letter should be generously proportioned with modestly sized ascenders and descenders (e.g. the upward stroke of h and the downward stroke of p). A thin, spidery type may prove tiring to the eye, but one with over-thick strokes will make the page look dark or funereal. Fussy or unusual letter forms may distract or irritate the reader.
Note that point size is not a universal measurement, nor is any specific point size in itself a guarantee of readability. Each font has its own characteristics, and an 8 point in one font may generally be considered as legible as a 9 or 10 point in some others. The amount of leading between the lines, the length of the text line, and whether the text prints line-for-line (see ‘Printing’) are factors that all contribute significantly to readability.
The typefaces chosen for Cambridge Bibles have been selected to provide the most legible and attractive appearance for the particular style and size of each edition. Cambridge editions fall into two categories: traditional settings created in the days of hot-metal composition, and modern settings created using modern digital fonts selected to replicate the best characteristics of the familiar metal Bible typefaces. In effect the older KJV settings such as the Concord, Pitt Minion or Presentation Reference are ‘facsimiles’ of the original editions created many years ago.
Because of their length, Bibles traditionally have been printed on very thin paper to ensure compact volumes. Nevertheless, paper in a Bible should have sufficient strength to sustain the usage it will receive. The best Bibles are printed on papers which are not only much thinner and finer than ordinary book papers, but are also strong, and have good opacity so as to minimise 'show-through' of printing on the reverse side. (Paper weighing below 30gsm is usually described as ‘India paper’, and over 30gsm as ‘Bible paper’.)
Cambridge Bibles are printed on high quality lightweight paper, chosen for its strength and opacity, to achieve the optimum readability for the minimum bulk. We balance various factors – strength, thinness and opacity, and aesthetic considerations – in sourcing appropriate papers that meet internationally recognised environmental standards. Some Cambridge reference Bibles have wide margins, so that owners can make notes against the Bible text. The paper used in these Bibles is chosen for its capacity to absorb handwritten notes and improved resilience. Nevertheless it is advisable to test pens and pencils on the paper before making extensive notes, to ensure that the ink flow is not so great as to bleed through the paper. Making notes in standard Bibles without wide margins is not recommended.
The appearance of the printed page is a good indication of the quality of both the printing and the paper. The position of the type on the page and the width of the margins should be uniform throughout. All letters should be sharp and clear and the inking should be even and uniform on all pages. In red-letter Bibles the register (the relative position of the red and black type on the page) should be correct and consistent.
In the Cambridge list, the older KJV settings such as the Concord, Pitt Minion or Presentation Reference show text design at its classic best, albeit with some small blemishes, perhaps in individual character form, inherent in the process of converting printing images created for letterpress printing into lithographic plates. These minor imperfections are a feature of ‘facsimile’ reproduction, and not due to flawed printing.
In the best Bibles, the text is designed so that with accurate line-on-line printing (where one line exactly matches the position of a line of text on the reverse side) show-through is minimised, even when using the thinnest papers.
Accuracy in printing is more assured when presses are run at slower speeds than for mass-market books or Bibles, but this process inevitably has an implication for pricing. There are differences in running speed even within the Cambridge list, but generally Cambridge Bibles are printed on presses running more slowly, and therefore accurately, than is the norm elsewhere.
Another simple test of printing quality is whether the pages are printed in the correct grain direction, rather than cross-grain. Run a finger along the inner margins of the book: if the pages are smooth to the touch, the book is printed long-grain; if rough or crinkled, it is printed short-grain. Printing in the correct grain direction improves the ease with which the pages may be turned as well as their appearance, and also has an effect on the quality of the gilding. (The short-grain edges of the book will appear wavy, and this effect is highlighted by gilding.)
Sewing and Binding
To make a fine Bible demands more than skill in design and printing alone. If a Bible is to last and if its appearance and handling qualities are to satisfy, it must be bound in high-quality materials with care and craftsmanship. Cambridge Bibles are always sewn (not only glued as is often the case elsewhere). This adds strength and makes them last longer; and it also enables them to stay flat once open. The thread used to sew the pages together is tough but thin, so the reader should always open the pages carefully at first to allow the threads to settle.
Note that all sewn books and Bibles are also glued. The sections are sewn together loosely, then nipped together and glued along the spine (usually with gauze fabric attached) to hold the book-block together properly. The glue penetrates a little between the individual sections, but the advantage of a sewn book is that the individual pages are not separately attached only by a single thin line of glue to the cover: each page is part of a folded section (‘signature’) of multiple pages; each signature is sewn to all the others; then all the signatures are glued to form a book-block before being cased-in to the cover.
Cambridge Bibles within a particular edition all use the same basic sewn book-block as one another, so the less costly binding styles all offer the same quality of paper and printing process as the top-of-the-range fine bindings. For example, the hardback Wide Margin editions are all printed on the same high quality Bible paper, in the correct grain direction, and fully sewn to the same standards as the edge-lined goatskin styles.
Attaching the case to the book-block
There are two methods of casing-in a fine Bible: one (‘paste-off’) is a semi-automated process of gluing the cover to the end-papers of the book-block, while ‘edge-lined’ is a hand-craft process using a cover that is more flexible but also gives a firm attachment of cover to book. The hand-made edge-lined cover is attached to the book block by means of a flap (of an inch or so in width) of the inner cover material being glued to the endpapers of the book. Because these covers are hand-made, no two will look exactly the same.
The cover – the final stage that creates the first impression
The cover material used in Bible binding not only affects one’s initial aesthetic response – both visual and tactile – but in the longer run also determines the durability of the book itself. The customer should weigh all these factors when considering a purchase.
Except in Lectern Bibles or other bindings deliberately stiffened by the incorporation of a board between the outer cover and the lining, covers should be reasonably flexible, but at the same time should lie flat. The overlap protects the gilded edges. It should be of fairly uniform width all round the book, and the corners should be well rounded, smoothed down and firmly glued. The lining should adhere evenly all over the cover and be positioned so as to leave a uniform width of the turned-in outer cover showing all round. Usually, a pattern or graining is artificially applied to leather during its manufacture.
Cambridge uses a range of leathers, with different grains appropriate to the size of each book. To maintain the fine quality for which it is renowned, Cambridge ensures that the utmost care is taken in choosing leather from around the world and that each hide is carefully scrutinised before being used. Of course, however it is processed, leather is a natural product so each leather-bound Bible is unique – especially noticeable when natural grain goatskin and calfskin leather is used.
Additional features and decoration expected of a ‘fine’ Bible
|Gilt Edges and Blocking
Many Cambridge Bibles and Prayer Books are decorated with metallic (usually gold or silver-coloured) foil on their covers and on the edges of their paper. The edges are trimmed and sanded, and the corners are evenly rounded, so that when the book is closed these page edges should show as a solid and smooth metallic surface. The material used in this process gives a rich, bright and attractive finish to the book. Some Bibles have ‘art-gilt’ edges, when a red dye and gilt foil combine to add richness and lustre to the book.
Head and tail-bands
Care and Handling
The beauty of leather is that it maintains its looks over a long time; it changes its appearance, feel and suppleness with use and wear and, perhaps, can be said to develop ‘character’. Follow a few simple guidelines to ensure that your Bible remains in the best possible condition:
- The combination of very thin paper and a generous layer of gilding may mean some pages stick together until they are separated for the first time. If this happens, hold those pages between your thumb and forefinger and rub them together with just enough pressure as is necessary to part them.
- As all Cambridge Bibles have sewn bindings, you should open the pages carefully at first to allow the threads to settle.
- Do not bend the cover backwards on itself. Even in the most flexible of Bibles, this process may damage the sewing and binding that hold the book together.
- Carrying extra materials, paper or writing instruments in your Bible could damage the binding by putting excessive strain on the threads.
- Occasionally, the ends of ribbons may start to fray after use. This can usually be rectified by neatly trimming the end and sealing it with a hot iron.
- The more you handle the Bible, the more quickly it will become supple to the touch as the natural oils from your hands will nourish the leather. If necessary, use a slightly damp cloth to clean the cover but do not use any detergents or packaged Bible cleaning products. When cleaning the cover, avoid moistening the foil stamping on the cover and spine.
- Keep the Bible away from sources of extreme heat and from water. Protect the page edges from moisture, rain and snow, which will damage the metallic foil.
- The material used on any Cambridge Bible cover is suitable for individual imprinting by a professional. However, imprinting is undertaken at the customer’s risk: Cambridge cannot guarantee the competence of the person doing the imprinting, or the quality of the equipment being used.
Cambridge Bibles are printed on high quality lightweight paper, chosen for its strength and opacity, to achieve the optimum readability for the minimum bulk. Such paper cannot be guaranteed to be suitable for all writing instruments. Some Cambridge reference editions have wide margins, so that notes may be made against the Bible text. The paper used in these Bibles is chosen for its improved resilience and enhanced capacity to absorb handwritten notes.
Nevertheless it is still advisable to test pens or pencils on the paper before making extensive notes, to ensure that any ink flow is not so great as to bleed through the paper. If using pens or markers, take care in your choice of writing implement and the pressure that you apply. The wide variety of pens and markers available nowadays makes it impossible to give an unconditional guarantee that notes written on the Bible pages will not smudge or bleed through over time. Before using any writing implement for marking Bible pages test it on an inconspicuous page to judge its suitability.
Making notes in Bibles without wide margins is not recommended as it could cause damage which may invalidate the guarantee – which applies to manufacturing defects not inappropriate or careless handling.
The Cambridge Guarantee
Cambridge Bibles are printed and bound to the most exacting modern standards. Each Bible has been made with skill and care from the best and most appropriate materials. All are therefore unconditionally guaranteed against defective materials or workmanship of any kind.
The cover material used in the binding of fine leather books is a natural product, so each Bible is unique. Treated with reasonable care and respect as befits a well-made and valuable article, it will give years of use.
However, if there is reason to believe that a Bible suffers from defects in materials or workmanship and that its condition is not the result of misuse or due to damage after purchase, the customer should return it to the source from which it was purchased. If the problem remains unresolved, the customer should write for advice to the Cambridge University Press Customer Services Dept. (email: email@example.com). Cambridge reserves the right to inspect the book to determine whether it has a manufacturing flaw before considering offering a replacement. If appropriate, please send your Bible by a traceable method.