Sound, Sound the Clarion! Cambridge Gets the Single Column Setting Right!

Cambridge Clarion Reference Bible; ESV in brown calfskin. The single column format does justice to the poetic portions of the text.

To be honest, when I first pulled the brand new ESV Clarion Reference Bible in brown calfskin out of its box, I experienced a bit of a let-down feeling. I think that my disappointment was mostly a result of over-anticipation. I’d been waiting for this Bible, in some senses, for years; as my anticipation mounted, I practically expected it to have a halo hovering over it with an angelic choir humming a Greek paean every time I opened the box.

The Clarion’s calfskin cover balances flexibility with sturdiness/support. The result is a pliable but firm middle ground that is just right for a hand held single column Bible.

After living with it for the past couple of weeks, though, I can say that I have come to absolutely love this Bible. I’ve put it through its paces and, while there are no singing angels in the box, this Bible manages to be beautiful and handy, traditional and progressive, all at once. Let’s take a look.


For those of you wondering whether or not to purchase this Bible, the best place to start is by making comparisons to other options; in this case, the most obvious starting point is the Crossway ESV Personal Size Reference Bible (PSR), which is sort of the prototype for the Clarion Reference Bible.

Left ESV Clarion Reference Bible; right ESV Personal Size Reference Bible. Note 1) the placement of the cross references and 2) the difference in font size/clarity.

Some people prefer to have the references on the inside, as per the PSR, but I think that should be a non-issue. The inner margins are generous enough that the text doesn’t slip into the gutter—which is the only real concern with putting the references on the outside. Other than that minor concern, it seems to me that pushing the marginalia to the outside, rather than squeezing it into the center, is more natural, more functional, and more aesthetically pleasing. Also, while the Clarion is a bit larger on the outside, the font inside is also larger and much, much easier to read. This compact readability is the real wonder of the Clarion and, conversely, the real Achilles’ heel of the PSR.

From bottom to top: Crossway ESV Study Bible (full size); Hendrickson ESV Minister’s Bible; Crossway ESV New Classic Reference Bible (commemorative Fujimura edition); Cambridge Clarion Reference Bible

To illustrate, I’ll move on to another equally important comparison: How does the Clarion compare with your standard, mid-sized reference Bible? I pulled out three ESV Bibles with mid-size fonts—the ESV Study Bible, the ESV Minister’s Bible, and the ESV New Classic Reference Bible; I found that, despite being the smallest of the lot by far, the Clarion Reference Bible had the largest font size. Even the New Classic Ref., which doesn’t have extra helps and material, is larger than the Clarion, and even the Minister’s Bible, made for use in the pulpit, has a smaller font. This is truly remarkable.  There is also another, often overlooked, advantage that the Clarion has over other mid-sized reference Bible competitors: it has 15 beautiful full color maps with a complete map index–standard for Cambridge. The others have maps, but they’re not as good, and they don’t have a map index. Maybe most people don’t use the maps, anyway, but I find that the maps are very helpful when I want to sit down and work my way through an extended section of narrative.

ESV Clarion Reference leaning on top of a Crossway ESV Study Bible. Note that 1) the Clarion has a slightly larger font and 2) the Clarion has fewer words per line.

Once again, ESV SB (left) and ESV Clarion (right). Both are beautiful Bibles.


Here you can see the pages curling up near the edges. The problem was pretty egregious at first, but it has diminished with a little use, and I expect that it will eventually disappear altogether.

The Clarion does have, however, a proverbial chink in its armor. The paper is incredibly thin. For the most part, I don’t find this terribly problematic; the clarity and size of the font is more than enough to compensate for the ghosting. The most annoying side-effect of the thinness, however, is the paper’s tendency to curl at the edges, especially towards the middle of the Bible. This isn’t a huge problem for me either; a little bit of use has already curtailed this nasty habit, and I expect the curling to stop after a few months of regular use. Yet I know that there are others out there who can’t stand this sort of curling, so I found it necessary to mention the issue. Personally, I wouldn’t mind having a Bible that is slightly more stout with more opaque, less curl-prone, paper, but this minor quibble is not enough to detract from the Clarion’s overall beauty. While I’m on the subject of the paper, it’s worth noting that the art-gilt edging (where the page edges are died red before the gold is applied) is just beautiful on this Bible.

I do believe this is my first yoga shot. The calfskin Clarion is not limp, but it’s just flexible enough for the job.


This particular edition has one of Cambridge’s new/old calfskin covers. If you want a brown edition, this is a nice option. The end boards don’t seem to be as stiff as those on the ESV Pitt Minion, so you won’t have to work as hard to break the cover in. It has a trademark Cambridge quality about it, as is to be expected, and it is much nicer than the “genuine leather” Bibles so common today. And it smells lovely. Having said that, if you don’t have to have brown, I’d recommend going with one of the other editions available. If your primary concern is cost, you’re probably better served shopping around for a good deal on the calf-split edition, the lowest priced of the three; by all accounts, this leather is also nicer than the“genuine leather” covers common on Bibles these days. If the quality of the leather is your primary concern, I’d say the goatskin is worth the higher price. Not only is the goatskin nicer and thicker than the calfskin (assuming it’s like the goatskin on my Pitt Minion), the goatskin cover on the Clarion is edge-lined with a super flexible polyurethane lining. I’m not saying that the calfskin is cut-rate. The calfskin is quite nice, and I quite like it myself. But, Cambridge’s goatskin is in a league of it’s own. Of course, since I was only sent a review copy of the calfskin, this advice is tentative; but I doubt I’d say anything differently if I had all three editions to scrutinize.

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All in all, the Clarion is an excellent little Bible. I think that those who have waited for it will find that it is definitely worth the wait. In the Clarion, Cambridge has managed to bring together readability, portability, trademark Cambridge quality and utility, and an attractive single column format, making the Clarion Reference Bible uniquely qualified to fill the role of that one all-around Bible.

About hjimkeener

Education: B.A.: Moody Bible Institute GCTS: Knox Theological Seminary M.Div.: Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Ph.D.: Baylor University Ministry Experience: I have served as a Youth Minister, Associate Pastor of English Ministry, and a pulpit supply preacher. Teaching Experience: In addition to teaching in various volunteer and professional ministry settings, I have taught as a University Professor (Teaching Fellow; Baylor University) and as a Seminary Professor (El Seminario de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Bolivia). I have also given lectures and sermons in Spanish.
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20 Responses to Sound, Sound the Clarion! Cambridge Gets the Single Column Setting Right!

  1. Tobe says:

    very impressed by your review…great pics and good things to think about…thanks!

  2. Dawn says:

    ok, I’m ordering mine 🙂 I’ve been reading Crossway’s PSR and I LOVE the format, but I just hate how small the font is. I use it anyway and put on my old lady glasses, but am very excited about this new Clarion. It’s a stretch to pay that much more compared to my Crossway edition, but I’m hoping it will be well worth it. You have no idea how I’ve been searching for this exact format! Thanks for the review.

    • hjimkeener says:

      Great, Dawn! If you’re like me, you’ll find that the Clarion is what you wished the PSR had been. You probably won’t need the glasses. When you get it, let me know how you like it!

  3. Steve says:

    The curling is not due to the thin paper, but is actually a defect and Cambridge is aware of it. If you have one of these, be careful how you flip through the pages or close the Bible. The curled pages have a tendency to roll up and get folded. I’m willing to live with this for now, wait until they print a new run without the curled pages, and then exchange it.

  4. hjimkeener says:

    Janet–my understanding is that the ESV Clarion was recalled because the first print run didn’t get the line-matching correct. The Clarion uses a technique intended to cut down on bleed-through of the text from one page to another called line-matching. The lines of text on each page should match up. I’ve heard that the first run didn’t get it right, so they recalled it.
    I have found no typographical errors that I can recall. If I find one, I’ll let you know. I’ve heard that there’s one place where “LORD” is spelled “LOD.” Anyone know about this? I’ve not seen it.
    Now, I’ve not contacted Cambridge about any of these questions, so all of this is repeated rumor. In my first hand experience, I’ll just reiterate that I’ve not noticed any typos.

  5. says:

    I recently got a 2011 text edition esv clarion and it’s curling in Isaiah. The first one I got from was defective and I’m hesitant to send this one back. Is this confirmed as a defect and what will happen to rectify it!

    • Steve says:

      I also find the curling very annoying. I’ll have it laying open, walk away, and come back later with rolls of pages in the middle of the Bible. I’ve tried “uncurling” the most affected sections but it won’t go away. Anyway, Baker Publishing has confirmed this as a defect and all stock is affected. A Baker representative informed me that they will be getting new stock around August 2013. Contact them then and they will send you a call tag so you can ship it back to them and they will send you a new one. Hopefully the problem is corrected in the second printing.

      • hjimkeener says:

        Thanks for the input, guys. I’ll contact Cambridge and get a direct quote on the issue. I’ll get back to you when I hear back.

      • William Rowe says:

        Hey Steve did you get that replacement Clarion, I have the same thing and it basically curls in whatever book I’m in. My problem is I lost the receipt for this bible I got from Amazon?


  6. Scott says:

    How do we contact them with this problem? I returned my ESV Clarion (calf-split) to get a better Goatskin…Just unwrapped it today…and the curling is there. Do you have any contact information? If not, I will just look it up.

  7. Gasp! Maybe I should have read this. I just ordered the ESV Clarion in calfskin. Would they really still sell the defective ones?
    I wonder why the curling doesn’t go away. My personal ESV Study Bible had curly pages, but that went away.

  8. Christopher JM says:

    I like my NASB Clarion also. Its goatskin and cost me a fortune even from One thing that disappointed me was it did not have the words of Christ in red. Which I find strange in this day of age and from Cambridge who is likely the best Bible maker in all the world. The Pitt Minion is my favourite from Cambridge but I just wish they could just make a normal sized Bible like their wide margine with out the wide margins. Clarion is great but she is a fatso.

  9. Scott says:

    The good people at Baker emailed me back. Here is what she said…she was very nice.
    I’m so sorry for the delay.
    This is copy from the email that I received from Cambridge:
    ESV Clarion Reference Edition

    Cambridge is aware that some customers have commented on a quality concern about the paper used for the first printing of the ESV Clarion. It appears that in some copies and in some conditions the pages in two or three locations within the Bible have a tendency to curl from the fore-edge. Although it will not impair readability or compromise the binding so as to be regarded as a manufacturing fault, this is clearly a noticeable aesthetic distraction for some people.

    These customer comments have been reported to the printer and to the supplying paper mill; but following technical investigations neither has been able to identify a satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon, which is one that neither we nor they have previously experienced. It is well known that lightweight paper is inherently susceptible volatile and can be affected by different environmental conditions, e.g. humidity and temperature, and our initial assumption is that there is a likelihood that this variable issue with the paper will settle down over time.

    There will be a reprint of this edition available in due course, which will use a slightly different paper from the same mill. (The change of material has been dictated by availability and not by any considerations about its performance or quality.) However, this reprint will not be available in finished copies of the ESV Clarion Edition for quite a while and the current printing will remain available until inventory is exhausted. In the event that a customer feels that their particular copy has an unacceptable imperfection, they should be asked to return it for a refund through the supply chain via their vendor.

    Further guidance for Baker
    In the event that a customer complains to Baker but nevertheless wishes to keep their ESV Clarion (given that we cannot guarantee that a replacement from the existing inventory would not exhibit the same characteristics) Cambridge will authorise Baker to offer a retrospective conditional discount of 15% of the advertised recommended retail price. The customer must supply the appropriate* Binding Order reference number (which appears in the back end-papers) and should be able to demonstrate that their ESV Clarion has a severe example of curling pages (photographic evidence should suffice).

    Any returns of the ESV Clarion Edition accepted by Baker as a consequence of this characteristic of the paper should be in good condition (therefore not stamped or labelled) and kept separate from any other damaged or discontinued stock, for eventual return to the printer.

    *applicable Binding Orders:
    9780521182911 B1053 or B1117
    9781107648302 B1054 or B1118
    9781107648296 B1055 or B1119

    Lanette Haskins
    Baker Publishing Group

  10. hjimkeener says:

    Thanks for sharing, all! I’ve had some correspondence with Baker myself, and they have debunked some rumors repeated in some of the comments above, while confirming some other things. I plan to share the info in a post some time in the next 24 hours. I’ll let you know when I pulish the new post!

  11. Pingback: ESV Cambridge Clarion Update: What’s the Deal with the Page Curling? And other Questions . . . | For His Lovingkindness is Everlasting.

  12. Pingback: Back in . . . Black: The NKJV Cambridge Clarion Reference Bible in Black Calf Split Leather | For His Lovingkindness is Everlasting.

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