Back in . . . Black: The NKJV Cambridge Clarion Reference Bible in Black Calf Split Leather

NKJV Clarion opened with ribbons showing

NKJV Clarion opened with ribbons showing

Since first receiving my ESV Clarion Reference Bible last summer, I’ve come to love this Bible, and it has even become my main, go-to English Bible for most purposes.  I am excited to have a chance to review one of the latest additions to the Clarion Reference Bible line–the NKJV in black calf-split .  I think I have an idea of some of the questions that people thinking of investing in this Bible might be wondering, so I’ll focus this review on answering those questions:

How is the calfsplit leather?

On the whole, I really like this cover, more than I expected to.  It has a nice leather scent to it out of the box, and it appears to be thicker and sturdier than its slightly pricier cousin, the brown calfskin.  Cambridge situates their calfsplit option between calfskin and french morocco in quality but, honestly, I almost prefer it over the thinner calfskin on the ESV Clarion and KJV NCPB.  The downside is that the calfsplit is much, much more stiff, as the pictures below show.

The calf split NKJV Clarion perched atop its box.  Notice the almost complete lack of floppage.

The calf split NKJV Clarion perched atop its box. Notice the almost complete lack of floppage.

The calfskin ESV Clarion Reference Bible in the same pose as the NKJV--well, sort of.  To be fair, the ESV is a year old and has been well broken in.  Even so, the calfskin leather was much more flexible out of the box than the calf split.

The calfskin ESV Clarion Reference Bible in the same pose as the NKJV–well, sort of. To be fair, the ESV is a year old and has been well broken in. Even so, the calfskin leather was much more flexible out of the box than the calf split.

The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible in Calfskin in the same pose.  This Bible is by far the most flexible of the three.

The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible in calfskin in the same pose. This Bible is by far the most flexible of the three.

As a result, this question is impossible for me to fully answer right now because of the way that stiff Cambridge leather casings have a tendency to loosen up with time and break in beautifully, the way other leather products built to last tend to do (think: leather construction boots or the baseball mitt that eventually conforms to the exact shape of your hand).  I imagine (but can’t know for sure) that the calfsplit leather will break in beautifully.

Here the calf split Clarion NKJV is in its clamshell box.  If you zoom in on this picture, you can get a good idea of what the grain looks and feels like.

Here the calf split Clarion NKJV is in its clamshell box. If you zoom in on this picture, you can get a good idea of what the grain looks and feels like.

If this is the case, then I would probably rank the calfsplit casing edition as the preferred option of the Clarion Reference Bible, all things considered.  The goatskin edition, which is certainly much nicer, I’m sure, and much more flexible given that it is the only edge-lined option, retails for a full $90 more than the calf split option.  In my opinion, that’s a big chunk of change, especially when you are tacking that $90 onto an already hefty Cambridge price-tag, where even imitation leather copies don’t come cheap.  The calf split leather may not be on a par with the goatskin, but it is leagues better than the “genuine leather” Bibles you are going to find in most bookstores.  For the price, this may be the best option.

Does anyone out there have any extensive experience with one of these calf split Bibles from Cambridge?  If so, please share below how well it broke in (or didn’t).

Here's the NKJV open to a page with both poetry and prose sections.  You can get a good look at the line matching on this page, which seems to me to be executed better than it is in my ESV Clarion.  Also, you can see a very slight curl of the page, encouraged by a slight breeze during the photo shoot.  Really, the page curling is a non-issue with this Bible, which far outshines the ESV in this regard.

Here’s the NKJV open to a page with both poetry and prose sections. You can get a good look at the line matching on this page, which seems to me to be executed better than it is in my ESV Clarion. Also, you can see a very slight curl of the page, encouraged by a slight breeze during the photo shoot. Really, the page curling is a non-issue with this Bible, which far outshines the ESV in this regard.

What about the page-curling?

The short answer is:  I really didn’t see any, or at least nothing comparable to the widely reported issues with the ESV Clarion.

How is the line-matching?

Again, line-matching is where the lines on each side of a page match up, and this tends to make reading easier because it cuts down on ghosting (or bleed through).  As I recently reported, Cambridge has detected some less than perfect line matching on their ESV Clarion and intends to make it better with the next print run.  It’s important to know how well executed the line matching is because it is a big part of what is supposed to make the Clarion special, with a print that is unusually clear and large for the Bible’s size.

Left: NKJV Clarion.  Right:  ESV Clarion, both open to Numbers 16

Left: NKJV Clarion. Right: ESV Clarion, both open to Numbers 16

A full report is beyond my ability to give.  However, I did take the time to read a substantial chunk of this Bible, often comparing it with my ESV Clarion.  I came away with the distinct impression that somehow the NKJV edition was clearer and easier to read, and that I saw less grey-haze seeping through the page when I looked at it at a glance.  So, my impression so far is that the line matching has been executed quite well.  In any event, the Bible is indeed quite readable for its size.

The Cambrige maps  found in the NKJV Clarion Reference Bible--different from the Moody Bible Atlas maps found in the older ESV Clarion Reference Bible.

The Cambrige maps found in the NKJV Clarion Reference Bible–different from the Moody Bible Atlas maps found in the older ESV Clarion Reference Bible.

The Gazetteer for the Cambridge maps

The Gazetteer for the Cambridge maps

What else makes this Bible different?

First of all, like the latest ESV Pitt Minion Bible, the NKJV Clarion uses the new maps that Cambridge seems to be switching over to, not the old Moody maps.  I would guess that all future printings of the Clarion Reference Bible will have the newer Cambridge maps.  No one set of maps has any clear advantage over another.

As for the calfsplit edition, it is distinct in that it does not have the art-gilt page edging.  Art-gilt edging is nice, to be sure, and may help justify paying the higher price for the calfskin or goatskin edition.  This, again, is a matter of personal preference, and you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the money or not. guess that all future print runs of Clarion Reference Bibles will do the same.  In the long run, as I’ve noted before, the costs and benefits involved in this trade are about equal, and most purchasers aren’t even likely to notice the difference.

Top:  ESV Clarion in brown calfskin with art-gilt page edges.  Bottom:  NKJV calf split Clarion with gilt page edges.

Top: ESV Clarion in brown calfskin with art-gilt page edges. Bottom: NKJV calf split Clarion with gilt page edges.

Finally, I’ll note (in the nit-pick category) that I’m not enthused about the choice to use black ribbons, where the black goatskin edition has red ribbons.  Some people will prefer the more demure black on black monochrome.  For my part, I like to see either red or purple with black.

Top: Calf split clarion with black ribbons.  Bottom: Calfskin NCPB with red ribbons.  The calf split, again, feels somehow sturdier, if also much stiffer, than the calfskin.

Top: Calf split clarion with black ribbons. Bottom: Calfskin NCPB with red ribbons. The calf split, again, feels somehow sturdier, if also much stiffer, than the calfskin.

On the whole, though, I am quite pleased with this edition.  Problems associated with the ESV edition–line-matching and page curling–are not to be found here to my eye.  Surprisingly, I really like the calf split leather, which is thicker and maybe sturdier than the calfskin cover.  And, not insignificantly, it is the most affordable option available.  Considering all of these things, I would recommend this Bible to NKJV readers looking for a nice, sturdy, single column reference Bible.

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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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18 Responses to Back in . . . Black: The NKJV Cambridge Clarion Reference Bible in Black Calf Split Leather

  1. shawn k says:

    Thanks for the review. You have addressed the two main concerns I had regarding the line matching and page curling. I’ll prob buy the goatskin. The extra cost should be worth it over the long haul since I plan on this being my main bible for years. I wish stores carried these so I could take a look before buying. I’m used to the words of Christ in red so this will be an adjustment for me.

  2. hjimkeener says:

    Shawn
    Glad I could be of some help. I used to really prefer the words of Christ in red, but I’m indifferent to that now, and maybe even have come to prefer black.

    • shawn k says:

      yeah it can be overwhelming in matthew 6, etc when it’s just all red. black is easier on the eyes. keep up the good work!

  3. Brett says:

    Thanks for your excellent review. Your pictures confirm my suspicion about the text running too much into the gutter, which is why I wish they had put the references on the inside of the page instead of the text (like the ESV PSR). Unfortunately, that issue is a deal breaker for me and I’ll go with the Pitt instead.

    • hjimkeener says:

      Brett–the inner gutter on the Pitt Minion is certainly no more generous than the inner gutter on the Clarion. Also, the stiffness of the calf split combined with the rounded spine on the cover makes it harder for this one to lay flat; if you’re thinking of buying one of the other options, it will likely lay flat better, mitigating you’re concerns about the gutter.
      Don’t get me wrong, the Pitt Minion is a great option, as you know, and less expensive. I just wouldn’t let the issue of the text seeming to slip into the gutter be a big factor, especially not until you’ve seen the edition you’re thinking of getting in person. The inner margins are generous enough, I’ve had no problems with text in the gutter, really.

  4. randybrown says:

    Nice review! I have a Concord in calf-split and I love it. It’s stiffer than the calf-skin (my Clarion is the brown calf-skin) and I like it that way. It’s easier to hold in one hand for reading. I skipped on the goatskin Clarion because I didn’t want it to be too floppy. The calf-skin is soft to the touch, but not floppy. It’s more flexible than the calf-split on my Concord, but it’s also thinner. The calf-split grain is more pronounced and to me it looks more elegant. The calf-split feels tougher and stronger. I can smell the lacquer finish on the calf-skin, whereas the calf-split has a leather smell. I don’t think either one is a bad choice and if I didn’t know the prices I wouldn’t be able to tell you which is more expensive. I can easily see the calf-split as the best option for price/quality. I think Cambridge has another winner on their hands.

  5. hjimkeener says:

    Thanks for the input, Randy. I’m curious–did you try to break in your calf-split Bible by rolling or bending it? If so, did it soften up at all?

  6. David Dewey (UK) says:

    The new ESV Personal Size edition from Crossway came out at the end of June. It goes up from 7.4 to 8.0 pt, has what appears a darker, more bold’ font and comes with line matching. It losses the book intros and the odd-looking rules around the text. Overall, it is a great improvement over the old PSR.. Apart from the lack of maps, internally it is now a close rival to the Clarion. If Allan’s put it in their own high quality bindings, I would choose it over the Clarion anytime

    • hjimkeener says:

      David
      If what you say about the ESV PSR is accurate, then it could definitely be as good or better than the Cambridge Clarion. I’m a lover of the maps, though. When you consider the difference in price between a Crossway try-tone and a Cambridge or Allan’s Bible, it’s tough to argue against the PSR you describe.

    • hjimkeener says:

      David
      The ESV Personal Size edition is a nice Bible, especially for the price. But, now that I’ve had a chance to look the new ESV Personal Size Bible over, if money is no object, I think the Clarion is better overall. The font is larger and more readable, imo.

  7. Fil Sanders says:

    Hi. Just wanted to leave my two cents here: i have the NASB Clarion in calf split and it is a nice bible but hasnt softened up that much in roughly nine months of use. I have the ESV Pitt Minion in calf split and it felt softer right out of the box though part of that may have been the thinner book block. I have the KJV Pitt Minion in goatskin and they are much more flexible even when new but as you noted they are pricier. I dont know if the difference in featues is worth the difference in price. Thats a subjective call each buyer will need to consider. But Cambridge makes a beautiful bible.

  8. Christina Ricucci says:

    Hi there, thanks for this great review! I don’t know if you are still monitoring this page (Sept. 2014) but I’m wondering — is your review of the black NKJV Cambridge Clarion Reference Bible dated 6/18/13 referring to the # NK484 ? I’m shopping online and the only one I see which is black calf-split has that reference number; do you know if that’s the one you reviewed? Also, it’s referred to as a “personal size” Bible (8 x 6 inches) — does that sound right? Thank you!

  9. Christina Ricucci says:

    Well, I went ahead and purchased this one. I very much like the paragraph layout; the print is easy to read and not crammed together as I’ve seen in other editions. The paper is fine for me, thin but not as bad as my old Scofield from Bible school days (1970). Line matching is excellent, so the ghosting is minimal–it’s evident but not pronounced and not distracting. I’d prefer the references on the inside of the pages rather than on the outside, but nobody seems to make it that way in a paragraph format. Two negatives for me: (1) the calf-split leather; wow, a crushing disappointment. I couldn’t really judge from the photo that it would be so cheap looking! (2) the Bible does not lay flat in roughly Genesis-Leviticus or James-Revelation. I knew it would be more stiff than goatskin, which is fine, but I thought I’d read others who said it lays open flat; perhaps I confused it with a different Bible. Hopefully with time that it will become more flexible, but in these early days it’s very disappointing. For me any Bible is a precious gem, but just in terms of physical appearance, this one (my first Cambridge) is nothing special.

    • Shawn says:

      I have the goatskin and it’s too floppy so you should be glad its stiff. I don’t use mine anymore because it just wasn’t comfortable in my hands.

  10. Christina Ricucci says:

    I don’t mind the stiffness in principle; I appreciate its sturdiness. I’m disappointed that it doesn’t lay open flat in the early OT books and the latter NT books and I’m almost embarrassed at how cheap looking the calf split “leather” is. I realize we’re just talking about the external, but isn’t the physical appearance a part of the reason we choose a particular Bible?

  11. Shawn says:

    Hello, I was wondering if there was any room for taking some notes. I use an ipad mostly for my preaching but i want a paper copy of the bible that is easy to carry along with my ipad but also allows some space for notes. Would this be a good choice for me?

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