The search for that perfect Bible. What are the most common Bible features available today? (Part 1, Covers)

DSCN3175It is difficult to find that perfect Bible, but this is where many of us start out. When you finally decide to get a high quality Bible, you want to get all of the features you like in one edition. The problem is that rarely is there one Bible that will satisfy all of your requirements. In this article we are going to look at some of these features, a few of the pros and cons of the features, and a little basic Bible design and layout. Hopefully this will help you make an informed purchase, and keep you from having unrealistic expectations.

I know many people ooh and ah over floppy, natural hide, edge lined covers, but these aren’t always the best Bibles to have. There are also a bunch of folks who have no idea what the difference is between bonded leather, genuine leather, and calf skin leather. So, let’s start off by learning about covers. After all, it is the first part of the Bible a person sees and touches.

The least expensive covers are equivalent to those you’d find on a paperback book. Not much to know here. Some of the pros are that they are inexpensive to mass produce. Usually you find these covers on evangelism Bibles. Perhaps you’ve been handed a Bible with a paperback cover? They are only a couple of bucks to buy, and they get the job done. The biggest con is that they are not durable. They tear and dog-ear very easily.

Hardback covers are next. These types of covers are common and inexpensive like the paperback covers. Everyone should be familiar with them. They are a cardboard sheet known as a book board, that is underneath a paper, cloth, or hide cover. In the past these were often made out of wood. They provide rigidity to the text block so the book can be stored standing on its edge. They also support the pages while you hold them. One of the problems with a rigid board is that if you drop it on a corner it will deform and stay that way. If you do store it on a shelf, as you take off the shelf, and replace it on the shelf, the edge will become worn. Also the text blocks tend to pull away from the book boards over time and require repair.

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Synthetic covers are the next step up. They offer a wide range of appearances and styles. They are also inexpensive to make. They can be made to simulate leather or just about anything else you might cover a book with. They can be made with various designs in them making them very attractive compared to paperback and hardback Bibles. The covers don’t stand up to skin oils, sunlight, and other environmental hazards like being scratched or scraped when compared to the durability of a good quality hide cover. They also lack the smell and texture of real leather.

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Bonded leather used to be one of the most common inexpensive covers before the rise of synthetic covers. I would just like to say, there are no pros to bonded leather… Ok fine, maybe they were not as expensive as a genuine leather cover, but come on! They are basically leather sawdust and scraps, bonded together with adhesive and dye, and then they have a fake leather grain stamped into them. They are generally not very flexible either. They are more durable than paper or had back. They are even more scratch and scuff resistant than synthetic covers, but when the surface is compromised, the oils and salts from your skin will sink in and make the damage worse. It will swell, and flake apart where the crease or cut is. There is a new bonded leather called Cromwell bonded leather that is supposed to be a very durable, long lasting bonded leather. I’ve just never liked the feel or smell of the bonded leather covers.

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Now for the genuine leather covers, but wait, all is not as it seems! You might think that if it is labeled, “Genuine Leather” that it is cow leather, but you’d be wrong! Oh no my friends, don’t be deceived by this clever marketing. Many of the bibles sold in the $40-$80 range listed as genuine leather are actually… pig skin leather. Yep, pig skin leather is much less expensive than cowhide leather. It is split thinner, it is colored, and gets a grain stamped into it, and it is shiny like plastic, and not that flexible. These covers are pretty tough though. I have to give that to them. They don’t smell as good as cowhide leather either due to all the processing they go through. Because the pig skin is so tough they can use very very thin splits of it.

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Just under the premium category of covers are the calfsplit leather, French Morocco leather, and genuine cowhide leather covers. There is not a market standard on this so there is quite a bit of variance from publisher to publisher. For instance a cowhide leather cover from TBS feels like the French Morocco leather from Cambridge. Basically they take the section under the top grain and stamp a grain pattern into it. It is stiffer and more fibrous, but still smells like cowhide leather because it is. You get all of the great durability of a good cowhide leather cover at a lower price. Honestly this is probably the lowest quality leather I would want on a Bible. All of the others I mentioned before this I would not buy for myself. I expect a Bible to be something I can hand down to my kids and hopefully my grandkids. I won’t buy anything under this. I recommend shopping calfsplit/genuine cowhide and above. French Morocco leather doesn’t necessarily have to be from a cow either. It is also split thinner typically than calfsplit. Don’t get French Morocco mixed up with Moroccan either. Moroccan leather is much higher quality goatskins from Nigeria that are imported and finished in Europe.

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The next class of covers is the premium range. It includes top grain cowhide, calf hide, Vachetta calfskin, Buttero calfskin, and goatskin. There are other hides that are available from rebinders and are occasionally available from publishers. I am not going to address those as they are not commonly available from mass produced Bibles from major publishers.

The top grain cowhides can have natural grain, they can be ironed flat to reduce the grain, they are generally tough and supple, which is a good combination. Calfskin is even softer because it is taken from well, young cows. It is also a bit thinner. It isn’t as resistant to scratches and scuffs as the top grain cowhide. All of these leathers take color during processing very well.  Goatskin covers usually have a nicely pebbled grain to them making them aesthetically pleasing.  They can be dyed in a wide range of colors, are supple, durable, and more expensive.  You don’t get as many covers out of a goat hide.  Goats are smaller than cows 🙂   

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Keep in mind this is just about covers.  The next article will be about the difference between case bound and edge lined Bibles.  Thanks again for reading, and if you haven’t already make sure to follow my blog.  God bless!

The Holman HCSB Large Print Ultrathin Reference Bible in Black Genuine Cowhide Leather is a Wonderful Demonstration of How High Quality Bibles Can be Made in America for a Very Affordable Price.

DSCN4304Yes, it is true! We can still make high quality Bibles here in America, and they are affordable! I’m not saying this is a cheap Bible by any means, far from it. It is a high quality Bible. I will go over all of the features later in the review. This Bible sells for around $80.00 online. Even if they sold it for the suggested retail price of almost $120.00 it would be worth it. So to all of my patriotic friends, “‘MericA!” The Holman HCSB Large Print Ultratin Reference Bible showed up on my doorstep well protected inside an appropriately sized cardboard box padded with paper.   DSCN4302

The two piece retail box is sturdy and should be retained for storage. The Bible was wrapped in black paper to further protect the black genuine cowhide leather cover.

DSCN4308I’ve read some other reviews of this Bible and much ado was made over the cover’s softness. I’ll admit that is the main reason I wanted to review this for myself. Although, it is a very nice cover, I wouldn’t call it the softest or most supple cover I’ve ever seen. Considering that soft does not always equate to good, don’t let my mention of that stop you from getting this Bible. I quite like that it isn’t as soft as what I was reading on other sites. For instance, I have an R. L. Allan Readers in goatskin leather. It is nothing like the goatskin I have on a Cambridge Clarion Bible. The Allan was thick and tough compared to the Cambridge. When you get into Bibles, one of the first things that gets you going is that there are Bibles out there with very soft covers. This new excitement wears thin after a while. After using Bibles with super supple covers for a while you begin to notice some drawbacks. Super supple covers or ssc’s for short, do enhance the flexibility of a quality edge lined, sewn binding. What you’ll notice though is that you will begin a tendency to bend your Bible in ways that are not conducive to a long useful binding life. You’ll also become annoyed at your Bible flopping around at inconvenient times. If you have a larger Bible that is ssc it will become more difficult to sit and read as you have to support it someway. The ssc’s also are more susceptible to scratches, and abrasions. The cover can flop away from the pages and leave your pages unprotected. I don’t know how many more dog eared pages I’ve gotten solely due to the ssc. There is a happy medium, thank goodness. I think that this Bible fits in that category very well. The genuine cowhide leather cover IS supple, but not too supple.   DSCN4309

DSCN4310  It is coupled with a case bound text block instead of an edge lined one.   DSCN4314

This also keeps it from being excessively flexible, without too rigid.

DSCN4346  The cover offers just the right amount of support and protection. When I open it to read from it, I can read both the left and right pages while holding the Bible in one hand, without one of them folding over so it can’t be read. With an ssc you can’t do this. With a rigid cover you are fighting the cover, constantly trying to keep it down and out of the way. This Bible is just right in that regard. When I took it out of the box and the paper it was wrapped in, I didn’t notice any chemical smells, just the smell of leather, as it should be. It felt good in my hands. The spine wasn’t too thick or thin. It is manageable in size at 9.75″ x 6.75″ x 1.25″ The texture of the leather’s grain is natural and pleasing to the touch. The spine is decorated with 6 raised hubs. At the head of the spine is the Holman sword and shield logo with, “HCSB” under it. In the middle of the spine are the words, “Holy Bible.” At the foot you’ll see, “Large Print Ultrathin Reference Edition” with the Holman logo beneath it.   DSCN4312

It has gold gilt page edges rounded corners and a slightly rounded spine. The signatures are fairly large. I think this is what accounted for some pretty dramatic looking page waves when I first took this Bible out to use.

DSCN4325  The good news is that those wrinkles you see in the pictures went away after a day of being out of the box and packaging. With just light use everything kind of balanced out. For some reason the pictures made the problem look worse than what it was. Since this Bible has a lifetime warranty through Holman, if you received one with this problem I am certain they would take it back and do what they needed to do to make sure you were happy. I just used it for a little while and it got much better. In the front of the Bible there is a Presentation page. Then there are record pages for Marriage Certificate, Births, Marriages, Occasions to Remember, and Deaths. After the records pages there is the Title page, copyright/publisher’s page, Table of Contents, God’s Plan for Salvation, Introduction to the HCSB translation and finally the text of the Old Testament starts.   DSCN4327

The paper is white enough to offer good contrast with the sharply printed modern digital 9 pt. font. The layout and typesetting was done by 2Krogh AS, Hojbjerg, Denmark and proofreading by Peachtree Editorial Services in Peachtree City Georgia. This Bible uses the 2009 Updated HCSB and cross references.

DSCN4335  This is a red letter edition. It is a double column, paragraph format Bible with center column references and footnotes at the bottom.   DSCN4344

In the footnotes there are alternate readings or notes on textual variants that is quite helpful.

DSCN4343  All of these features lend themselves to a highly legible text. It is easy on the eyes and will be a pleasure to use. The book names and chapter numbers are on the bottom of the page instead of the top along with the page numbers.   DSCN4334

If you are holding this Bible in your hand or lap while reading from a chair this makes more sense. If you are leaning over this Bible reading it at a table or desk the placement of that information can be less convenient. It is not the conventional way to do it, but that is not necessarily bad. There are two ribbon markers for your daily reading in the Old and New Testaments.
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There is a concordance, eight full-color maps, and HCSB Bullet Notes in the back of this Bible. Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised lately by the quality and value of Holman Bibles I’ve been sent for review. I am actually beginning to expect this level of quality and value from Holman. Because of their work and the fact that we can have a domestically produced Bible of quality and value, I am expecting more from other Bible publishers. This is good for Holman, it might be painful to other publishers, but they can look at it as a negative and stop sending me Bibles to review like some have, or they can pick up the challenge and step up their game. Make sure to check out the rest of the pics I took of this Bible here.

ISBN-13: 9781433603020

A Pleasant Surprise from Holman, Review of the Holman KJV Minister’s Bible in Black Genuine Cowhide.

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Holman sent this Bible packaged in a cardboard box with some paper padding it.

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The retail box was inside.

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I had no idea which Bible they had sent me.  I didn’t remember requesting one for review.  I was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of the KJV Minister’s Bible.  When I had originally requested it they were out of stock.  It seems that Holman remembered and sent it when it became available.

When I opened the shipping box I found the retail packaging inside. Keep the two piece gift-box to store your Bible.  This Bible is so supple that it will need to be laid flat for storage.  When I opened the retail box I could see that the Bible was wrapped in a dark colored construction paper to keep it safe from being deformed.

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I like this better than being, “shrink wrapped” with plastic wrap.  Plastic wrap has the tendency to pull the corners down and deform the cover and text block.  If the Bible arrives damaged or during use develops premature wear rest assured, Holman has a lifetime warranty on this product.

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I was impressed by the feel of the genuine cowhide leather cover. It was soft and supple.

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The Bible is edge lined not case bound.

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The edges of the outer cover are rolled over and sewn down.  The spine of the Bible has decorative spine hubs.  They used to be where the signature tapes or ribbons were sewn to the signatures.  The cover would have to be fitted over them which produced the raised hubs.  Now it isn’t an indicator of a sewn binding or not.  You’ll be glad to know this one does have a very flexible sewn binding.  It allows this Bible to do some pretty amazing things and come out unscathed.  It lays flat right out of the box and can even curl back under the spine with both covers at the same time.

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I wouldn’t make a practice of that, but it can do it.  When held open with one hand it drapes over your hand.

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The spine of the Bible is imprinted with, “KJV” at the top, “Holy Bible” in the Middle, and Holman’s logo at the bottom.

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The pages are edge gild with gold colored foil.

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There are two very nice quality ribbon markers in this Bible, one is red and the other is black.

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The pages are opaque, but could be a little more so.  They have a generous inch wide margin for adding your own notes.

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Wide margins are quite helpful for Pastors.  The opacity of the paper is important so that text doesn’t show through the page.

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While preaching and looking down at this Bible you should be able to focus on the text and not what is behind it.  The font is equally conducive to preaching.  It is a neat and clean 12 point font that is consistently inked throughout the Bible in this black text edition.  The text is arranged in a double column verse format making it easy to quickly locate verses.  Book names, chapter, and verse are printed on the top of the page along with headings.

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There are many aids for Pastors included in this Bible.  Here is a list of some of them; Sixty-six page KJV concordance, eight maps, Where to Turn When, Plan of Salvation, color presentation page, Various wedding and funeral outlines by Jim Henry, “Why Read the King James Version?” by Calvin Miller, “8 Traits of Effective Church Leaders” by Thom S. Rainer, “21 Essentials of Authentic Ministry” by James T. Draper, “Four Kinds of Expositional Preaching” by Ed Stetzer, “30 Keys to Giving an Invitation” by O. S. Hawkins, “Leading a Child to Christ” by Bill Emeott, “Reaching Students with the Gospel” by Lynn H. Pryor, “The Importance of Baptism and Communion” by Rick White, Commitment Counseling, The Christian Year and Church Calendar, The Apostles and Their History, and Table of Weights and Measures.  With all that this Bible offers it would be a wonderful blessing for your Pastor as a gift, even if the Pastor is your Dad.  Pastors shouldn’t feel bad about buying such a nice Bible.  It is money well spent on a product that should last for a long time.

You can purchase it on Christianbook.com, Amazon.com, or direct from Holman.

ISBN-10: 1586409301

ISBN-13: 978-1586409302

Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8 inches

Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds

Review of the Holman, New King James Version, (NKJV) Large Print, Personal Size, Reference Bible, in Brown Genuine Cowhide, Indexed, Red Letter Edition.

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Not too many Bibles from large publishers like Holman surprise me. This one is the exception.  I am accustomed to receiving Bibles from big publishers that are for lack of a better term, “disposable.”  Many of them seem to make Bibles that you can use for a couple of years and then have to throw it away when it begins to fall apart.  This Bible truly surprised me.  It came in the mail packed in a white plastic bag-elope.  I was immediately expecting some substandard, mass produced, mail abused, Bible.  I opened the bag and didn’t notice any damage to the box…  bonus!  I was glad that the corners weren’t mashed.  I opened the box (keep the box for storage) and was presented with black construction paper.

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I seriously hoped that wasn’t the cover.  Upon closer inspection I determined that the black construction paper was there to protect the supple and soft genuine cowhide cover.  It smelled like a new leather jacket and the texture was very pleasant.

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One of the most important parts of a Bible is the binding.  Naturally I checked that next.  I was pleased to see that it had a sewn binding.  This makes a Bible last longer and lay flat when you want to read it.

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Have you ever had to struggle against an intrusive and rude cover made of bonded leather, always trying to close on you?  Have you ever had a fake leather cover get stained, scuffed, or torn?  Well I have, and that is why I love genuine leather and goatskin covers with sewn bindings so much.  This Bible’s chocolate brown colored leather cover is lined with a vinyl sheet matching the cover’s color.  The lining is glued down.  This is pretty typical.  I was hoping to see it lined with a higher quality material sewn to the cover, but for the price of this Bible and the features it has I can’t complain.

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This Bible can be purchased for about $48.00 on a couple of different web sites. Christianbook.com has it here and Amazon.com here.  I was a bit surprised to see that this Bible was made in China.

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I was surprised because they seemed to have put it together pretty well.  There is a slight problem with the binding at the bottom, but that could be one of the drawbacks of having it banged around during shipping from China to the States.  It didn’t look like a manufacturing problem as much as shipping damage.  The pages are gilded and indexed.

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The indexes caught my eye as they are rectangular with rounded shoulders.  The usual ones are crescent shaped.  The New Testament ones were red and the Old Testament ones were black.  The spine is gilded with the, NKJV in a circle at the top, and, “Holy Bible” in the middle, with Holman’s logo at the bottom.  The spine has decorative hubs.

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When you open this Bible up you first have the normal presentation and records pages as well as the publishers information.  Then there is some info on the NKJV translation and a page with the plan of salvation.  I was expecting cheaper paper that was more translucent, smaller font, and more ghosting. (text from the page behind showing through)  I was very pleasantly surprised again.  The paper was pretty opaque for a less expensive Bible.  Well, even for some more expensive Bibles it was pretty opaque.

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The font looks to be twelve point and is clear and legible.  The Bible is a double column, paragraph format with some foot notes and references at the bottom of the page.  This was a smart move.  Doing it this way enabled them to print some large font while keeping the size down.  This was going to become my daily reader until my dear wife picked it up.  I think to quote her she said, “Oooh this is so soft and nice…  Can I have it?”  What can you do? This Bible has one ribbon marker matching the color of the cover.

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It opens nicely and is very easy to read.  I love the accuracy of the NKJV.  This Bible has some colored maps at the end.  I highly recommend this Bible for those looking for a daily reader without a bunch of distractions.  It is comfortable to hold and easy on the eyes with the opaque paper and large font.  All of this with the low price makes it an excellent value and asset.

Dimensions: 8.13 X 5.38 X 1.13 (inches)
ISBN: 1433613190
ISBN-13: 9781433613197

I received this Bible free of charge for the purpose of writing a review and am not obligated to write a positive review.

Review of the HCSB Study Bible, in Black Deluxe Leather

First I’d like to start out by saying that study Bibles in general have some benefits and some drawbacks. One of the great advantages is that you have a set of commentaries with your Bible to be carried with you wherever you go.  One of the obvious drawbacks is that all those notes and features add to the bulk of the Bible making it heavier and bigger.  The size and weight isn’t the major drawback.  Most people expect that when they are shopping for a study Bible.  The major drawback of course comes into play when you ask, “Who wrote my commentary?” For instance if your theology is very liberal and intolerably inaccurate then you would absolutely hate the, “MacArthur Study Bible.”  You would probably love a study Bible caters to your liberal theology.  The downfall of having a study Bible with just one mans commentary is that you just get his point of view, and if he is a false teacher you get more false teachings. The benefit is if he is a good teacher, you get very focused and direct answers to difficult passages.

When you have a study Bible where hundreds of theologians were utilized for the commentaries, you end up with what could be a mixed bag of theologies. Unless, that study Bible is put out by an organization or denomination with set doctrine, then they would make an attempt to have the commentaries conform with their doctrines.

Well what if the denomination has a split opinion about some doctrines, like oh, I don’t know… perhaps the Southern Baptist Convention? You guessed it, you’ll have some Reformed doctrines and some Arminian doctrines espoused. I’m not knocking the SBC, after all I’m a member. I’m not knocking this study Bible either. So far I quite enjoy it. I think it is kind of a, “Jack of all trades, master of none” study Bible. I don’t mean to imply a lack of direction or focus on the part of the publishers.  I think that this study Bible will fit a very large cross section of evangelical Protestantism.  This can frustrate some or be refreshing to others. Like I said just a bit ago, I am enjoying it. I myself am in the Reformed camp when it comes to soteriology, but I am not the type of person who cries heretic when I see an Arminian walking down the street. With that all out of the way, we’ll start by taking a look at the construction of this Bible.

The most important physical feature of this Bible is the sewn binding.  I verified with Holman that in fact, this does have a sewn binding.  You can see here how the binding bends in the spine wherever it is opened.  A sewn binding bends and the Bible can open flat because the pages don’t have to bend around a fixed glued point.  The pages are also set up in journals and stacked before they are sewn to binding straps (tape)

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With this method of binding comes some added expense to the consumer, but in my opinion it is well worth it for durability and usability.  The pages don’t fall out of the front or back of the Bible as easily with a sewn binding.

The leather they use here is supple with a good grain.

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It just drapes over your hand.

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Here you can see it rolled up on itself.

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I don’t usually treat Bibles like this, but I wanted you to get an idea of how well bound this one is.  Most large study Bibles will fall apart if you do this with them.  Because of the sewn binding and the quality cover this Bible is going to last a long time.  It has a lifetime warranty from Holman.

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The inside cover does not appear to be lined at first glance, but upon closer inspection you can see that it is lined with some very flexible material that doesn’t crease like the normal vinyl and card paper you typically see.  I like that feature a lot.  It makes the outer cover that much more enjoyable.

The Bible has two ribbon markers.  One is kind of a gold color and the other is black.  They used good heavy ribbons instead of the thin cheap ones that fold up and crease.

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Another part of the binding process I truly appreciate is the first page being glued in further up and away from the gutter, keeping it more securely locked into the cover.

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As you can see the pages are edge gild.  The spine is gild as well.

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If you are like me you may be curious as to what exactly makes those pages so shiny.  I always thought it was gold leaf.  I e-mailed Holman and they referred me to their expert.  He told me that it is actually a gold colored foil made from colored aluminum particles.  The page edges get sanded and then the foil is rolled on.  The heat that is generated by the sanding process makes the inks that are printed on the pages sticky.  So that is why the pages stick together.  Here is a link to a video that they sent me showing how the machine works;

When I received the Bible it was packaged in a retail box.  It got banged around a bit during shipping and one of the corners of the cover was a bit bent.

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This Bible is a double column format with center column references.  It is a black text edition.  The font looks to be a 9 pt. font.  It is printed clearly with good contrast.  The ghosting is minimal even though the pages are very thin.  This Bible is made here in the U.S.

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I think the blue headings and chapter numbers are a nice touch.  The reference chapter and verse numbers are also in blue.  It seems to make them easier to locate for me.  You can also see there is a colored band separating the text from the study notes at the bottom of the page.  The inside of this band is utilized for more references.  It is all quite readable and there is a plethora of information.

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In the picture above you can see one of the word study boxes in the lower left of the page.

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In the picture above you can see one of the colored maps that is spread throughout this Bible in addition to the typical maps at the back.

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These closeup pictures should give you an idea of how clearly the text is printed.

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The page margins are pretty good sized as you can see in the picture below.  They look to be about 9/16ths of an inch.

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I can’t get over how many full colored features this Bible has.  It is chocked full of stuff.  This could be distracting if you are just wanting to read, but if you are studying it could add a number of side studies to your use.

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I know that there are people out there like me who like to see as much as they can before they plunk a chunk of change down on a purchase so I’ve included a photo gallery at the bottom of this review so you can see the features for yourself.  There are book introductions, outlines, topical concordance, presentation pages, records pages, lined not pages, one and three year reading plans, word studies, essays, and on and on and on.  This isn’t a cheap Bible.  It is a good value for all of the features and the quality binding.  You are getting what you paid for here.  I hope you enjoyed the review.

Here is a link to this Bibles page on Christianbook.com where it can be purchased.

You can also purchase it on Amazon.

This list of features comes from the Christianbook.com page for this Bible.  I noticed that some of the features listed there were different from the ones listed on the Holman site.  I think the Christianbook.com list might be more up to date.

Top-quality black cowhide binding
Online access to the HCSB Study Bible and Bible study resources
408 word studies
More than 100 photographs
59 timelines
59 maps
24 articles on practical and theological issues
Feature-length article on how to reaed and study the Bible
16 illustrations/reconstructions
15 charts
Four-color presentation pages
Two-column text setting
Center column references
One-year Bible reading plan
Topical subheads
Black letter text
Gold page edges
Lined pages for personal notes
Presentation page
Two ribbon markers
9.75″ x 7.00″ x 2.00″

The following information is from Holmans site.

Format: Cowhide Leather
Number of Pages: 2304
Vendor: Holman Bible Publishers
Publication Date: 2010
Dimensions: 9.75 X 7.25 X 2.00 (inches)
ISBN: 1586404571
ISBN-13: 9781586404574
Availability: In Stock
References: Center Column
Text Layout: Double Column
Text Color: Black Letter