Reviewing the ESV Study Bible in Calfskin



Way back on May 29th I said I had pre-ordered the ESV Study Bible in Goatskin Calfskin.
Edit: I had originally said it was Goatskin. J. Mark Bertrand corrected me on this and I note that it is Calfskin. So I’ve made the appropriate modifications!.
Today I want to review it.

Unboxing the ESVSB in Goatskin Calfskin

This afternoon the badly beat up cardboard mailer arrived. So I promptly opened her up, but suddenly remembered I should shoot some photo’s.
That’s all well and good however the only camera available was the pathetic doohickey on my Treo. After a wayward glance to my broken digital camera (thrice dropped by my daughters) I grabbed my cellphone and started shooting.
Thus I beg that you will pardon the poor image quality.

Might as well take the same picture of the front cover that’s on everyone else’s site too.

Hmmm, it’s shiny.
Notice the reflection of all the books on the bookshelf above my desk? Well that reflection is coming from the plastic wrap. I’m not sure about how good of an idea it is to wrap leather in plastic but it tore off pretty easy. I think the shrinkwrap should have been perforated to allow the leather to breathe, yet it wasn’t. That lead to a distinct lack of the expected leather odor.

Call me a nut if you want too but I love the smell of leather. After peeling off the wrapper I stuck my nose to the cover and inhaled quite deeply and was dismayed to discover it had no scent! Disappointed I sniffed my NASB instead and after getting my fix I went on writing some more of this review. Later as I was flipping it open I thought I caught the whiff of leather and sure enough the bible now emits the redolence of fine leather. I’m going to guess that the shrink wrap was holding the chemicals in and preventing them from moving around. It took a short bit of time out of the bag so to speak for the leather to start breathing it’s heady air. sniffff mmmm. That’s better how about another picture?

But not before getting at least one good spine shot. Notice the certificate vowing to replace the bible should it prove defective. It’s a pretty generous warranty as warranties go.

“… if you should experience any defect in its printing or failure in its binding during normal use, simply return it to Crossway and we will replace it with a Bible of equal or greater value…”

The other paper is shown in the next photo.

The ESV Study Bible comes with a code for access to the ESV Study Bible Online. I wondered myself how that code came, here’s a shot of the little lottery number scratch off code in the lower right corner.

When I pulled it out of the box I immediately noticed that this is a big beefy Bible. I didn’t put it on a scale but in comparison to my other large bibles, this is the heavyweight. The UPS package it came in said five pounds, but that might have just been a weight class… or not, it’s a big Bible. The downside is that the heft alone could well keep me from carrying it around. I certainly would be reticent to pack it into a carry-on for traveling. That’s something of a horrendous thought, with tongue only slightly in cheek I think it is likely to elicit a fuel surcharge on it’s own.

I can’t describe it’s size without giving you a comparison:

This is of course my obligatory stack of Bibles. From the Bottom up you’ll see:

  1. My brand new Cambridge NASB wide margin Edition which has become and will remain my Bible for every day use, study and preaching.
  2. The ESVSB. My goodness that’s a big bible.
  3. My former NASB, which carries hundreds of personal notes and is in fact the one shown in the logo for this site. Note the fashionable black duct tape holding it together.
  4. My Ryrie Study Bible NIV also battered and torn from many years of use. I started my education at Moody when this was already looking worn. It also bears hundreds of personal notes which I am like the NASB transferring page by page into my new NASB.
  5. My Greek New Testament (UBS4).
  6. A small and quite portable NASB bonded leather cover which has endured more rough treatment than it’s larger counterpart yet managed to stay together. I used this one after switching from my small NIV at Moody. And yes, more personal notes therein.
  7. My Equally minuscule NIV which I carried through the second portion of my education at Moody Bible Institute. Notes galore in this one too.

The first time I opened the cover it just flopped right back like I’d been using it for years. The inside cover pages as you can see have a strip of leather embedded in order to stiffen them and provide support when holding the Bible in your hand.

Again you can see how well the Bible flexes, this shot was actually taken before I fanned the pages in order to release the gilding.

After fanning the pages I opened it roughly in the center and note how wonderfully it opens up. The covers are wonderfully limp yet the binding feels firm enough that I didn’t worry about the pages coming apart. Believe me, after a few days of use it’s already looking even better, though I don’t have a comparison picture for you.


Finally note the marker ribbons (there are two). In this shot you can see the ribbon on the left is the one from my NASB, the one on the right from the ESVSB. They are wider and slightly thinner than the ones on the Cambridge NASB.

Like most modern Bibles, the ribbons are merely cut at a generous angle after being embedded. Unfortunately that means the ribbons will soon start to fray. In order to prevent that, I’ve seen people recommend some kind of liquid threadlocker, I have a slightly different technique. Most Bible ribbons are a nylon type of material, so I merely strike a wooden match and while holding the ribbon firm in one hand I quickly pass the end of the ribbon a few times through the flame so that it just begins to sear the edge from fraying. The result, if done correctly is not visible but effectively prevents the ribbon from fraying under the sort of use I expect my Bibles to endure.

The Cover

The cover is a black Calfskin(wish it was green but I’ve not seen anything like that available). The texture is incredibly supple. By comparison my Cambridge NASB wide margin’s interior had been buffed to a remarkable smooth shine. The ESV Calfskin however has the texture through both sides of the cover.
There is roughly a 1/4 inch embossed line running the perimeter of the binding that approximately marks where the pages end and the overhang or yap extends.
The front and back are otherwise plain with a wonderful looking spine with four slightly raised embossed bands and the gold foil stamped lettering is easy enough to read, although slightly un-crisp due to the natural grain of the Calfskin.

The Binding


The documentation on the site and the Colophon in the back claimed it was a Smyth Sewn binding and after trying to gently pry the folios all the way back to see the threads I can just barely see them still deep into the crevice. As mentioned earlier the binding feels quite firm and the pages firmly affixed. Yet the bible opens flat on my desk just as it should.
The paper itself if incredibly thin Primalux 30 GSM which as you can see from the photo on the right permits a fair amount of ghosting. I can only imagine that a heavier paper (for more opacity) would have turned this large bible into something completely unwieldy.

Text characteristics

The fonts are listed as Lexicon, Frutiger and Helvetica. Through the Bible the text is legible and fairly crisp. I’m not able to measure font size but I can at least affirm that it reads well.
Cross references are on the inside gutter and the gutter itself as you may be able to see from the above photo is at least deep enough to allow easy legibility even when the thickness of the Bible creates a bit of a hump.

Graphics and maps

Embedded throughout the text are color maps. They are amazing and it’s readily easy to see why they are better when you see them. This is probably where I should take another picture but I didn’t. Elsewhere you’ll find images of various temples, the tabernacle, numerous charts and feature after feature well placed where they are most likely to be needed.

Study notes

I won’t major on the study notes here but will only speak of their layout.
There is a clear dividing line between the divine words of God and the human commentary below. They are also clearly separated by typeface.
Verse numbers in the study notes are bold for quick location, as are direct quotations. I haven’t really had time to experience them much as I’ve only just gotten this Bible. Yet after reading the introduction and a few of the articles I’m certain that a few of the notes will be obvious things that most experienced Bible readers will know while others will doubtless reveal a golden nugget now and then. I know that’s a vague summation but without having read a thousand of them or so I can’t honestly offer a more precise overview than that.