Starting over

January 14th, 2016 | By Ian and Dominique Metcalfe | Category: Bibles Direct Latest

Although more recent years have seen us branch out into the modern translations, the King James Version Bible is R.L. Allan’s heartland. Our official imprimatur as Her Majesty’s Printers for Scotland is actually a more recent credential, where in days gone by our close association with Oxford University Press to produce our Bibles enabled us to come under the umbrella of their status as perpetual holders of the privilege of publishing the Authorized Version (as it is more properly known). This partnership with Oxford University Press is what has gifted us some of the finest Bible editions available today, whether that be the pocket size Ruby editions or the Brevier Clarendon and Blackface.

Amongst the various editions we have now inherited from Oxford University Press since the decline of their fine Bibles business, though, it is surely the Longprimer – named for the 10pt type used in its typesetting – that is our most prestigious and widely-regarded Bible. Last year’s addition of the Longprimer Sovereign, with the same page image but a wider margin on the outer and bottom page edges in particular, has been a great success, but it is the ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ Longprimer that I want to talk about today.

As I say, the Longprimer Sovereign has met with a very pleasing reception, but the process of checking the running sheets and of seeing the Bibles in print raised a question in our minds: what if we could go back to where the Longprimer began? What if we could recreate the Longprimer as it was originally made to be, as its first typesetter saw it? The Longprimer first appears on our Allan’s price lists after its first printing in 1952: what it did look like then?

There are two key ways in which the text we have been selling as the Longprimer differs from the original. The first is that there are a fairly large number of places in which the type is ‘broken’, in that the original metal letters either got somewhat squashed or where little pieces broke off completely during the 30 years or so when it was printed from metal type. The second is that once this original metal type setting had been transferred to film so as to be printed by offset lithography, sometime in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the image of each letter ‘spread’ over time as the film degraded, so that the scanned image we use to print from now – although it will not degrade further – carries the hallmarks of this half-century and more of use and misuse.

After some conversations with and help from fellow Bible enthusiasts in the USA we tracked downone early copy, and the chance discovery of another in the archive of the old Scottish Bible printing firm William Collins and Sons – now HarperCollins, of course, and the company where both my uncle Nicholas Gray and grandfather Andrew Gray gained much of their publishing knowledge, and (in the London office) where I worked for 12 years myself – we were able to see something of what the Longprimer was supposed to look like, and we are now on the brink of being ready to share this experience with you all, in the form of the ‘remastered’ Longprimer, a new printing scanned from these original 1950s vintage editions. With a clearer, crisper page image – but still retaining a distinctive character – and by no means clinically perfect in the way of modern computer-driven typesettings – this king of Bibles is free to be its true self once more.


Longprimer rescan 2016

Longprimer rescan 2016

1952 Allan's price list

1952 Allan’s price list

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