The Making of an Allan Bible

February 1st, 2018 | By Ian and Dominique Metcalfe | Category: Bibles Direct Latest

Founded in 1863 in Glasgow, Scotland, R.L. Allan is world-renowned for its beautiful hand-bound Bibles, both in the traditional King James Version and a selection of modern Bible translations. As holders of a Royal Licence as Her Majesty’s Printers for Scotland, we pride ourselves on the quality of the Bibles we publish – bringing together the finest available reference typesettings, printed on the best quality Bible papers, with the world’s finest handcrafted bindings, and bound for us either by craft binderies in the UK and The Netherlands, two of the most significant nations in the history of the translation, typesetting and printing of the Protestant Bible.

For the King James (Authorised) Version we have taken on the mantle of Oxford University Press’s traditional typesettings, with the Longprimer (10/11pt) double column reference setting as the flagship, recently rescanned from two vintage 1950s copies in order to get closer to the original clarity and crispness of this classic setting. Like all our King James Version Bibles and a couple of our ESV and NASB editions, these Bibles are printed for us by Royal Jongbloed in The Netherlands on the finest quality Bible papers. The papers we use for our own printings are milled in Europe, most often in France, and at each respective weight they offer the best available combination of thinness and opacity to minimise show-through.

For more modern translations we either print with Royal Jongbloed (ESV New Classic Readers, NASB Readers) or work with the originating publisher to identify their best existing reference settings and buy in sheet stock from them according to our specifications.

All of our Bibles are Smyth-sewn for maximum flexibility and longevity in the book block. You can’t see the tiny threads that hold together the many printed sections that make up your Bible, except for the odd glimpse at the centre of the page when you open the Bible on a page at the middle of a particular section. But they are critical to its combination of flexibility and strength – allowing it to lay flat on a table or mould to your grip when carried, yet also giving you the reassurance of knowing it will hold together much longer than a modern style glued binding. Our Bibles also have simple white head and tail bands, and three wide ribbons so it’s easy to keep multiple pages marked at the same time.

All our Bibles feature art gilt page edges, where the gilt gold or silver page edges are accentuated with a (usually) red or blue underlayer. Our aim is to offer the richest tone possible, and since this accent colour is applied by hand in small batches it does mean that a little of the red or blue colour can often be seen around the very edge of the page, particularly towards the front and back of the Bible.

Above all, though, what marks out an Allan Bible from any other is the hand-casemaking approach. Our leather-lined Bibles continue – and indeed develop – the finest tradition of Bible binding, with the outer case made entirely of leather, inside and out, for the utmost flexibility. (Please note that ‘Bible yoga’ – bending back or rolling the covers to demonstrate their utmost floppiness – is certainly possible, but is not recommended!) The overwhelming majority of our Bibles are made in this way, although a small number are non-leather-lined ‘paste-off’ bindings, enabling us to offer a more cost-effective way to access some of our classic book block styles. These use an imitation leather endpaper to join the book block with the leather outer case, with the endpaper glued over the leather turnover around the edge of the case – hence the ‘paste-off’ or ‘paste-over’ nomenclature.

The cases for all our Bibles are handmade: whether leather-lined or not, each case is individually cut out and assembled, with the leather edges turned over and the four corners pleated by hand. Ours are the only Bibles in regular production to be made in this way, and the small variations these hand processes introduce ensure that each individual Bible is genuinely unique. Each case is also individually embossed, with gold/silver and blind bands on the spine, and with gold/silver inside the case also, to match the page edges. The inside case of each Bible is stamped with the leather used for the outer case at the front, and ‘Allan Binding’ (or ‘Allan First/Limited Edition’ as appropriate) on the back.

This hand-casemaking approach is the only means by which a sufficiently generous yapp can be achieved in order to protect the art gilt pages in particular, and the Bible book block in general. (As a side note, although the definition ‘semi-yapp’ could mean anything beyond the kind of page overlap seen on a typical hardback, for our leather-lined Bibles we try to ensure a ‘full yapp’ means just that, with the leather fully overlapping at the front, and describe anything less as ‘semi-yapp’.) As the Bible is used the yapp bends over the page edges more, adding to the protection it offers, something that is more or less exclusive to an Allan Bible these days.

Over the past four years, as we have developed production of Allan Bibles with new binderies, we have striven always to push quality ever upwards, from details as small as increasing the line spacing and paper weight for the Notepaper at the back of our Bibles, through to retraining the old skills of genuine hand-pleating for corners.

The result of all these efforts is not the micrometre precision of an iPhone but the personality that comes only with the finest handcrafting methods – the gold standard of craftsmanship. Our aim is always to ensure that the outer form of an Allan Bible reflects the golden words it contains, and we would like to thank you all for joining us along this journey.


Art gilt page edges

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