The Cambridge ESV Clarion Reference Edition Review
Cambridge is a name that you should know when it comes to Bibles. They produce some of the finest Bibles in the world and have been doing so since 1591. Cambridge is the largest high quality Bible publisher and they publish in many translations. They also publish in a wide range of styles in several different materials.
I have the privilege of reviewing the Cambridge Clarion in the ESV translation in black goatskin leather. The ESV is my preferred translation, but if it’s not yours, Cambridge prints the Clarion in most major translations. I have written previously about my favorite premium ESV being the Heirloom Legacy from Crossway. Well, hold on to your seats because, while very different from the Legacy, the Clarion may just be my new favorite Bible. Let’s talk about what makes the Clarion special.
The Clarion comes in a nice clam-shell box. The box has a unique look to it. It has more color and words than many of the other premium Bible boxes I’ve handled, but this isn’t a bad thing. It gives a lot of information about the Bible including style, translation, and manufacturing materials. It truly sets itself apart from other Bible publishers out there.
This Bible really surprised me. I didn’t expect it to be as small as it was. I would describe it as a personal size Bible and it is extremely portable. It measures 5.125 × 7.0625 × 2 in and weighs in at about 3 pounds. I found this Bible to be a delight to handle. It just feels right when I’m holding it. It is on the thick side, but with the length and width it just feels right in your hand. The Bible itself is a nice, black goatskin with a deep grain. The goatskin makes the Bible supple and flexible, which really contributes to the feeling that this Bible is meant to be held.
The spine is simple with minimal text including Holy Bible, the translation (ESV), and Cambridge on the bottom. The Bible features two red bookmarks. The bookmarks are definitely of a nicer quality than Crossway’s Bibles, but maybe not as nice as Schuyler. My personal preference would be to have three bookmarks in this Bible, but your preferences may differ. I also typically prefer raised spine ribs, but for the size of this Bible I actually think the simpler, flat spine is probably more aesthetically pleasing.
The inside cover is some sort of black, smooth synthetic material with edge-lined goatskin. I would have preferred a goatskin leather interior and I’m honestly unsure why Cambridge chose to go this route. It doesn’t look bad, but the goatskin interior gives a Bible a more premium feel. The page edges have a red-under gold art gilt that looks really nice. The Bible has Smyth-sewn binding, which adds to the flexibility and durability the Bible.
This Bible, like most of the higher quality Bible on the market has a bit of a stiff hinge in the front and back to increase the durability of the binding. This requires some break in if you want it to open flat in Genesis, but I didn’t find it to a problem in Revelation. I could not find an actual listing of the paper thickness, but have seen certain places report it’s a 28 gsm. Cambridge’s website just lists it as an India paper and the inside of the Bible says it is supplied by Papeteries du Leman, Thonon-les-Bains, France. That being said, I found the paper to be of a nice quality with line-matching minimizing ghosting. To go any thicker with the paper of this Bible would have made it almost too thick to comfortably hold. At the front of the Bible, you will also find a blank page with lines to write a commemoration if this Bible was a gift or you wanted to remember the occasion for which you received it.
The inside text and layout of this Bible is what I find truly incredible. The text block, font choice, and page layout are what really makes this Bible shine for me and puts it as a main contender to be my favorite. The font itself is called Lexicon No. 1 and it was chosen because set on the page, it looks bigger than what it really is. This actually works! The font size is 8.75, but side-by-side with my ESV Heirloom Legacy, which has a 9 point font, the Clarion font actually looks the same size if not bigger. All of this is to point out that this is very intelligent design on the part of Cambridge. Designing the font this way allows a small Bible to remain small all the while looking like it has larger print. Cambridge deserves a lot of credit here.
The Clarion is a single column Bible, which is my preferred layout. The column width is the perfect size with about 12-14 words per line. The text is black letter, which is also my preference. This is a reference Bible and Cambridge has chosen to place the references in the outside margin. I really like this choice and find it to be an attractive layout, but it may bother you if you write notes in the outer margin of your Bible. There are also textual notes on the bottom of the page.
One interesting choice that Cambridge has made with this Bible is to start a new book of the Bible on the same page that a previous book ends. I had never seen this done before and it definitely struck me as different. This, I imagine, once again serves to keep the thickness down. When I look at it, it really isn’t something that bothers me, but I did find it to be strikingly different. I love the size of the Bible though so I am pro these size saving decisions that they have made.
In the back of the Bible, you’ll find a table of weights and measures, maps, and robust concordance. I’ve never been one to use a table of weights and measures and I’ve written previously about how I think maps are increasingly unnecessary with the advancement of the internet, but if you enjoy and use these things then they are there for you. The concordance is a really nice feature for study and useful in a reference Bible. It contains more than 3,000 word entries and more than 14,000 Scripture references. It’s a feature that I’m sure you will find really useful if you use your Bible for study and don’t pair it with some other digital study tool.
If you’re looking for one Bible that does everything really well in a nice, portable package then this is the one I recommend. With the references, concordance, and portable package, this is the Bible I will be quick to grab. I don’t think I can pick a favorite between this and the Heirloom Legacy. This Bible is the go-to workhorse while the Heirloom Legacy doesn’t contain references, is bigger, and is created to be read without distraction. They are in some ways a perfect pairing. However, if you can only pick one, then I recommend you pick up this Cambridge Clarion. It’s incredible all-around and you won’t be disappointed.
You can pick up your copy of the Cambridge ESV Clarion in Goatskin on Amazon.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from Cambridge in exchange for a fair and honest review.