Interview With Nicholas Gray of R.L. Allan’s Bibles

Installment three of my bible interviews now moves onto Nicholas Gray of R.L. Allen’s Bibles of Glasgow, Scotland. Allan’s has been producing extremely high quality bible editions for almost 150 years now and are the industry leader in quality and excellence of binding.

1) Can you tell us a little bit more about R. L. Allan’s?

R.L.Allan is almost 150 years old and Robert Allan published John Nelson Darby in the 1870s, the father of dispensationalism. Darby’s Bible translation came out in the 1890s. The Allan family were active in evangelistic work in Glasgow and I am a trustee of the Gospel Mission they founded in a needy part of this city. It’s still going after 120 years.

Allan’s have been publishing Bibles for most of this time and built their reputation on publishing fine quality traditionally bound  KJV Bibles.

My own Gray family have been publishing Bibles since 1906 under the Pickering & Inglis name and then from 1970 under the Allan name, when my father bought the business from the Allan family.

So we have always been a family-run business. The Allan company had a bookstore in Sauchiehall Street for many years, and our oldest ex-employee is now 95 years young. She runs the Mission!

2) You’ve made a ton of people happy by finally agreeing to produce NASB editions and we thank you wholeheartedly for doing so. Here in America it is a very popular translation. Can you give us a glimpse into how you produce a new translation edition series like this?

Our reputation is built on our fine bindings mostly. Until recent years we stuck with the KJV translation because that was what we knew our customers wanted. But since I took over the company in 1989, we’ve expanded into NIV, NRSV and ESV. We plan to make NASB and NLT editions this year too.

Sometimes we’ll print an edition for ourselves such as the KJV and the ESV. We took over Oxford’s KJV range of settings and we work with HarperCollins and Crossway with the ESV. Sometimes we buy printed and folded sheets from our partner publishers.

I’ve been in Christian publishing for over 35 years, working for such publishers as Collins in the UK and Zondervan in the States, and now with Allans. So I’ve been able to develop close working relationships with many Bible publishers. That established trust is what enables us to be partners with Lockman and Tyndale House and Hodder and the others I’ve mentioned.

All these relationships are personal, rather than formal and commercial. A metaphorical handshake is all it takes to seal the matter.

3) Can you share with us your relationship with evangelicalbible.com and Mark Bertrand?

Basically it’s based on friendship, or really fellowship. Paul at evangelicalbibles.com simply asked to distribute our Bibles and Mark seems to like Allan Bibles. So our online friendships have grown through our mutual love of fine Bibles. Mark has no link to Allan’s and we don’t pay him to say nice things about what we do! But we love it when he does.

4) What was your first bible?

My first Bible was a lovely red French Morocco KJV Bible published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, Her Majesty’s Printers.It was given to me by my parents and was inscribed with my date of conversion when I was four years old

5) What is you favorite bible?

My favourite Bible is dated 12th November 1922 and is inscribed with the name Helen Mair. It measures 1 3/4 inches high, 1 1 /4 inch wide and 1/2 inch thick! It has a magnifying glass which is hidden in a pocket at the front of this tiny KJV Bible and with this the Bible is perfectly readable. This little Bible is bound in brown calfskin and was printed here in Glasgow by David Bryce and Son. It carries the Royal Licence.

6) I notice that your editions are often said to be “bound in England”. Can you expand on that a bit?

As publishers we don’t print or bind the Bibles ourselves. We seek out the best printers and binders around the world, and because our aims are not foremostly commercial, quality always surpasses cost in this quest.

Our best editions are bound near London at a craft bindery whose owners have royal warrants from the Queen for their fine work.   These volumes are each hand-finished on the bench and are not mass produced in any way.

7) As you most assuredly know, there has been a tremendous boom in high end bible editions such as yours which is mostly attributed to places like the Bible Design Blog and evangelicalbible.com. Can you tell us your thoughts on this new reconnaissance of bible edition interest?

Fine Bibles are things of beauty, no doubt, and we are stimulated by our customers’ encouragement for us to do better. Bur our passion is to produce beautiful bibles that will last for many years and be read for spiritual profit and growth. After all, its what is inside the covers which is eternally important.

R.L.Allan is unique in that we don’t really sell through bookstores. That allows us to draw very close to our customers and each one is a personal contact. We listen to them and try to respond to their wishes, if we can.  Much of the new ideas come from customer suggestions. Being a small company we can be flexible and responsive.

8) On your website, it says:

“R L Allan have recently been granted the Queen’s Royal Licence under Letters Patent to publish the Authorized King James Version Bible in Scotland.  Queen Elizabeth still holds the copyright to the KJV Bible in the UK.”

Can you expand a bit on that?

Being granted the Queen’s Royal Licence for Scotland is an honour more than anything else. Queen Victoria set up the Bible Board in 1839 to police unauthorized editions of ‘her’ Bible. We stand in that tradition. I had to post a bail of £500 in case I misbehaved. Back in 1839, that must have been a fortune!

Cambridge are Her Majesty’s Bible Publishers for England. So we have a friendly arrangement that their Bibles can circulate in Scotland and ours can go into England, and everyone’s happy.

9) Could you share with us the process of art gilding and how it is accomplished?

The page edges are gilded with gold foil using heat and intense pressure. Then the red dye is sprayed by hand onto the gilded edges and the colour appears under the gilding. Hence ‘red under gold’ or art gilt edges. You see the red as you flex the pages and it adds lustre.

10) Are you able to give us a glimpse into the near future for R.L. Allan’s?

We sometimes surprise ourselves. Paul at evangelicalbible.com is close to our US customers and, sensing that there was a read desire for a top quality reference NASB, suggested we approach Lockman. They were about to reprint their side column reference edition and so we agreed to take some sheets for an Allan edition of this very attractive setting of the NASB.

2011 is an important year for the KJV Bible as we celebrate 400 years of this venerable translation. Allan’s will have some special editions of the Longprimer edition to mark the occasion.

The NIV will also have its first full revision since the mid 1980s and that will be an important milestone. We’ll have a new setting of the revised NIV, working with our good friends at UK publishers Hodder & Stoughton. As it happens, my nephew is the Bible Director there!

11) How have both bibles and the process of publishing bibles changed in the past 50 or so years?

The technological shifts in printing from letterpress to web offset and from film to digital imaging have revolutionized the processes.  With the introduction of the new translations from the 1960s on and with modern fliexible technologies, the Bible text has become in flux as the translators continually seek for more and more accuracy in transcribing from the original manuscripts and our understandings of them. This is unsettling for many Bible readers of course, and the KJV remains a bulwark for many against that tide of change.

12) From Jonathan Ammon, would you consider producing a lower priced, entry level edition so others who might be able to afford a few of your editions can get started with a high quality Allan’s edition at a lower price point?

We do this already and generally we provide a cheaper but very good quality edition in French Morocco leather.

13) From Brian Damaged Davis, how do you determine how many of a particular edition to produce at any given time?

We don’t make many at any one time.  When we print we have to lay down sheets for many years’ use,  but we bind in small numbers in batches. They are all hand-finished and that means that we can’t rush it.  We think in hundreds rather than thousands.  As good stewards, we have to husband our resources because we are not a big or wealthy outfit and each Bible is expensive to make.

14) How long would it take to bind a typical Allan’s bible such as the Longprimer?

It takes about three months from taking the folded sheets through to a bound Bible. The sheets have to be collated, then sewn, then endpapered with leather or other material.

Meanwhile leather has been selected and ordered from the tannery, then cut to shape. The covers are made by hand and stamped with gold foil. The trimmed text block and covers are married up and bound by hand on the bench, before inspection and boxing. It’s a long and labour-intensive operation.

15) Finally, please share with us anything else you would like us to know about R.L. Allan’s.

It was the internet which brought us to the attention of the wider world. We had been a ‘best kept’ secret until that new era. We had long served a particular market of KJV readers who knew what an Allan Bible meant. So the world wide web has transformed our small business, not into a big business, but we remain a small business with a growing and loyal customer base who drive us on to aim for perfection in Bible production.

Of course, we’ll only get perfection in heaven, but we do try very hard to serve our customers and listen attentively to their needs. They are most generous to us.  I want to thank all our Allan Bible readers who are so gracious and encouraging to us in our ministry.

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About Matthew Blair

Sinner saved by grace.
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5 Responses to Interview With Nicholas Gray of R.L. Allan’s Bibles

  1. KT says:

    Matt, another awesome interview. I especially enjoyed this one. Thanks for your efforts. 🙂

  2. Jason Turning says:

    Nice inerview. I enjoy my Allan ESV1 very much and will be looking to get the wife her own here soon when she picks a translation. Looks like they’ll have all the choices covered.

  3. ann mcmahon says:

    Very nice interview with Mr Gray.
    I own 2 Allans- one being one of their original ESV in highland goatskin, while the other is their KJV Brevier Clarendon ref edition.
    I also own 2 Cambridge bibles, one is bound in goatskin, and I can tell you in all honesty that the Allan’s highland goatskin is the best binding and has held up much better than the Cambridge.
    I am looking forward to purchasing the Allan’s NASB very much. I know it will be beautiful and excellently made.

  4. Anonymous says:

    does any one know what special Editions of the R.L, Allen Longprimer are comeing out in 2011 ?

  5. Mark says:

    Matt,
    Thank you for posting this interview.
    I am so excited that the NASB will be printed soon.
    I hope that it will be available in 2012.

    Being somewhat older now, my eyes are getting weaker.
    I am so excited that it will be printed in a larger point.
    It may make the text block a little larger, but so much easier to read.

    Thank you, RL Allan

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