Paul Saenger - The bible as a book

saccade's picture

I'm writing a thesis about the typography and readability/legibility of contemporary bible editions.
Of course I also want to take into account what has been achieved in bible printing in history and try to compare where there are improvements and where there is worsening of typography and readability/legibility between former editions and editions of today.
In my research I found a reference to the book/series "The bible as Book: the first printed editions", van Kampen et al. by Paul Saenger.

I didn't see what's written in it, because I cannot get the book here.
Maybe I should consider buying it - and therefore I need someones help:

Does anybody know this book or the entire series?
Or the authors?

And: Maybe someone has good advice for additional literature?

thank you for any help


hrant's picture

Hey, nice find. I don't know the book myself, but Saenger's most famous work, "Space between Words" is quite insightful.

BTW, your topic sounds killer. Bible type falls squarely into my own lo-fi obsessions. So when you finish the paper, could I please ask you to share it with me/us?

Also: Van* Krimper made a bible font (a quite extreme one, called Sheldon), which can be seen in Tracy's "Letters of Credit", as well as "The aesthetic world of Jan van Krimpen - book designer and typographer"** (and I'm sure elsewhere too).

* Note that -apparently- Dutch wants that capitalized when the proper name is omitted.

** Which features a nice enlargement of the "f" and "g" - let me know if you'd like a scan.


saccade's picture

Oh, thank you. "Space between Words" is already ordered. And I did find this interview (, which is interesting for my matter too.

Of course I will share - there is only one (I hope little) problem: It's written in german about german editions. But maybe I have enough fun to translate it.

A scan would be very nice. I couldn't find a specimen of Sheldon in my books. And Sheldon is not listed in nor in

The editions (widespread and printed in the last 10 years in Germany) I have in my research use the following fonts (in random order as they stand in my shelves):

Gill Sans
Trump Mediaeval
Times (/New Roman)
Garamond Condensed

and (a netherland-edition as an exception because of the font): Lexicon

All the editions are for normal reading, no big de luxe copies.
My main interest is how their typography honors content (to speak with Bringhursts words) or how it stands between content and the reader (I fear this is the case in most of the cheap bibles with mostly bad typography that should supposedly ease reading but actually don't). [sorry my English now gets to it's limits - writing the paper in two languages will be hard work - I hope I'm clearly understandable]


Gustavo Ferreira's picture

kurt weidemann's itc weidemann was also designed for a bible.

saccade's picture

Of course the german bible society uses the original "Biblica" (owned by them) instead of the later released ITC Weidemann.
So I should have written Biblica/Weidemann.
There are minor differences. I will show them later.

Rotis was used as Rotis Serif.
I once also saw a very cheap edition set in Rotis SemiSerif (!).
But I was a little upset about that (there is an own story about Rotis and its use in Bavaria where I live - and a huge typographical discussion, also happened here I think), and didn't want to buy it at once.
Later I couldn't find it anymore. It was in a shop for 1-Euro-Books-Rests. Now I only feel sad for the people who will propably tire their eyes with it. I remember the typography was awful too.

But of course I hope the holy spirit can use poor quality too and will put vivid sound to the words one can read even in Rotis SemiSerif ;-)


dan_reynolds's picture

Yes, it was originally called Biblica.

Rudolf Koch's Jessen* was also specifically designed for Bibles,** I believe. Not that this is the most legible face in any size. It is beautiful though.

* Properly called Peter Jessen Schrift, I believe.

** I have heard that Wallau was also intended as a Bible face, but I can't verify that. I have seen a few Bible pages depicted in books that were set with it, though.

saccade's picture

Although broken scripts are a beautiful thing (especially in bible editions), and are of special interest in historic evolving and readability/legibility of bible editions, I restricted my research to nonbroken fonts that are read today.

It always is a temptation for me to take broken scripts in account too. But then my research would get longer and longer on the one hand.
On the other hand it wouldn't be possible to change the history and propose a "new" contemporary broken-script-edition that helps reading the bible (although: phantasy lets me sometimes think of something like that).
I'm mainly interested in an improving quality of new editions.


hrant's picture

> how their typography honors content

But also how it honors function (inherent in Typography as craft), specifically economy in this case (since it's a book big enough to cause portability issues).

I'm not sure excluding fraktur is a good idea.

Here's a 600dpi detail scan of the Sheldon repro from Tracy:


And here's a 300dpi scan of the enlargement from the Van Krimpen book:


I included the caption, for laughs.


John Hudson's picture

I have The bible as Book: the first printed editions and also a couple of other volumes from that series. They originate with the British Library and are co-published with Oak Knoll in the USA. It is a very good series.

The Book : a history of the Bible is also worth taking a look at.

saccade's picture

Thank you a lot for the scans. I have to look on them in detail later in my schedule.
Of course function/economy is of the biggest interest.
The portability issue already practically rose up (I had it in mind before), when I presented the first results to my teacher of typography: The box with all that bibles was hardly portable.

I first restricted my paper to bibles that can be held in one hand for reading. But because I wanted to include some editions using interesting fonts - those were design-aware projects and including pictures - so now I have four editions that have to be held with two hands or lying on the table.

Thats a good note for me.
Do you think it's worth buying the whole series ($220 plus shipping to germany)?
As a theologian/typophile I'm interested in the typographical tradition of the bible from two aspects of view. And I think one can learn typographically a lot from the development of the hebrew/greek editions.
From the information from the website of Oak Knoll I couldn't quite figure out if the edition will suite well to my needs.
In my theologian study I already learned a lot of the tradition of manuscripts in the theologian/historian view (and I have books on that too). But now my interest goes to the typographical details and development of that tradition.
It seems that the series covers exactly that point, but I'm not quite sure.

And of course it's an amount of money I have to think well about.

The book of De Hamel had already run on my desk (yesterday, in the german edition). It's a very fine book, and looking on all the beautiful illustrated pages/specimens Umberto Eco's "Name of the Rose" comes to my mind. But I hadn't enough time yet to read the text of De Hamel.


saccade's picture

Oh, I forgot one font I was pleased to find (and it was the first to take in a book of 2 1/2 kilos and 29

saccade's picture


>I'm not sure excluding fraktur is a good idea.

I have it in mind (see my earlier post), but I wanted to exam bible editions that are printed, sold (and read!) today.
In Germany you cannot find any edition in fraktur/blackletter now in the bookshops.
And no younger people could read blackletter/fraktur now.

But rethinking it I came to the assumption that I may be different in other countries.
Is fraktur/blackletter used for new bible editions in USA or Canada today?


hrant's picture

> I wanted to exam bible editions that
> are printed, sold (and read!) today.

That seems like an intelligent self-imposed limit of itself, but doesn't it conflict with your "to compare where there are improvements and where there is worsening of typography and readability/legibility between former editions and editions of today"?


saccade's picture

Yes, of course in the global view.

On the other hand: The best legibility/readability of fraktur/blackletter doesn't help, if people can't read it anymore - or if they have the false connotation with the script.
I suppose it would bring another, much more distant "sound" to the words. That could perhaps even help - like a "defamiliarization"-effect we know from theatre or literature. But in most cases this doesn't work for the broad audience.

But improvements and worsening can also be shown in comparing the "old" typographically learned and sophisticated editions of former hotmetal printers compared to modern computerists.
Dealing with the economic screw is so easy in computersetting: You reduce tracking, linespacing, take a condensed font - and voila: the bible doesn't seem as a huge book anymore! (But you can't read it anymore if you want to read more than three words a minute).

Fortunately we have a reference edition set by Max Caflisch with care in the 60s. And he wrote detailed about it.
There is plenty of comparison between all editions of now.


saccade's picture

Ah, maybe I've got the point now:
Of course there will be a look on the achievements and improvements of historic typography (otherwise I wouldn't have looked for the book of Saenger et al.) in the introductory part of my paper,
but the main part will not deal in detail with those historic editions but with those of today.

And here there is enough to compare. I already prolonged and expanded my objects and schedule several times and now should restrict myself to finish it once.

As I know myself it wouldn't be the last thing that I do ;-) And I'm already very interested in the typographical evolvement of the hebrew and greek scriptures. (and also the syriac, coptic, armenian and others which I unfortunately cannot read).
The series "Bible as book" so seems very interesting to me.

Behind all that research there is also the Question: What kind of doing, gesture, handling will be provided by the appropriate typography?

The process of reading aloud or silently,
of reading concentrated, easily, with a friendly mind,
or with a severe, earnest, grave mood,
of reading in the flow of the words and following the thoughts of the text
or glancing through the text looking for religious munitions or things to get upset about,
of being freezed or paralyzed by the huge amount of text,
or bathing in the rich basin of lots of religious experience and knowledge contributed by many people over a long time,
of primary reading the secondary headlines (that sometimes mislead and always shorten own experience of the words/texts) or primary reading of the words/text and getting your own impression,
and so on,
can be influenced by the typographical decisions.

That's why I'm a typophile.


kris's picture

Sounds very interesting Michael. There is also Storm's Biblon:

Which I understand was made specifically for Blible printing. She sure is an eccentric beast!

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