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I’ve been mulling it over in my head for some time, that is, whether or not I would consider buying another Bible in the bonded leather format.

You see, the problem I’ve encountered with bonded leather is basically the same one most other fellows run into: the cover doesn’t hold up under constant, long-term use. It warps, peels, cracks, and just generally deteriorates.

Out of my current collection of about 17 or 18 Bibles, I have one that is genuine leather, probably six or seven that are hardcover, two that are the new soft-feel leather-like imitation leather, and the rest are bonded. Most of those have not received a lot of use, but a few have. Those showing the most obvious signs of wear are the TNIV slimline large print, the TNIV Reference Bible, and especially my NASB Giant Print Personal Size Reference Bible.

The TNIV slimline is peeling along the edge of the fold where the cover meets the spine, both front and back, but it’s not too obvious. The TNIV Reference is showing little wear in regards to its being bonded leather; it’s mainly deteriorating from hard use by its previous owner and from my own dropping it once.

The NASB, on the other hand, is my own doing. It has received very heavy use almost from the day I bought it. The bonded leather of its cover is peeling at the spine folds, as well as in a couple sundry spots. It is warped due to heavy use; it is cracking along the edges, and the surface seems to be deteriorating nearly to the point where I am concerned that the cover will simply fall apart one of these days. Beyond that, the inside is also seeing the separation of pages in both the front and the back.

Am I complaining? I suppose I am. I’d like for my Bible to stand up under such heavy use and come out of it looking perfect, of course! Can I really expect that kind of performance from bonded leather? Conventional wisdom says I can’t. Conventional wisdom says I should be happy it has lasted as long as it has. It also says that bonded leather is a good material for a cheap, throw-away Bible that one buys for a low price, use either heavily or hardly at all, and then discard when it becomes unusable or we become tired of it. And there is something to be said for that.

But is there a material that will hold up under such heavy use and come out smelling like a rose? (I know that’s probably not the best metaphor.) Perhaps there is. Genuine leather supposedly fills that bill, though I don’t really have a lot of experience with it. The one real leather Bible I have is a study Bible that doesn’t really get all that much use, so I would expect that with a little bit of care it will probably outlast my lifetime.

Of course, genuine leather comes in a number of different grades and types, mostly depending on the kind of animal it comes from and how it is made. Pigskin, cowhide, calfskin, goatskin, deerskin, alligator, even ostrich and kangaroo are among the different types, and they all come with a price. Genuine leather is, almost by definition, more expensive than bonded leather, so one should theoretically be able to expect better performance from it.

At the other end of the spectrum is the new, soft, leather-like imitation leather that the manufacturers are now using on many of the cheaper models. Often times they are two-tone, with any number of fancy designs molded into the cover. I have one, an ESV thinline, with a Celtic Cross molded into the front of the cover. The other one I own, also an ESV, the single-column reference Bible, is a very traditional black with gold edging, and to touch it the untrained hands would think it’s smooth calfskin, much like fine driving gloves. (That is, if hands could think!) While I have used that particular Bible rather heavily, at this point it is showing no appreciable wear whatsoever.

While it’s still too early for me to give any definitive answer to those who would ask about these new soft imitation leathers, at this point things are looking very good for them. They certainly seem to be more durable than bonded leather, and they’re certainly more pleasant to use simply because they feel so much like fine leather and not at all stiff and plasticky like some bonded leather covers do.

So my recommendation at this time would be, go with the soft, leather-like imitation leather cover if you have that choice over bonded leather, or go with genuine leather if you can afford it. Bonded leather has simply been left in the dust these days, and there is really no legitimate reason to choose it if you are given these other, better options.