Although the Cybis studio never produced a porcelain Christmas tree, their ‘sister company’, Cordey, made two styles. At least one of the trees was produced during the years when the Cybis and Cordey lines co-existed in the same Church Street studio. Because one of the main Cordey lines was lamps, it made sense for them to offer a lighted ceramic tree; such items were a staple of holiday home decor during the 1940s and 1950s.
The tree molds are noticeably different from each other when compared. Both were given design/mold numbers in the 100 series which is a bit unusual because, as explained in Decoding Cybis and Cordey Design Numbers, the few that began with 1 were vases and bowls and had four digits, not three. It’s also possible that these correspond to an outside mold company’s item number.
Both tree designs were produced in green and in white, and were lit from within by a 25-watt bulb. Extra multicolored tree bulbs were included. Both trees were also produced in two sizes: Small and Large. The small trees are between 12” and 13” high overall (including the base) while the large trees are between 18” and 19” and weigh approximately 6 lbs.
Cordey Tree #126
The #126 Cordey tree has “plump” looking branches with fat rounded tips, and sits on a base that is similarly rounded in style. Even the corners of the square base bottom are rounded. The small light bulbs in primary colors have sharply pointed tips which contrast well with the soft pillowy style of the tree. This tree may have been a “Cordey original” mold or may have been purchased elsewhere by them. The fact that I have not found any hobbyist versions of this tree may indicate the former.
Both of the trees illustrated above are the Small version. If I eventually locate a photo of the Large model I will add it here.
Cordey trees came with instructions for assembly and use. The company may have switched from printing them on normal paper (top photo) to a heaver cardstock (bottom.)
Cordey Tree #131
The #131 Cordey tree reverses the rounded/pointed ratio seen in #126: The branch sections are slimmer, more defined, and come to a point at the end; the base is likewise angular and with sharply defined edges. The small multicolor bulbs, however, are round … rather like gumdrops. This tree is the Large size version.
Here is a good view of the Small #131, again in the white version. I have not yet found a photo of a green one in this model but they definitely made them because the top of the Large model’s box was hand-marked 131-W, indicating that there were also 131-G examples produced.
The instruction sheet provided is clearly detailed.
When Were These Trees Made?
Online sellers have dated these vintage trees to various decades, so it’s useful to see if we can pinpoint their production time a bit better.
The Cybis-owned Cordey operation existed from the early 1940s until the mid-1950s. At some point after 1953 it was spun off into separate ownership (most likely sold to Norman Schiller, who in 1969 sold the company to Lightron.) Because the instruction sheets are not dated, our only clue to production years comes from the original Cordey boxes.
The logo on the bottom of the #126 tree’s box is that of the Seaboard company in Newark, NJ. A bit of research shows that the Seaboard Paper Company already existed in 1947 but then changed its name to Seaboard Container Corporation by 1949; it remained as that name until 1954, at which time it was acquired by the National Container Corporation. Assuming that the Cordey operation was ordering their tree-box stock as needed (with the custom stamping of Small Xmas Tree and Large Xmas Tree) that establishes a mid-1940s to mid-1950s production window for this tree. It also shows that the #126 tree was definitely made by the Boleslaw Cybis owned company and not the Schiller-Cordey or Lightron one.
But what about the #131 tree’s box, showing the box company as MannKraft? This throws a monkey wrench into the works, because conflicting accounts exist as to the history of that company. One online source claims the company was founded in 1993. However, an executive profile of Allan Levine, president of the Paige Company, states that he “graduated from Columbia Business School in 1965 and worked in the family business, Mannkraft Container, for many years” and notes that the Mannkraft company was sold in 1976 and eventually relocated to Pennsylvania. It seems that we cannot date the #131 Cordey tree via its original box… or can we?
Notice the MannKraft address which is shown as Newark 14, NJ. The two-digit number (14) was the postal code for that section of Newark prior to the establishment of the zipcode system we’re all familiar with. The nationwide use of zipcodes didn’t begin until 1963, but the postal zone system had been in place since 1943. So we can narrow down the production of the #131 tree to a twenty-year window (1943-1963). Not too much help, but at least it gives these at least a 50/50 shot at having been made by the Cybis-owned Cordey shop.
Similar Trees That Are Probably Not Cordey
The #131 tree model is occasionally seen for sale described as a Cordey item based only on the mold. However, I suspect that other companies may have utilized this mold as well as hobbyists. Here are a couple of examples of trees that in my opinion were not made by any of the Cordey operations.
Although the tree mold and base mold look the same at first glance, it is slightly different – especially in the way the cord exits. In this tree the cord has been already brought through the base mold’s hole by the manufacturer, which in this case was almost certainly the Raymond Lamp Company of California. They typically added the ‘drizzle’ of white paint to their green tree models. The Cordey #131 tree base’s cord exit manner is different and was assembled by the purchaser.
Here are two identical tree molds on different bases and with different mini lights. The tree on the left has pointed bulbs (the Cordey tree shipped with round bulbs) while the “matching” tree on the right has a mixture of round bulbs and pointed ones.
The two bases are clearly different. The one at left in this picture (on the right in the first photo) does match the Cordey #131 although I wish a photo had been provided of the cord exit area.
What throws me off the Cordey train re: these trees is the underside. Neither of the actual Cordey trees look like this underneath. It is possible that whenever the Cordey (original or later) company decided to stop making these trees they sold their leftover molds/stock to someone else who put trees and bases together willy-nilly … or these both could be hobbyist productions. The rather odd paint job (gray branch tips??) also does not seem like anything that a lamp manufacturer would choose.
So we can say with certainty that the Cordey #126 tree was definitely made by the Cybis-owned Cordey studio, and also was possibly designed there (based on my failure to find any non-Cordey examples of this exact tree mold.) The Cordey #131 has a 50/50 or better chance of having been made by the original Cordey studio in Trenton during that same period but also may have been produced by the Norman Schiller owned operation during the late 1950s or very early 1960s. The tree mold itself was probably a commercial one available to other manufacturers and hobbyists as well, in ‘kit’ form.
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