The two rarest of the Cybis Porcelain decorative styles were their special finishes called “Cypia” and “old coin gold.” The Cypia technique, which is mentioned in the early 1970s museum exhibit publication Cybis in Retrospect and also in a Cybis catalog of the same era, involved the application of sepia-colored tonations to a white bisque sculpture which would then be finished as either matte or glazed. The old coin gold decoration began with the application of 24k liquid gold which was fired, overlaid with Cypia tonations, and then re-fired. This was a proprietary technique patented by the Cybis studio and resulted in an antique-patina finish rather than the glossier standard 24k gold decoration’s surface.

What’s not definitively known is whether the gold skin seen occasionally (quite rarely, in fact) on a few 1950s religious pieces is actually the Old Coin Gold technique or not. An example is shown in the 1950s Madonnas post among several colorways of the House of Gold madonna and child. That gold is definitely darker than what other studios were using at the time, but whether it is in fact the Cybis proprietary color is uncertain.

Normally Cybis made sculptures in plain white bisque and/or white bisque with various tints and shades of color added, possibly including 24k gold accents, which was called either “bisque decorated” or “color”. It was only in the 1980s that a third decoration style, plain white bisque with 24k liquid gold accents but with no other colors (known as “white with gold”) appeared as an alternative colorway for certain pieces; this is not the same as old coin gold.

Very few Cypia pieces were produced, which is why they are so rare, and all of them date from the early days (1950s and possibly some 1940s) of Cybis production. It’s not known how many were given the old coin gold decoration either but there were probably very few of those also. Cybis did not begin using color photography until the early 1970s and so there are no vintage color photos of any of these early rare-decoration pieces.

1950s pieta in cypia decoration by CYBISThis example of a 1950s Cybis ‘Pieta’ displays a tonation that is probably Cypia.

The bright lighting/flash used for the photograph is almost certainly washing out some of the color and magnifying the reflection from the surface of the porcelain. At first I thought that the decoration is entirely Cypia – with the exception of the gray-green of the grass and foliage – but there does seem to be slightly more reflection coming from the visible lining of Mary’s robe. This leads me to speculate that possibly those areas might have the old coin gold finish. The human-area tints appear to be from the same color base (sepia), differing in intensity from the palest almost-pink flesh area tonations to dark brown hair. It is still possible that the robe lining is also the Cypia decoration (with no gold) and the additional reflectance is only a lighting artifact. The outside front edge of the base of the sculpture appears to be the standard color of 24k gold which is noticeably more yellow.

As for the design itself, like almost all of the other 1950s Cybis religious pieces this was cast from a commercial mold, probably purchased from the Holland Mold Co., Atlantic Molds, or one of the other firms in the Trenton area. The piece below was cast by a hobbyist.

hobby mold for pietaThis piece is approximately 10″ high, which means the Cybis piece was the same size even though that information was not supplied in connection with the first photograph. The only thing that Cybis added to the base mold was the green “moss”/leaves applied to the front of the base; the outline of the rocks beneath can still be discerned in the front left corner. It is interesting to compare the plain white glazed finish on the hobby example with what may well be the Cypia finish on the Cybis one.

Other examples of 1950s commercial molds used by Cybis can be seen in the When Is a Cybis Not a Cybis post.

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