The Cybis studio produced two entirely different porcelain nativity sets. The first set was made during the 1950s and the second set began in the 1980s. In addition to the creche scene included in the nativity set, they also produced a separate, differently named creche scene as well – which causes some confusion because they were both available at the same time but only one was part of the set.
The 1950s nativity set was composed of seven different sculptures that Cybis called Nativity Porcelain Murals. Each was available in plain white bisque and in color, and each was sold separately and individually named. Except as otherwise indicated, they were priced at $30 or $35 for the white version and $45 for the color.
However, these pieces were not Boleslaw Cybis designs; the individual figure molds are among the various 1950s-era religious pieces that the studio obtained from one of the moldmaking companies operating in Trenton at the time. In this case the source was the Atlantic Mold Company and the molds for this set are still being sold at retail today.
Cybis grouped the individual mold/pieces onto an oval base that had two ‘versions’ during the nativity set’s production run. The earlier bases had a convex outer edge bearing a bas-relief pattern of leaves and stems. The later bases have a concave edge that is plain; these concave-edge bases were also produced from an Atlantic Mold Company mold, although it’s not known for certain whether the decorated/convex-edge ones were Atlantic’s molds also.
Shepherd With Flock, 9 1/2” high. The construction of the base (underside) is shown in the third photo. The fact that the Cybis signature is in brown paint script rather than having been applied with a stamp suggests that this piece was probably created in the late, rather than early, 1950s. The penciled number 2108 is the mold/design number that for some reason was not cleaned off before it left the studio.
This example has the earlier (convex/decorated) base. This coloration would probably be considered “Cypia” because it is almost entirely in shades of brown.
Camel(s), 8″ high and the only item in the set that was not placed on a base. There are two camels shown in the black and white photo in Cybis in Retrospect and it may be that they were sold as a pair because both that book and the 1979 catalog list this as plural (camels rather than camel.) They were priced at $12.50 for the white bisque and $15 for the color version.
These two camels show the possible variation in the paint colors used for the trappings.
The Holy Family colorways shown above are white bisque, color, and ‘stained glass.’ Although the other pieces and groupings in the 1950s Nativity Set were retired by 1960, this one continued to be made until the mid 1960s. The color version was retired in 1964 and the white bisque in 1965. In 1963 the white version sold for $30 and the color (not stained glass) for $45.
The earlier and later versions of this piece differ in two ways: the base and the baby.
A closer took at the difference between the one- and two-piece baby/manger. Some examples are missing (either by omission or breakage) the small dove that is visible in each of the first three examples above.
Here is a color Holy Family on the convex/decorated base. It does not have the dove.
The Three Wise Men are 9” high and are grouped upon a single base. Each was a separate Atlantic Mold Company mold.
The Shepherd Bearing Gifts is 9″ high and appears to have had at least two versions. The example above is on an oval convex decorated base, the animal is a goat, and there is a dove on one of trees.
This white version is on an oval convex/plain base, the animal is again a goat, there is a dove on one tree, and the other tree is definitely skinnier.
However, take a look at this comparison showing a second (different) white piece: the base is longer – more elongated than oval – and the animal is a sheep, not a goat.
The Herald Angel is actually an “angel plus tree”, or perhaps we should say “angel on a tree!” It sold for $17 (white) and $20 (color) and is 9″ high overall. (This is the same tree mold, in a larger size, that had been used for the Cordey Christmas tree.)
The Camel Tender is 8″ high. The sheep is the same one that appears on some of the Shepherd Bearing Gifts and on all of the Shepherd with Flock.
Cybis did not use all of Atlantic’s nativity molds; for instance there was a kneeling camel, a donkey, and a cow which do not appear in the Cybis groupings.
This photo of a partial set of murals appeared in the 1971 museum catalog Cybis in Retrospect. It is missing the Herald Angel and Camel Tender. The convex decorated bases identify it as an earlier set.
This is a full set, in color. There are eight pieces representing each of the seven different mural/designs (because there are two camels, not just one.) These have the convex decorated base as well.
This partial set in white bisque is missing the Shepherd with Flock; the base style pegs these as from the later production.
Although Cybis literature states that these were made in the 1950s, retailers still had existing stock for a few years after that. This 1960 article in the local paper Princeton Town Topics mentions the nativity pieces, although the writer misunderstood the definition of “cypia” by describing it as being multiple colors. Cypia pieces are in shades of brown, the word being the studio’s take on “sepia.” The gift shop mentioned in the article had probably carried the nativity pieces for the past several years.
Pillar of Families
There is some confusion as to the height of one of the murals. The 1979 Cybis catalog appendix has only one entry for the Holy Family, at 8” high, which is the one shown above. However, Cybis in Retrospect lists two versions: the 8” high Holy Family that was part of the nativity set and also an 11 ½” high “Holy Family” which was not pictured in that book. I believe the latter name was an editing error and instead actually refers (by the wrong name) to the sculpture shown below.
This one is called Pillar of Families and is 11 ½” high. It is possible that in the 1950s this piece was called “Holy Family” which of course invited confusion with the smaller and contemporaneous nativity mural by the same name, so at some point this was renamed Pillar of Families. It too was made in both white bisque and color. The white version continued to be made until 1964, and appears on a 1963 price list at $50 although the color one (which may have sold for $75 at the end) does not.
Notice that is is on the convex decorated base, so the one in the photograph was probably made during the 1950s — although I have no idea whether they changed the base for the 1960s version. Despite the matching base, this piece was never part of the original Nativity Porcelain Murals set.
However, this piece was not an original Cybis sculpture either; like the nativity set, it was an Atlantic Mold Company design. Other companies used the same mold, including Lefton China in Japan who produced it as a small music box during the 1980s! They even mimicked the long-retired Cybis piece by adding a sheep and a dove. Several hobbyist examples have been found, although without the sheep or dove.
Cybis did not produce another nativity set for twenty-two years, until 1982 when they introduced an entirely new series called The First Christmas which also included a related — but entirely different! — “Holy Family” sculpture.
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