The Cybis studio produced two entirely different porcelain nativity sets. The first set was made only 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, made in Parian porcelain. Each was available either in plain white bisque and in glazed 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.
Unfortunately this is the only photo currently available of the Cybis group, and for some reason – even though this is the official Cybis photo – it is missing two of the pieces. From left to right in the photo above, the murals are:
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.
Camel(s), supposedly 8″ high according to Cybis literature but cited as only 6.5″ high according to seller listings. The extra 1.5″ may reflect the presence of a base (more about that below.) 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.
The Holy Family is listed as being 8″ high although they appear shorter than the camels (as would be logical!) Notice that the lamb standing behind the manger also appears in the Shepherd with Flock mural. The colorways shown above are white bisque, color, and ‘stained glass.’ It is possible, but unconfirmed, that the baby Jesus figure was intentionally made as a separate removeable piece to accommodate the tradition in some Catholic families of not placing him into the manger until Christmas Eve.
Although the other pieces and groupings in the 1950s Nativity Set were retired by 1960, the Holy Family continued to be made until the mid 1960s. The color version was retired in 1964 and the white bisque in 1965.
There is a difference in the ‘base mold’ between these and the murals shown in the Cybis group photo shown first. The Murals version has a convex-edge base decorated with leaves, to match the other pieces in the group but these three examples have a concave edge base which is undecorated. Perhaps Cybis changed the base part of the mold after they stopped offering the entire/full nativity set. This may be a way to more precisely date examples of this sculpture: Convex decorated base = made during 1950s; and Concave plain base = made 1960-1964/65.
The Three Wise Men are listed as being 9” high and appear to be all on a single base. (No individual photo available as yet.)
Shepherd Bearing Gifts, 8”. The sheep is also used in the Shepherd with Flock.
The two missing murals in the black and white photo are the Camel Tender and the Herald Angel.
This is only a hobby (Atlantic Mold) casting of the Herald Angel, but the Cybis version would have looked exactly the same unless they mounted it on a base to match the others. The Cybis piece sold for $17 (white) and $20 (color); it was 9″ high.
One of the two remaining Atlantic Mold Company male nativity pieces (it was offered as a set of 19 including a stable) was the one that Cybis used for the Camel Tender. According to the Cybis literature their piece was 8″ high; this hobby casting of Atlantic’s piece called “Shepherd” is 8.5″ high, so if Cybis put theirs on a base it would match up; thus I’m pretty sure it was this one. The only other male figure in the Atlantic set is a shorter boy playing a horn, which would make no sense for a camel tender!
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.
There is also some confusion as to the height of at least one of the 1960s era models. The 1979 Cybis catalog appendix has only one entry for the Holy Family, at 8” high. 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. I believe the latter entry is 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 cited in the 1979 Cybis catalog appendix as being 11 ½” high. I believe that this is the sculpture that is erroneously referred to in Cybis in Retrospect as being “Holy Family.” It too was made in both white bisque ($50) and color ($75). This sculpture appeared during the 1950s, along with the nativity set, but was not retired until 1964. 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. This was never part of the original Nativity Porcelain Murals set and so Cybis may not have felt the need to change it after that set was retired.
However, this piece was not an original Cybis sculpture either; like the nativity set, it was an Atlantic Mold Company design. Cybis tweaked the sculpture a bit by adding the two doves and the lamb (none of which were part of Atlantic’s mold) and covering the exposed wood legs of the manger with “hay.” A future post will compare all of the non-Cybis molds with their Cybis retail counterparts.
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.
Name Index of Cybis Sculptures
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