After the retirement of their first nativity set, the Cybis studio did not offer anything in this genre until the 1982 introduction of a new series called The First Christmas. These are entirely different sculptures than the circa-1950s Porcelain Murals. Unlike the original (first) series, these new figures are individual sculptures and have a bisque (unglazed) finish. Three or four new sculptures were released each year. There is also a related Hall of Fame piece shown at the end of this post.
When this series was first introduced in 1982, each piece was offered in a choice of two colorways: Either plain white bisque with no color at all, or a “full color” version. The studio’s original plan was to issue a total of twelve pieces, available in white bisque and in color, similar to the format of the 1950s items.
However, 1987 saw a change of plan. In that year they supposedly retired all the plain white bisque versions of the first (12) pieces that had been introduced so far. Thus, in 1988 the only ‘available to order’ Nativity pieces on the Cybis price lists was the color version. Then in 1989 – to coincide with their 50th/Golden Anniversary promo, the studio added a white-with-gold colorway, supposedly as a “Golden Anniversary Colorway”. And inexplicably brought back the plain white bisque version as available again! That plain white bisque version remained on the studio’s price list in 1989 and 1990, but disappeared for good in 1992.
Mary is 7.25” high and was one of the first three introductions in 1982, originally priced at $245 for white bisque and $295 for the color (pale tints and lacking any gold accents) version as shown.The white/gold version was $325.
Joseph has the same price history as Mary. The white/gold versions of both pieces have thin gold trim lines on some of the clothing edges, as seen in the photo of the white/gold Holy Family group shown later in this post. Joseph is 9.5” high.
The Christ Child with Lamb rounded out the set’s introductory year, and is 2.5” high. The first pricings were $215 for white and $275 for the color (top photo). The lower photo shows the added gold version. The lower photo shows the added-gold version which was $250. Like the original 1950s Holy Family, the baby is removable to accommodate the tradition in some Catholic families of not placing the child into the manger until Christmas Eve.
This experimental gold-skin version harks back to some of the 1950s religious pieces and is probably one of a kind.
All of the Three Kings were introduced in 1983, and all had the same introductory prices for white ($315) and color ($445). Their 1989 price was $425 for white/gold. The “gifts” they hold may be deliberately removable but this too is unconfirmed although several pieces have been seen for sale without them.
This is Melchior who is 7” high. According to legend he was the King of Arabia and his gift is gold.
Caspar is 9.5” high. He was the King of Sheba and his gift is frankincense.
Unlike the other two Kings, there was some significant variation in the skin color of Caspar, as this trio of examples shows!
And finally Balthasar who is also 9.5” high. As the King of Tarsus and Egypt, he brought myrrh.
Three pieces were introduced in 1984. This is the Shepherd; he is 9” high. His early prices were $275 for plain white and $395 for color. In 1989 he was $425 for white/gold.
This is the first and was intended to be the only camel in the series. Originally titled Camel which was later changed to Camel I when others began appearing, it is 10” high. First issued at $425 white/$625 color. By 1989 this had increased to $675 white, $775 white/gold, and $825 color.
This is the first of four eventual angels associated with this second Nativity set and was originally called simply Angel. She is 6.5” high and originally cost $275 in white bisque; $395 for color. In 1989 her name was changed to Nativity Angel I and/or Nativity Angel (kneeling) because a second angel had now been added. At that time her prices were $525 white/gold and $575 color. (All of the Cybis angels can be seen here.)
1985 was originally intended to be the completion year for this series. A 1985 Cybis brochure made that clear:
Three new sculptures complete the Cybis Nativity: cow, donkey and lamb. The Cybis Nativity, released in 1982, has become a part of many families’ holiday celebrations. Available in both hand-painted and white bisque versions.
There was one additional new nativity item which we’ll see after looking at the “final three.”
The Lamb is 4.75” high and was $115 in white, $150 in color. The first white/gold price was $195. The only difference between the “”color” and the white/gold version is that the hooves of the latter are painted gold rather than grey.
The nativity Donkey is 6.5” high. Issued at $130/white and $195 color; in the early 1990s his prices were $175 white/gold as shown here and $225 color.
The Cow is 4.25″ high and sold for $125 in white and $175 in color in 1985, with white/gold later at $195.
Also offered as a “finale” addition to the nativity set in 1985 was The Stable. The descriptive Cybis brochure paragraph quoted above ends with “Also being offered, a wooden stable especially created for Cybis by a Bucks County craftsman.”
The dimensions of the Stable are given as 30″ long, 14″ wide (deep) and 19″ high. It was priced at $250. This photo shows the complete set plus the Stable, as advertised in the 1985 brochure and indicating that it is a normal retail item available for purchase through Cybis retailers.
However, by 1989 things had changed; I suspect the original craftsman was no longer making there, because the studio’s 1989 brochure states “Wooden stable available only if special ordered” with no price indicated. On a November 1993 price list it is called The Creche in Rustic Wood with “$395 cost price” in the price column (I have no idea what “cost price” was supposed to mean.) It appears again on a Fall 1995 price list for $495. The 1999 price list shows it as “price upon request.”
I have seen only one Cybis-related stable come up for sale online, and it may or may not be from the original circa-1985 craftsman because while it is similar, it isn’t an exact match to the one in the Cybis Studio photograph.
Notice the lower position of the upper front section and the different location of the diagonal cross-pieces on the sides. It is also slightly narrower, being only 26.5″ wide, although it’s about the same height. This version disassembles into five pieces for storage. It’s also possible that the one in the official photo was only a prototype and this was an actual production item.
The ‘completed’ First Christmas nativity set remained that way for the next four years, until 1989 when the studio began adding more pieces to the ‘collection.’ They would ultimately add eight more items but only two of them were original designs; the others were all pieces that were (or were made from) formerly-retired pieces, or were current pieces with a new name and extra color option.
The first addition to the set appeared in 1989 as Nativity Angel II priced at $475 in white, $525 in white/gold, and $575 in color. However, this piece is simply a mold modification/tweak of the Angel ‘Annunciation’ that had been introduced in Fall 1982 and retired sometime between 1984 and 1988.
The modifications are evident in this comparison. The position change of her right arm in the Nativity version is clearly not an improvement! A “tweak’ situation like this is what I call a “re-tread.” It is also poorly done, not only because of the awkward arm but the fact that only her left sleeve edge is decorated! They could at least have done the same to the edge of the other arm, or simply left both plain.
Another resurrected retired piece appeared in 1990. This 3.25” sculpture was originally introduced in 1981 as Muffy Fluffy white sheep – or Fluffy Muffy white sheep, depending on which Cybis brochure you read – and presented as a separate companion piece to the Baa Baa Black Sheep child sculpture also introduced that year, as shown in the Nursery Rhymes post. After both of those pieces had been retired Cybis resurrected Muffy/Fluffy, angled the head slightly upward from its original position, and brought it into the nativity series as the Small Lamb at $100 for the plain white bisque, $125 for the white/gold version above, and $150 for the naturalistic “color” which is the same except for having grey hooves identical to those of Muffy/Fluffy.
This 5.25” high sculpture was originally released by Cybis in 1983 as Burro ‘Benjamin’ who appears in the Into the Woods with Cybis post. He was designed by Susan Eaton. He was retired before 1988 but brought back to populate the Nativity series.
In 1990, Benjamin was shifted into the nativity group as Burro, Reclining. (However, an article in the Nov/Dec issue of Collector Editions titles him as Reclining Donkey.) He appears on a November 1993 Cybis price list as Burro, Reclining at $195 for white/gold and $250 for color (the plain white bisque option having now disappeared permanently.) In case you were wondering about the difference between a burro and a donkey, the answer is: Just semantics. Technically, ‘donkey’ refers to the domesticated animal while ‘burro’ means one of (or descended from) a wild population in Mexico, the United States, Spain, or Africa. The species, Equus asinus, is the same regardless.
Camel II is the second camel in the series and is 8.75” high. This is one of only two new-design additions to the nativity set. It appeared in Spring 1991 in three color options: white bisque for $575, white/gold for $675, and color for $725. By 1999 Cybis simplified things by setting both the color and white/gold options at the same (highest) price point.
The third and thankfully last camel in the series, Camel III appeared in either Fall 1996 or Spring 1997, priced at $1075 which was frankly ridiculous: This sculpture is simply the body from the original Camel I with the standing legs removed and replaced by new kneeling ones that are not very well done and look rather jelly-like. There are some small decorative changes: the hanging fringe has of course been removed, there are one or two tiny tweaks to the saddle/trappings, there are no tassels on the bridle and of course some colors are different, but otherwise this is essentially Camel I kneeling. It is probably between 4” and 5” high overall; the Fall 1997 price list supplies no dimensions.
The Nativity Angel III is another “composite” piece and was added to the nativity set in 2000 or later. The top half of this angel was taken from the first Nativity Angel (kneeling) and combined with the lower half of the mold from the hybrid Annunciation/Nativity II angel. She does not appear on the 1999 price list but she was on the 2008 Cybis website for $1195 for either colorway. As these photos show, the only difference between the “color” and “white/gold” versions is the paint on her sash and gold accents on the bottom of her wings.
This is the final angel in the set, named Guardian Angel which is strange because Cybis previously produced a Guardian Angel sculpture during the 1950s-60s. However, they bear no resemblance to each other. This one is 12.75” high and sold for $895 on the late 2008/early 2009 website, where she was described as “the latest addition to our Nativity collection.” Frankly I’m surprised that Cybis brought her into the nativity set because design-wise she does not relate in any way whatsoever to the other Nativity pieces. Additional views of this angel in both colorways are in the Angels post.
This particular piece has ‘dueling years’ mold impressions: the one on the base of her gown (underside) shows a copyright year of 2001 while the one on the back of her cape says 2002. Apparently this is a case of “pick your poison!”
Little Angel, who was originally issued in Spring 1987 at $125 as part of the “Children to Cherish Collection” and was retired within two years, eventually showed up in the Nativity Collection during the early 2000s under the exact same name, so this again is a resurrection of a retired piece with an extra color option. She appeared on Cybis’ circa-2000s website as a Nativity piece at $395 for color (the original issue’s blue dress) or white/gold and is 7” high. Just like Benjamin and Muffy/Fluffy, the original Little Angel was never intended as a nativity piece but was arbitrarily added to the series in a desperate attempt to add “new” items to it. The gold painting on the inside of her wings is the same style as the early-2000s Guardian Angel and was probably done by the same person at the same time.
The Holy Family (redux)
Cybis complicated things a bit further by issuing – as they had done in the 1950s – a “holy family” grouping at the same time as their nativity set. This piece is called Nativity, Holy Family and was introduced as part of their Hall of Fame series in 1992 at $395. This group takes the first three individual pieces from the First Christmas series (Mary, Joseph, and Child with Lamb) and attaches them to a porcelain base suggesting straw; however, those three pieces are downsized versions of the molds that were used in the actual nativity series. The overall height of this grouping is 6.5” including its base, which means that Joseph (the tallest of the three) is probably 6” high; the normal nativity-set Joseph is 9.5” tall without being on any base. Thus, what Cybis did was the Upsize, Downsize trick, just as they do for all the Hall of Fame series pieces… downsizing by approximately 3” per cycle. This is a single-cycle downsize from the nativity set individual pieces, and so all that was needed was to create the base for the group.
On the Fall 1995 price list the white/gold version is $495 and the color one is $575.
It is interesting that although all the other Hall of Fame pieces are downsized exact replicas of closed limited editions and retired open editions, this one is not taken from either the original 1950s Holy Family Porcelain Mural in the first nativity set or from the Pillar of Families sculpture of the same era. The reason is probably because neither of those originated with Cybis but instead were cast from molds bought from and copyrighted by the Atlantic Mold Company. This is why Cybis departed from their HOF habit of adding the Roman numeral II to the name of the replica; they could not call it “Holy Family II” because it is not taken from the 1950s Holy Family mold, and so they named this new piece the Nativity, Holy Family instead. Ah, semantics!
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