The Cybis studio has a long history of bird studies, with a few dating as far back as the 1940s; those are recognizably different from those produced during the 1950s and beyond. The Cybis birds produced during the 1950s show a gradually evolving style mix which coalesced into a permanent and definitive look beginning in 1961.
Papka composition/fresco designs (1940–1942)
Several bird items were created during the early (pre-Cordey) years, using papka composition and “fresco” decorations. The best description of “papka” is what most people would probably think of as ‘modeling clay’ appearance: rustic and earthy rather than refined and elegant. The 1971 museum exhibit catalog Cybis in Retrospect lists a number of these papka pieces, some of which were one of a kind prototypes such as the one shown below. All of the pieces in this section date from 1940–1942.
This prototype was called Bird on Rose Tree and is 12” high. Unfortunately the black and white photo gives no idea of the color which was described as “pastel fresco decoration” which typically was shades of pink, yellow and blue.
In the foreground is Bird on Lilac Tree which is the same height as the Bird on Rose Tree. The other piece is no doubt one of the several described in the next two paragraphs.
I really am not sure whether this unusual piece was done “just for fun”, or was a kiln accident! Perhaps both? It is marked MC which indicates it was done by Marja Cybis; the style of the bird strongly resembles two little fairies that she did. I’m going to go out on a limb – no pun intended! – and call this a baby bird on a melting branch… although I suspect that the ‘melting’ was unintentional. The bird’s head is tilted upward with a decidedly quizzical look.
The other papka sculptures were probably meant for retail sale. There was a Robin with Blue Blossom and a Yellow Bird with Pink Blossom, both 5.5” long but no height given; these were probably alternate colorways of the same piece. There were also multiple colorways of the Tree with Bird, measuring 10” x 9”; according to the museum catalog there was a “green with pink blossom”, “mauve with yellow blossom”, pastel blue with pink lilac blossoms (“lilac” probably indicating the plant rather than the color), and “mauve-blue tones with blue lilac blossoms.” Bird on Branch was 6” high and could be had as a mauve bird with yellow flowers or a pink bird with blue flowers. Confusingly a second Bird on Branch is also listed at 5.5” high in three colorways: blue with blue, pink with blue, and blue with pink – the first color perhaps referring to the bird and the second to additional decorative elements. It sounds as if these two were different designs.
An intriguing mention in Retrospect is of an Abstract Bird, from 1942-1984, described as being 8” high in glazed porcelain and a “prototype for future release.” This one was not papka.
A bird perched on a tree was obviously a favored subject, such as Bird on Tree (“pastel tones with pink blossoms”, 12.5” h) and the possibly similar Bird on Blossom Tree (“soft pink and blue”, 11” h.) These early papka sculptures evolved into the Cordey retail pieces not long after, as shown by the example below.
Cordey imprint (1940s)
In addition to the ubiquitous bird/flower/branch Cordeys which were also made as lamp bases, there were also a few game bird pieces which are far less often seen.
These two matching Cordey game birds (pheasant?) are 14” high and 17.5” long. They are marked Cordey in the mold.
I believe this pair might be a colorful interpretation of the Hooded Merganser. They are stamped “Cordey” underneath. The male is 14 ¾” high, and the female is 13 ¼”.
This Cordey duck with its upward-facing posture reminds me of an Audubon print; it is 14 ½” high. It was also sold as a lamp base, which makes me wonder if it was a Holland (or other commercially sourced) mold.
Various examples of the Cordey bird-in-tree are often seen on eBay. Sometimes the bird is more vertical or in a slightly different position, or the flowers differ a bit. These are typically between 9″ and 10″ high.
M.B. Cybis signature (mid-late 1940s to early 1950s?)
These two fowl may be Cybis’ version of the Golden Pheasant, Chrysolophus pictus. They are not marked Cordey but instead are signed M.B. Cybis which probably dates it to the late 1940s or early 1950s. The addition of the MC indicates that the piece was either designed or (more likely) painted by Marja Cybis. They are only 7” high, which makes me wonder if this is the “Pheasant, small” that appears on a short Cybis studio list of undated but verified sculptures. The name does not appear in any other Cybis literature. The base of the white colorway is decorated in gold which is slightly reminiscent of some of the Cordey base trims.
Update, July 2019: This almost-entirely white-and-dark-gold version has a very faintly tinted greenish bottom section. It is unusual to see any 1950s retail piece in the white/gold colorway. This one has the same signatures as the color versions.
The top image is an artist depiction of an actual Golden Pheasant, followed by Boehm’s porcelain interpretation of that bird. Needless to say, the Cybis version has used more “artistic license” (if this bird was indeed what was meant, rather than an extremely fancy chicken!)
Cybis imprint (1950s)
All of the sculptures below bear the typical Cybis signature (see Signatures and Marks for examples) in paint as a stamp or signature. Some of the birds have been confirmed as being cast from commercially available molds (such as from the Holland Mold Co.), some are suspected but not confirmed as being so, and others were original designs by either in-studio or freelance artists. They are shown in chronological order by introduction year. Sculptures from this decade for which there is some information but no available photograph are listed at the end of the section.
The Baby Bluebird is probably from the early 1950s, based on its style and glazed decoration. It is 3” high and 3” wide; stamped Cybis on underside in the style typical for the period. The bird is cast from a Holland Mold Company set of parent birds and young, this being one of the nestlings.
The American Eagle (pair) are 14” high and was available in white bisque and in color. The white was made 1954-1960 and sold for $60; the color, from 1955-1960 for $90. These are among the relatively few Cybis that were sold as a pair. Both birds are identical.
It’s not known whether this Cypia version was considered as the “color” one, or whether that word meant something closer in appearance to the piece below.
This Great Horned Owl was introduced in 1956 and is 19.5″ high. It was offered in plain white bisque for $100 and in color as shown for $150. When it was retired in 1968 the prices were $150 and $200, respectively. The all-white version can be seen in the Cybis Owls post.
Wild Duck, produced 1957-1962, measures 7″ x 6” with base and was made in in white for $50 and color for $60. This was not an original Cybis design but was produced from a Holland Mold Co. mold.
Here is the same Wild Duck but made on a larger “pond” or “waterside” base. It may have been given a different name because clearly it’s not the same piece as the one identified above as “Wild Duck” in the 1979 Cybis catalog. So I’m going to arbitrarily call this their wild duck at waterside.
Bluebird ‘By the Garden Wall’, 6” high, was made from 1952-1962 in color as shown for $37.50; a plain white bisque version sold for $30. Notice the “chunks of rocks” which were also used in the waterside duck sculpture. The bird’s body mold appears to be the same one used for the 1960 Cerulean Warbler shown in in the next section.
These two small birds, both cast from the same mold but painted differently, are about 3″ high. Although I’ve not been able to identify them by name, the dark-colored one — possibly meant as a baby swift or swallow? — has the design # 325 penciled on the bottom. That 3- series of design numbers is the one Cybis used for all their birds. The closest name/number matchup is the Bluebird ‘By the Garden Wall’ which was #329 in 1952 so it’s likely that this bird mold dates from that year or the one preceding. This was probably a commercial mold.
This Pheasant was also cast from a Holland Mold and dates from the (probably early to mid) 1950s. It is 10″ high and about 14″ long. Holland did also offer a female pheasant but I’ve never seen one of those marked with the Cybis name. A comparison of the Cybis and Holland pheasants can be seen in When Is a Cybis Not a Cybis.
Turtle Doves ‘Doves of Peace’ was a limited edition of 500 selling for $350 between 1957-1970. It is 12”high and was designed by Pat Eakins and Marylin Chorlton. Originally commissioned during the Eisenhower administration for a planned presentation at peace talks with Russia, that conference was cancelled as a result of the Gary Powers/U2 incident. However, it did eventually end up in Russia anyhow: Although the retail edition was closed in 1970, an artist’s proof of this sculpture was presented as a gift of state in 1979 in connection with the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) talks in Russia during that year. The commemorative plaque on the wood base of that sculpture reads “DOVES OF PEACE” Presented to President Leonid Brezhnev from President Jimmy Carter, June 1979. This sculpture and the Baby Owl may well have been the first two introductions, in 1957, showing what we now think of as the ‘modern’ style of Cybis birds. The second photo shows a rear detail section.
The Golden Mallards were made from 1957-1962, in color only and at $125 throughout which probably reflects the fact that it was on wood base. Both birds are from the same Holland Mold. The actual “golden mallard” is a rare color mutation of the typical mallard duck, Anas platyrynchos but the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology does not mention a “golden” subspecies.
An alternate colorway of this same mold was also sold by Cybis during the same time period under the name Teal Ducks. According to Cybis in Retrospect that piece is 11″ high. According to the 1979 Cybis catalog it was made in color only at $125, while Cybis in Retrospect says was done in both white and color and was 10” high x 12.5” long. The reason we know that the Golden Mallards and the Teal Ducks were the same sculpture is via the model numbers in the 1979 catalog: The mallards are listed in the Appendix as #303M, while the teal ducks are #303T.
Valley Quail may have been made in both a male and female version; this one appears to be a female. The December 1, 1957 issue of the local Town Topics (Princeton) newspaper contained this snippet: “This shop [Princeton Decorating Shop] at 35 Palmer Square also has some more conventional pieces of pottery and sculpture. B. Cybis has done a porcelain quail six inches high that looks real enough to shoot at.” The fact that this piece is 7.25” high is what makes me wonder if there was a male piece as well.
The iconic Baby Owl has been produced continuously from 1957 and is 4.5”high. First issued for $18, his current price is $195. See Cybis Owls for photos of the holiday variation and an artist’s proof colorway.
The Maryland Yellowthroat dates from 1958-1963, although Cybis in Retrospect says it was retired in 1961. It is 7″ high and was made in white for $65 and color for $85.
This 1950s Cybis bird with flowers and foliage is 6.25″ high; its name is unknown at present. Was it meant to be a chickadee? I would like to see one of these with a design number still on the underside.
The Skylarks were, like the American Eagles, sold as a pair only, from 1958-1970 and are approximately 8” high. The male is the bird in the more upright posture. Originally a limited issue of 750, the edition size was reduced to 350 before closing. Pricing began at $300 and finished at $500. The bird represented is the Eurasian skylark, Alauda arvensis. These birds continue the new/modern birds ‘look’ first seen the year before in the doves and Baby Owl.
Just squeaking into the 1950s introductions by a hair (or feather?) is the Hummingbird which was produced from 1959 to 1963. It is 9.5″ high and was made in the color version shown here and also in plain white bisque. This is the first photo I have seen of this piece and I admit I was very curious to whether they managed to portray this bird (as Boehm and Connoisseur did) in a delicately hovering position….and indeed, as we see, they did not attempt to. During its’ five years of production the white version was priced at $75 and the color one at $95.
This sculpture poses an interesting question: Which way is “up”?? I mean that seriously, because there are arguments for and against which orientation (vertical or horizontal) was originally intended! Clearly it seems a bit awkward to portray a hummingbird zooming down toward a flower, like an avenging drone strike, when everyone knows that their natural position when feeding is to hover. But the vertical orientation shown above does give a good sense of movement. On the other hand, there’s this:
It is unusual (to say the least) to have the firing hole be intentionally visible, as it is when positioned vertically. But if the branch was borrowed from an entirely different piece, that might explain it. And the Cybis signature is on a normal visual plane in this position.
Here is the piece if positioned horizontally. The firing hole is now hidden, and the bird is also approaching the flower in the natural way. Which orientation do you like better? I have to say, it’s kind of nice to be given a choice in the matter!
Before we leave the Hummingbird, I can’t resist commenting on the center of the flower, which resembles nothing so much as a ‘twist’ of spaghetti that was not cooked in a sufficient amount of water. I’m assuming that this was meant to represent the hardy hibiscus (H. syriacus, a/k/a ‘Rose of Sharon’), an actual bloom of which is shown below:
Well…I guess they tried, lol. But I may never look at overcooked spaghetti in quite the same way again!
The following circa-1950s birds are known to have been produced although no photo is available. If any reader has one of these and would like to share a photograph, I would be delighted to add it to this post; there is a direct-contact link below.
A limited edition (design #305) titled Fox Sparrows appears on the Spring 1963 price as being “expired”, which perhaps was Cybis’ initial version of either “closed” or “completed.” I’ve never seen that word used in any of their other price lists. Sadly, no dimensions, issue years or prices were given for this particular piece.
Magnolia with Bird, 5.5” high, 1953-1962 or 1963, in white at $30 and color at $37.50. The ambiguity in retirement year is because it still appeared on the Spring 1963 price list. Although titled as a flower piece (Magnolia with, rather than Bird with) it was assigned a design number in the 300s which indicates a bird.
Parula Warblers, height unknown. This was a pair of separate sculptures, but differing only in coloration to differentiate the male from the female.
A Baby Robin and a Baby Sparrow were mentioned in a 1974 Cybis list with no other information given. It is very possible that one or both of these are similar in style and decoration to the Baby Bluebird shown above (circa early to mid 1950s). Could they have been the identical mold but with different painting/decoration to match the species??
Palm Warbler, 7” high, 1957-1962, selling for $75. The actual Palm Warbler is Setophaga (formerly Dendroica) palmarum and has a rusty cap and also some yellow on the face.
Mallard is included on the 1974 list only, with no further information, and may even be the unidentified “duck at waterside” whose photo is shown above.
Pintail Duck has no details other than its’ name appearing on the 1974 list only.
Sparrow is another piece that is known only by its name on that list.
Although I was originally intending to split the bird chronology into pre- and post-1960, that year happens to be the last in which the style of the 1950s appeared alongside the recognizably modern pieces. With only one exception, which will be seen in the next post, after 1960 there were no birds introduced that resemble the “old-school 1950s flock”. The next post reviews the birds starting in 1961.
The Blue (Headed?) Vireo ‘Building Nest’ was an open edition produced 1960-1965 (although Cybis in Retrospect says it was retired in 1963.) It is 8.5″ high and was offered in color for $75 and in white bisque for $60. Some Cybis literature lists this as “Blue Headed Vireo..” while others say “Blue Vireo.”
Addendum, January 2019:
Although the majority of Blue Headed Vireo pieces are as shown above, I discovered that there was an earlier/initial version that was slightly different in two noticeable respects.
The first/earliest pieces were mounted on a wood base. It’s is possible that this is the same wood base that was used a couple of years later for the Goldfinch and and the Wood Wren with Dogwood. The base was eventually discontinued for both of those, but it seems to have disappeared from the Vireo first.
Notice that the foliage element on the vertical branch is completely different. In this first/early version both leaves are pointing outward from the branch in the same direction, and there is no flower present. The leaves are also cast from an entirely different mold than the ones used in the subsequent version, which has the leaves pointing in opposite directions to form a V-shaped ‘cup’ with a flower placed in the center.
The Cerulean Warbler has a discrepancy in Cybis literature regarding its production year: Retrospect says 1960-1963, while the 1979 catalog Appendix says 1960-1965. It is about 6″ high, 7″ long, and was originally sold with an accompanying wood base.
It too was made in color and in white bisque. Examples of the white one have been found with a base in either the light (above) or dark brown wood. The Cerulean Warbler was assigned design #338 but some of the white bisque pieces may still retain a penciled design number of 338W. The white version sold for $70, and the color for $90, throughout their production runs.
The Little Blue Heron, a limited edition of 500 from 1960-1971, is 19.5” high. Its price went from $425 to $500. This was a Laszlo Ispanky design, as was his Great Blue Heron a few years later. This definitely shows a juvenile Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) because as they get older the white plumage changes to a greyish blue. In fact, the Spring 1963 price list shows the sculpture name as “Little Blue Heron (immature)” although the clarification was dropped from later advertising literature.
The Bridled Titmouse, Male and Bridled Titmouse, Female were sold separately as open editions at $95 each. Both are 6″ high. There is more of a discrepancy in production dates, with the Cybis catalog claimg 1961–1965 while Cybis in Retrospect says 1960-1963. The wing position of the bird reminds me of the Cordey bird-in-tree pieces shown earlier.
The Goldfinch is 6” high and was offered in white for $60 and color for $75. The design of the bird is consistent with the Blue Vireo, Baby Sparrow, and others during this same late 1950s/early-1960s period. Again there are slight production-date differences: 1961–1964 in the Cybis catalog versus 1960-1963 in Retrospect. The black and white Cybis catalog photo shows the decoration as berries, but I have seen three examples which are decorated with flowers instead, as in the second photo. It may be that Cybis changed the decoration at some time during the run. The branch component of this piece is the same one that was later used for the 1963 issue of a single Magnolia flower. Cybis later made an entirely different goldfinch sculpture, Goldfinch with Violets, in the 1980s.
Pheasant (Ring Necked), made from 1960-1976, is 16″ high x 22″ long. This was a limited edition of 150 which began its retail price at $750 and closed at $2500.
This unfortunately very blurry photo of a Pheasant in Flight is the only image of what would have been a companion piece to the Ring Necked Pheasant. Depicting a pheasant in the instant of being ‘flushed’, it appears on the top shelf in the background of a photograph taken inside the Cybis studio, hence the blurriness. You can see one of the walking (Ring Necked) pheasants to the right of it which gives an excellent idea of the scale of this piece. After completing this prototype Marylin Chorlton decided to postpone putting it into production for a while, and after her unexpected death in 1977 the idea of making it as a retail issue was abandoned. A great shame, because it would have been a spectacular piece!
The Golden Crowned Kinglets were made from 1960 to 1962 (or 1963). The sculpture is 10″ high, and supposedly sold in white for $65 and in color for $85. However, the height and price do not seem to correlate from this era: either the height seems too big for the price, or the price is too low for the height! However, both Cybis publications do say this was 10” high so we must take that as accurate. This is definitely not the same sculpture as the much later Golden Crown Kinglets with Crab Apple that was issued by Cybis in the 1990s and is still sold as an open edition; that later piece is less than half the size cited for this 1960s sculpture.
The birds introduced in 1961 and later are shown in the next post.
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