A Pair of 1940s Cybis Prototype Mugs

Although a separate post examines the early (1940s) Cybis porcelain retail pieces, an unusual experimental design from approximately the same period has been discovered. These two items are unusual both in subject and in how they are marked.

In the 1940s and 1950s it wasn’t unusual for the Cybis studio to utilize molds purchased from one or more of the many moldmaking shops in Trenton during that period – for instance, the Holland Mold Company molds that were used for many of the 1950s Cybis madonnas. However, because Cybis purchased only the molds, all of the pieces they produced from those commercial molds were marked with the Cybis name in some way (mold impression, stamp, or by hand)….which makes sense because the pieces were being sold by Cybis, as Cybis items.

What I’d never before seen, however, is anything that was marked Cybis and also marked as another company’s product as well. In this mysterious case the other company’s mark is a mold impression which would normally indicate that the body of it was made by the other company and then the decoration was done on the finished product by Cybis.

There was a good deal of overlap during the 1940s between the Cordey-branded pieces and the ones that were signed as Cybis. In some cases there are virtually identical pieces sold with one marking or the other.

The dual-company-branded pieces below may have been intended as a pair because although very similar they are not exact duplicates; however, by virtue of their creation process no two Cordey or Cybis pieces are ever exactly alike. I would describe them as “handled mugs” or “slim tankards” with the figure of a woman forming the handle.


cybis-tankard-a-view-1cybis-tankard-a-view-2cybis-tankard-a-view-3The lady/handle on Mug “A” may represent a nymph because she is wearing a tiny skirt of leaves as well as having a few more placed strategically on her torso; she wears a crown of floral shapes and also appears to be emerging from the foliage-shapes at her feet. The gold leaf/flower/scroll decorations on the mug body are applied over a creamy white base.

cybis-tankard-a-detailClose examination shows that many of the gold shapes are further enhanced with a finely etched design. This mug is 7″ high and 4″ in diameter (not including the handle) at the base.


cybis-tankard-b-view-1cybis-tankard-b-view-2cybis-tankard-b-detailThe lady on the second mug is more daring, being nude except for a slim mauve-pink drapery along her back and across her knees. Part of that drapery includes the “dipped lace” element which was a feature of many Cordey pieces. She likewise wears a crown of flowers. There are other differences as well: the mug body is not creamy white but has had a pale blue mottled “wash” applied to it, and none of the gold painted flowers, scrolls, etc. seem to have any etched designs on them.


tankard-signature-and-stampBoth mugs are marked thusly on the bottom. There is the typical Nassau China Company mold impression, as well as the blue painted M.B. Cybis signature that was used by them during that era (see Signatures and Marks for a complete overview.)


blank-nassau-china-co-tankard-view-1blank-nassau-china-co-tankard-view-2This is the circa-1940s Nassau China Company mug from which these were apparantly made. There are a couple of slight differences from the Cybis pieces, one being the height: this one is only 5 3/4″ high although the diameter is the same. Comparison of the top portion with the Cybis mug shows that the taller one not only has two “ribs” instead of one, and the top handle attachment is positioned between them rather than on/below the lower rib. Looking at the actual top rim of the Cybis pieces, they are somewhat wavy and the handle itself is located slightly higher. Were the Nassau China Company molds themselves created with the company name already on them, rather than being applied as part of the casting process? That would have been atypical practice but certainly not impossible. If that was the case, then Cybis could have purchased the mold which would have been for two sections (mug body + handle), modified the mug body mold in order to make it taller and add the second rib, and also attached the handle in the new, higher position between them. Or they could have simply purchased a completed mug, made a “negative” mold from it, and then proceeded to alter the resulting pieces in these two ways. But if either were the case, then why didn’t Cybis also remove the “Nassau China Company” logo from the mold base as well? He certainly would not have produced them for retail that way, so the only logical assumption is that these were intended as prototypes or experiments that went no further.


cordey-vases-and-boxI confess that when I first saw one of these mugs I jumped to the conclusion that it was not a real Cybis, because of two factors: the hitherto-unknown dual markings, the subject (naked ladies were not the sort of thing that Cybis’ department-store retailers would have carried) and also the large amount and design of the gold leaf decoration. Although the Cordey items did often have gold accents they were usually confined to the base of the sculpture and consisted of slim, fine lines along the edges of molded curves, etc., as in the group shown above. So the gold decoration on the mug body was really “over the top” for Cybis… or so I thought, until I began digging further and discovered that the studio did indeed produce a few pieces with this kind of decoration during that same time.


three Cordey lady face wall masksThis Cordey “lady face” wall hanging was a popular item during the 1940s. Notice her typical Cordey dipped-lace headgear. As is often seen in Cordey pieces, some were stamped Cordey in the mold, some were stamped Cordey in paint, some had the Cordey design number handwritten, and some were not marked on the back at all. However, they are all undoubtedly from the Cordey/Cybis shop.


Cordey lady wall mask with gold decorationdetail-of-gold-decoration-on-wall-maskHowever, I found two examples that differ from the typical trio shown above. This lady has the dipped lace only across her forehead and right side; the other side of her “scarf” is solid, and is heavily decorated in gold very much in the style seen on the two lady-handle mugs: flowers, leaves and scrolls! Although this one does not have a Cordey stamp, it does have the corresponding design # on it.


Cordey lady wall mask with gold Example 2I also found this second example which, although sporting a full dipped-lace scarf, has the ornate gold scrollwork on the bottom section – another element that the first group shown does not include. Noting that the gold-decorated examples both have pink flowers while the all-lace ones have yellow ones, I do wonder if that was consistent (pink flowers = gold decoration, yellow flowers = no gold)??

My reservations à la the mugs’ ornate gold decoration having been thus demolished, I was still puzzled about the dual Nassau/Cybis marking so I reached out to someone who worked at the Cybis studio from the early/mid 1960s to the mid 1980s to ask if he had ever seen any such double-branded pieces in the studio’s holdings or sales archives. To his knowledge, no such pieces were ever offered for retail sale by Cybis and feels that the mugs were indeed probably experimental pieces that were never meant to be sold.

Of course I also researched the Nassau China Company as well, thinking that perhaps they had some particular association with Cybis even though I knew that businesswise they were never connected: the only two businesses Cybis ever operated were Cordey (for 10 years) and the Cybis studio itself. The main focus of Nassau China was custom-branded items such as college, fraternity, sorority, etc. mugs. These mugs often had an individual person’s name or nickname put onto the back, with the college or organization’s name and logo on the front. An image search on Google with turn up numerous examples, many bearing 1940s and 1950s dates. None of these organization-mugs used the exact same mold as the ones embellished by Cybis, though.

During the 1980s Nassau China relocated from Trenton to Morrisville, Pennsylvania which is just a “hop, skip and jump” over the state line. But like most independent ceramics companies have done since the early 1990s, business declined and the firm no longer exists, despite a lingering presence via Google search! I was really hoping to be able to find out whether their molds included the company name or whether it was added – as more usual – afterwards.

1940s-nassau-china-co-mold-stampHowever, I did find somewhat of a clue in that regard. The Nassau China page on a British site devoted to stein and tankard marks shows two molded marks, one of them with the comment “lettering is typically very shallow and full of glaze.” The other molded mark is slightly different, and sharper. Perhaps some reader who is a potter might be able to tell me whether an impression that is in the mold itself tends to be shallower than one that is applied after a piece is actually cast? If so, perhaps that may be why – if the Cybis mugs are a product of a mold rather than an embellishment of an already-completed “base product” – these show both company names.

In any event, I’m now confident that these mugs were indeed the product of the 1940s Cybis studio and were created as a design experiment or prototype.

UPDATE, MARCH 2017: Thanks to an Archive reader, two more of these lady mugs have now been discovered, in different decorations and verified as these mugs having been something not intended for retail production. They have been given their own post.

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