The first decade of the Cybis porcelain ‘brand’ existence was a bit of a Wild West show, to say the least. Unlike subsequent decades which came under Marylin Chorlton‘s ownership, most of the 1950s pieces are both a blessing and a curse to collectors. A curse because almost all of them were cast from commercially purchased molds – meaning that there are many examples of the same figurine that were not made by Cybis. Also a curse because apparantly quite a few of the actual Cybis ones left the studio without a Cybis stamp on them, or with stamps whose ink/paint faded to near-invisibility over the ensuing decades. But a blessing because in some instances it’s possible to identify it as Cybis even if it doesn’t have the Cybis stamp.
1950s Stamps and Design Numbers
This is the stamp most often seen, usually in blue, brown, or black although I have seen one example stamped in red. These were applied to the underside either before or after the final firing. (“Fine China” was a separate stamp that was not always used.)
The default design number for Cybis religious pieces was the “2” series – either a three or four digit number beginning with 2. Some of the 1960s and 1970s Old Testament portraits were given 400 series design numbers but all of the 1950s oldies were put into the 2’s. Each of the multiple molds required to create each individual sculpture was marked in pencil with the relevant design number. For example if design #202 required four individual mold components (body, two hands, and a halo) each piece cast from those molds would have 202 put onto it in pencil. Normally the only design number remaining visible after the piece was completed was the one on the bottom; it would/should be erased before the piece was shipped to a retailer but sometimes times it was not removed.
Thank goodness for those “oops” numbers slipping through, because that is what often enables us to identify a piece that was either (a) not namestamped Cybis, (b) stamped Cybis too lightly, or (c) with a worn-off namestamp. Let’s take a look at two excellent examples of unsigned – but genuine – 1950s Cybis.
Update, 2020: Please read this post which describes instances of the studio using old 1950s stamps to add names to leftover-stock 1980s and newer pieces.
Signed and Unsigned Jesus Busts
Here are two 1950s Jesus busts, both made by Cybis utilizing molds they purchased from a local moldmaking company. The one on the left is 7″ high and was cast from a Holland Mold Co. mold that was sold to hobbyists and ceramics companies singly or as a pair with a companion Mary bust. It is clearly stamped Cybis Fine China in brown on the underside. (Cybis also produced the companion bust; it can be seen in the 1950s Madonnas post.)
The bust on the right is 8.75″ high and was also from a commercial mold. This one is not signed Cybis but can be identified as one not only because of the similarity in decoration to signed pieces of the era, but also by the design numbers which appear on both of these.
An examination of the undersides shows that both have Cybis design numbers: #2064 on the Cybis-signed smaller bust, and #2058 on the larger unsigned one.
Here are detail shots of both. This number range (20xx) is exactly in line with other similar 1950s religious pieces listed in the Appendix of the 1978 and 1979 Cybis catalogs. Depending on which mold shop employee was marking up the castings, some of the 2s display a small loop on the bottom but in many other examples the 2 more closely resembles a Z.
Seated Madonna and Child, Design #223
Although not listed in the 1970s catalog Appendices or in Cybis in Retrospect – and many of the 1950s pieces are not cited in either, unfortunately – this seated madonna and child can be found in both signed and unsigned Cybis examples.
The mold/design itself was copyrighted and sold by Holland Mold Company from the 1950s probably through the 1970s at least. Examples sold at retail (to hobbyists) included the Holland name and copyright symbol as part of the bottom of the base mold. This design has multiple mold components and there were two versions that differed regarding the hands. In one version Mary’s hands are part of the body mold (arms) and in the other, they are actual separate mold pieces. Naturally when they sold these molds wholesale (to a ceramics company or studio) they would not have the Holland Mold impression on them. The studio/company/customer would add decorations to the resulting pieces in whatever way they chose.
This was the first example of a Cybis-signed example that I found. It was stamped Cybis in blue paint but did not have a penciled design number. The halo was a Cybis addition.
Here is another Cybis-signed example. No halo this time, but her veil edges are now trimmed in dipped lace with gold edges and she has acquired a spray of pink roses in her lap. The hem of her robe retains a thin line of gold.
Now here’s an interesting pair! The figurine on the right (all white, with tiny white “beads” edging everything except the bottom hem) is from a mold bearing the Holland Mold imprint shown earlier. Mary’s hands are separate molds, and her bodice has a ‘pleated’ surface instead of being smooth. The hobbyist who made this example did a very nice job indeed. The example on the left, with the lace, gold trim, and roses, is actually an unsigned Cybis.
Here’s the bottom of the unsigned Cybis. There is no namestamp but there is the penciled design number 223. The other penciled mark, in a different handwriting, says 7.99 which is undoubtedly from a later reseller; Cybis never wrote prices on their pieces, and all of the 1950s religious items retailed for $25 or more at that time.
Here is the bottom hem, adorned with a narrow row of dipped lace having gold paint on the upper edge. Notice the crazing on this glazed piece, which is something hardly ever seen in Cybis pieces. This particular one was probably subjected to extremes of heat and/or cold while in storage somewhere.
There are areas of missing lace around her face, including edges that originally were gold-trimmed. Notice the difference in the collar pattern between this one and the first (blue with halo) example. Here the gold was applied more heavily and “sun rays” (?) were added along the bottom edge.
Cybis also “snatched” the baby from this mold and substituted it for the one supplied with a manger mold that they purchased from Holland Molds; see Body Snatching at Cybis for the comparison, if you’re curious.:-)
As if the presence of the penciled 223 wasn’t enough to prove it an unsigned Cybis, a signed twin was later discovered!
The figurine on the left is the same one illustrated in the previous photos; it has the penciled 223 but no Cybis stamp. The figurine on the right does NOT have the 223 remaining, but it does have a very faint, almost-invisble Cybis namestamp.
Can you just about see it? Give your eyes a moment or to two adjust, and you may need to change the angle of your screen a little bit… but it’s there.
I have no idea why the paintstamp has almost faded to nothingness over the past half century; perhaps it was stamped lightly to begin with, or perhaps someone once cleaned it too enthusiastically. But although a “ghostly” namestamp, it is definitely there.
Here are three examples of genuine 1950s Cybis religious figures. At the left is a small angel that has the Cybis stamp and also her design number (224); the 198 was not put there by Cybis. In the center is the unsigned but numbered-223 seated madonna and child illustrated earlier. And on the right is the underside of a prayer book shown in the Religious Pieces post; it has no Cybis namestamp, but it does have a design number 242. None of these items are mentioned in eCybis’ 1972 one-page name list of “verified sculptures”, or in the more extensive 1978/79 catalog Appendix, or in Cybis in Retrospect – which just goes to show how woefully incomplete those sources are. (For that matter, none of them mention Saint Patrick either, even though multiple signed examples in varying colorways exist.)
Another example of a pair of Cybis with only one signature instance is the underside of the 7″ Jesus bust (signed) next to his companion Mary bust (unsigned). Both, however, still have their Cybis design numbers – 2064 and 2065 – showing that even without the studio’s namestamp, the Mary bust was also made by Cybis.
So the moral of this story is that when it comes to the 1950s Cybis religious pieces, “no name” does not necessarily mean “not a Cybis.” Keep a sharp lookout for a penciled number starting with 2, and also make sure to examine it under magnification and a very bright light just in case a ghostly namestamp happens to be lurking there. 🙂
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