Fear not: This is neither a juicy scandal nor a moralistic lecture. It’s an overview of all the Cybis retail sculptures ever produced on or with a base, and there’s a more interesting variety of them than one would think.
All Cybis bases fall into one of two categories: either physically attached to the sculpture (by mechanical means or with glue) or an entirely separate accompanying item. During the 1970s and most of the 1980s Cybis referred to the first category as “on base” and to the second as “with base” within their price lists. At the end of the 1980s they dropped it as part of the sculpture description and only noted “w/base” and “no base” if a piece was being offered with those options….at two different prices, of course.
As for base materials, most were wood but some were porcelain. Starting in the mid-1980s the studio began producing a few of the child busts on bases made of what I call “mystery material”. I suspect these are some kind of resin compound meant to imitate painted wood, although I’ve never had the opportunity to hack one apart to find out. The top corners on the black mystery material bust bases are slightly rounded, whereas the edges on the wood ones are squared.
Rare departures from the norm were two instances of Lucite bases and perhaps one of marble.
Within the “real wood” category there were not only attached bases and accompanying bases, but also different styles within each type: plain rectangles, rectangles topped with a velour fabric, freeform/contour shapes with or without shaped or routed edges, and cubes. The cubes were almost always used for busts such as the child and clown heads. Most of the wood bases were stained but some were painted, usually either creamy white or black. The color of the stained bases can vary but were always some shade of brown. By the 1970s Cybis was obtaining very nice quality mahogany bases from whomever was supplying them… at least for the stained ones. The wood used for the painted bases was definitely not mahogany.
The total number of Cybis designs that the studio is currently known to have always or at one time produced on or with some type of base is 148; here I am considering the “pair” sculptures, such as the Blue Headed Vireos With Lilac pair, as a single design because that’s how they were sold. The reason for the “at one time” qualifier is because the studio discontinued the bases on some sculptures during their production run. These are noted in the lists below, along with the year the base was discontinued (if known.)
Why Bases May or May Not Matter
Why bother determining if or when a Cybis piece was originally sold with a base? It depends on one’s personal definition of “mint condition.” If you’re a stickler like me, it means “in the exact same condition as when it went out the studio door” and that would include having a base if there was one. Others may not care, especially if an accompanying base would take up extra space in a display cabinet if retained. A collector friend of mine theorizes that the reason so many accompanying bases have gone missing is that the owner didn’t like how the base blocked the light at the top of the curio from illuminating items on the lower shelves. That’s also a good reason. Sometimes removing or not using a base can make the height difference between a piece being able to fit in a desired location or not. The owner may have discarded the base or used it elsewhere and it eventually ended up where most forgotten things (and odd socks) go. The Bermuda Triangle of Oddments, I call it; or perhaps the Twilight Zone is actually inhabited by such items. It wouldn’t surprise me…
But back to the question of base information being useful. In some cases it can help you date a piece, if it was one in which Cybis began production with a base but later discontinued it. Suppose you see a Wood Wren with Dogwood for sale with its original base. Cybis made and sold that piece for 18 years, from 1963 to 1981, and because it was an open edition there’s normally no way to tell when any particular one was made. But because the studio discontinued supplying them with bases in September 1975, the presence of that base narrows down the age range by six years. Or you may simply like the with-original-base pieces better than the de-based ones (sorry!) and decide to wait until a “complete” ones comes along.
The sections below are sorted first by base material and then subdivided into styles. If not otherwise noted, all had a base for their entire production run. Some example photos are shown for each.
REAL WOOD and FAUX WOOD
The real (natural) wood bases are found in either a medium brown or noticeably darker stain; for some designs they were painted instead. Many, but not all, are mahogany. I’ve sorted these into groups titled according to their style or usage. The faux wood (“mystery material”) bases are typically black.
These bases were custom-made for each sculpture design and have a routed-out central shape into which the sculpture’s bottom is designed to fit, but the piece can be removed easily. Nine of the North American Indians came with this type of base. All of these except for Wankan Tanka’s are medium or dark stained wood. See the North American Indians post for detailed photos of these bases and how the pieces fit into them.
The Narcissus is one of three flower studies with this type of base.
Apache ‘Chato’ (can be either rectangular or shaped-edge)
Beaverhead Medicine Man (can be either rectangular or shaped-edge)
Crow Dancer ‘Great Thunder’
Laughing Water ‘Minnehaha’
Wankan Tanka (painted wood)
Iris, circa 1960s
Solitary Sandpipers pair (probably; not 100% certain)
Wood base with velour top
Only six Cybis designs came with these bases. One of them started production with this base but didn’t finish up that way.
The Appaloosa Colt is the only piece that had a design change as the result of a base change. The earliest version came with a velour topped base, according to this Cybis photo and the 1974 price list which mentions a base. I have never seen one of these and it’s possible that very few were sold. The only ones I’ve seen have been the second version, in which the base has been now replaced by an added piece of porcelain representing green turf.
The Folk Singer may have morphed from being accompanied by a velour covered base to a plain wood base (or vice versa) before retirement. It was also made in two colorways, but the blue-pants version is the one most often seen for sale. These are the only two Folk Singers I have seen offered with their bases, although they all were originally sold with one.
The Pinto Colt’s base was always topped with the gold fabric.
Appaloosa Colt (had a velour covered base at first, then was redesigned to eliminate)
Cybele (attached to base)
Darby and Joan (separate base)
Folk Singer (separate base; some had velour-topped, others had plain wood; see below)
Pinto Colt (separate base)
Theron (attached to base)
Accompanying (not attached) base
With the few exceptions noted, these are all simple rectangles. If no color or material is noted, the base was medium brown wood.
The ballerina On Cue perches atop a base made of two rectangles, the vertical one containing a small pin on the top edge that allows her to pivot via a small hole in the porcelain. Because it is possible to lift her off, I don’t consider this an “attached” base; but unlike all the others on this list, she cannot stand on her own without it.
It’s very rare to find a Hamlet for sale today with his original accompanying base. Most have parted company long ago.
American White Buffalo (original 1970s edition only; the 1990s HOF one does not have a base)
American Wild Turkey, both colorways (custom shape base in blond stain wood)
Ballerina ‘On Cue’ (dark stained wood; requires base for display but can be removed from it)
Bridled Titmouse pair
Buffalo, small, ca, 1960s (bases were included until Sept 1975; from then until 1978 retirement, no bases)
Bull, God of the Thunderbolt
Flight into Egypt
Folk Singer (later examples only?)
Fox (1963 design)
Goldfinch, with either flowers or berries
Great White Heron
Humpback Whale (black painted wood; custom shape)
Leda and The Swan (oval shape base)
Little Blue Heron
Love Song Rose (the production version may not have had a base; if so, it was medium stained wood)
Magnolia (supplied with base until Sept 1975; from then until 1979 retirement, no bases)
Nashua (originally sold with a vitrine also)
Nativity Murals from the 1950s (some but not all; some had porcelain bases)
Noah (cream/beige painted, in a stop-sign shape)
Ring Necked Pheasant (possibly only for part of production; it is almost never seen for sale with one today)
Scarlett (only for part of production)
Wood Wren with Dogwood (bases were included until Sept 1975; from then until mid-1980s retirement, no bases)
Attached/bolted, but not a bust or torso
This group of bases displays the most variety in shapes and colors. The sculptures are mostly animals and birds; only 15 of the 60 listed below represent human figures.
Racer is a good example of a simple but effective early 1960s attached base.
The Bald Eagle was offered by Cybis in both an on-base and no-base version, with the base-less one being $80 cheaper. This was a practice begun by the studio in the late 1980s.
The Satin (left) and Prince Brocade equine heads are both from the early 1980s. Their similarly-colored painted wood bases have shaped/routed edges. These are not made of mahogany and so were more cost effective.
The “attached” bases typically were covered with grey felt on the underside at the final stage of assembly but in order to separate this Columbia from her base the owner needed to expose the original hole. The toggle bolt had to be carefully inserted into the underside of the sculpture before slowly allowing it to open.
Depending on the height of the porcelain and the thickness of the base, that toggle bolt could be very long indeed! This House of Gold madonna and child had to be separated from its base in order to fit onto the display cabinet shelf. The second photo shows an assembled example. I am not sure whether all of the House of Gold sculptures were originally sold with bases.
Sculptures whose design or size could not accommodate the toggle method are glued to their base.
Two pieces on this list have footnotes at the end. Unless otherwise noted, all these bases were finished in the medium brown stain.
Acrobat (black, probably wood but possibly mystery material)
American Bald Eagle
American Crested Iris with Bobwhite Chick
American Screech Owl with Virginia Creeper
Apollo 11, Tranquility Base (should also have a brass plaque on the front of the base)
Arctic Fox (white painted wood; later ones may not have had a base)
Australian Sulphur Crested Cockatoos
Autumn Dogwood with Chickadees
Baby Lamb, 3.5″ high
Bald Eagle, sold in both on-base and no-base versions. (black mystery material)
Ballerina ‘Red Shoes’
Blue Gray Gnatcatchers pair
Blue Headed Vireos with Lilac pair
Carousel horses and carousel animals = all the full size ones were on wood bases
Clematis with House Wren
Columbia (should also have a brass plaque on the front of the base)
Cree ‘Magic Boy’ (some were originally sold with a vitrine as well)
Eskimo Mother (white painted wood)
Golden Clarion lily
Golden Winged Warbler with Andromeda
Great Horned Owl ‘Koos Koos Koos’ *
Hermit Thrush with Crab Apple
Horse Head ‘Racer’
House of Gold madonna and child (unsure if all had bases)
Jesus Most Obedient (height of base varied; some were short, some tall)
Kinglets on Pyracantha
Liberty, original 1984 edition only
Mother Bear and Three Cubs
Oceanea (white painted wood)
Pansies ‘Crinoline Lady’ and ‘China Maid’
Prince Brocade unicorn head (white or cream painted wood with routed edges)
Satin horse head (white painted wood with routed edges)
Screech Owl and Siblings **
Spirit of Ecstasy, Rolls Royce Flying Lady (with metal plaques on front and back of base)
Swans in Motion
Turtle Doves, Doves of Peace
White Tailed Deer (group of three; the single Deer In Motion had no base)
*The official Cybis photo of the color Koos Koos Koos does not show a base, although both colorways have one.
** Screech Owl and Siblings is on a base even though the text price lists do not say so.
Busts and torsos attached to a base
This category is where we find some changes of base material from real wood to the mystery stuff, and also more variation in the stain color of the real wood ones. If not noted otherwise, the base color was the usual medium brown.
Busts and torsos are attached to their base via the toggle method, as shown by this disassembled Eros.
Because the bust is so small, this piece (Madonna with Lace Veil) is possibly glued to the base. Very few of these were put onto a base; in fact, a base is not mentioned in the 1963 list. This piece may even have been a one-off.
This is what happens to a painted wood base if you expose it to water. You can see how the entire base was painted, even the underside, before the felt was glued on. The owner of this piece apparently didn’t want to risk separating bust from base, repainting the base, and reassembling…although it definitely could be done. Cybis obviously used a latex paint on these bases.
Baby Boy Head
Baby Girl Head
Edward (medium brown wood; dark stained wood)
Eros, Cupid Head (originally mahogany; later black painted wood, then black mystery material)
Eskimo Child original edition
Eskimo child Snow Bunting (white painted wood with a shaped top edge)
Funny Face original edition (medium brown wood; later, black mystery material)
Funny Face special green with daisy
Funny Face with Holly (white painted wood)
George Washington bust (black painted wood; should have the round medallion on front)
Head of Boy (medium brown wood; dark stained wood)
Head of Girl (medium brown wood; dark stained wood)
Lucky [Funny Face with playing card motif] should also have Claridge’s’ plaque on front of base (black mystery material)
Madonna ‘Queen of Angels’
Madonna with Bird, original edition (medium brown wood; dark stained wood)
Madonna with Blue Veil (tilted head, closed eyes) the original 1960s versions only; the 1989 versions have no base
Madonna with Lace Veil (few on base)
Madonna with Lily
Oriental Boy ‘Cheerful Dragon’
Oriental Girl ‘Lotus Blossom’
Psyche (black painted wood; later, black mystery material)
Robin (black mystery material)
The Pope = the 14″ h and 12″ h versions were offered in a choice of with base/no base, probably black mystery material
Valentine (black mystery material)
Valentine with Holly (white painted wood)
How would you define a “porcelain base” as something distinct from “a flat section of porcelain upon which the rest of the design sits”? Sometimes it can be tricky. Sometimes it’s easy: If the rest of the design could stand safely on its own if that section were removed, it probably qualifies as a “porcelain base.” (I realize I’m undermining my own Appaloosa Colt assignment with that, however, because it could probably stand on its own four legs.) If it would cause a problem to take that section away, then it’s not a porcelain base but is instead a necessary mold/component.
Cybis utilized porcelain bases from the earliest retail days: Most Cordey pieces have them and also many of the 1950s Cybis religious pieces. Those are the ones that can give collectors fits because Cybis was so inconsistent in this regard. A 1960 newspaper clipping describes some of the first Nativity Murals on display in a Princeton shop as being “mounted on wood bases” but the 1971 exhibit catalog Cybis in Retrospect contains a photo of them on porcelain bases! I’ve seen pieces for sale on eBay atop a wood base, a porcelain base, and sometimes no base at all. The bases were clearly original, not added later by owners. So it’s murky, to say the least.
This trio of 1950s Madonna Most Admirable on their porcelain bases don’t “need” those base molds and quite a few have been seen without them.
The point is arguable about Mater Dolorosa and Ecce Homo, because the bust mold’s ‘footprint’ is the smallest part of the mold… unlike the shape of the madonnas above. Perhaps these could stand on their own without the base, but how securely?
Take the 1960s Mr. Fluffy Tail, for example. The circular mold is porcelain that is painted to resemble wood. It also has a very unusually shaped underside, one that I’ve never seen on any other Cybis. If you could somehow remove Mr. F.T. from the base without breaking him (it’s glued), he could stand just fine on his own. Therefore, even though it’s not very thick, this qualifies as a porcelain base.
This is not a “double base” design, because although it would be fine without the round base, you’d have a problem putting Puck himself anywhere if he didn’t have the other one to sit on.
Likewise, The Enchanted Princess Aurora and the Enamored Prince Florimund would have real problems if someone removed them from those bottom sections. That makes them a critical mold component.
This one is a toss-up because the Noble Eagle is merely the Bald Eagle shown earlier but dressed up for a party and given a new name. We can see from the photo in the attached-base paragraph that the bird doesn’t need the lower section (which, by the way, was filched from Mister President; see them both in Born in the USA) in order to stand up on its own… but it would be a very blah, meaningless piece without it. So is the lower portion a “base” or is it a “necessary component”? Hmmm. You decide.
There’s no question about those thin flat round mold pieces that a number of ballerinas and all three of the Figure Skaters are balanced on… they are definitely not bases but are very necessary mold components. The figure skaters have enough trouble staying secure even with those pieces, in fact.
These are the relatively few sculptures that I consider to be on a porcelain base, i.e., could be displayed safely even if that section were omitted. As mentioned above, Ecce Homo and Mater Dolorosa could go either way.
Infant of Prague, Miniature
Madonna with Rose (was offered in both with-base and no-base versions)
Mother Most Admirable
Noble Eagle (arguable!)
Squirrel ‘Mr. Fluffy Tail’
LUCITE / ACRYLIC BASE
The only Cybis items I have ever known to be supplied with an acrylic base are the two martial arts studies T’ang Dynasty I (The Student) and T’ang Dynasty II whose subtitle is unknown. Both designs are listed in their 1988 introductory brochure as being accompanied by a black Lucite base.
The official Cybis photo of The Student (upper photo) does not show it with the accompanying base cited in the brochure. I have seen only two Dynasty II examples for sale, and one was damaged. Because of its pose this figure must be attached to its base, although the method of attachment (glue or toggle) is unknown.
THE MARBLE BASE MYSTERY
Was any retail Cybis edition ever produced with a marble base? The answer is an unequivocal “maybe.”
This photo of the original edition of the Holy Child of Prague appears in one of Cybis’ catalogs. Other than the original in the National Shrine in Washington and an artist proof in that resides in a Trenton church, only 10 were produced for retail sale. I have never seen any of those for sale and so do not know whether they have the same black marble base as the one in the official Cybis photograph. (The gold section above it is gilded porcelain and may be part of the figure’s mold.) The official Cybis photographs do not always show a base if one is present in the retail edition, and sometimes show bases that may have been only used for photographic purposes. The fact that the 1963 price list, in which the retail edition still appeared, does not say “on base” is no help, because none of the sculptures were so noted… even the ones that definitely did have a base.
A photo of the sculpture in Washington does show it on a base but the material seems to be wood. Take a look at it in this post and see what you think. The photo is further down than the Cybis one. If the 10 retail pieces look like the Cybis photo, then these are the only Cybis examples that were supplied either on or with a marble base.
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