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. In 1989, which was the studio’s 50th Anniversary year, a third “golden anniversary” colorway was added in which karat-gold paint accents were added to parts of the white bisque version. Thus there were then three colorway pricepoints: white bisque, white-with-gold, and color. At some point the plain all-white bisque colorway was retired and the price of each design became the same for both the white/gold version or the full-color one. The odd thing is that a 1988 Cybis price list shows only the prices for the color version, not the plain white bisque, while the 1989 Nativity brochure shows prices for all three colorways!
The white/gold colorway sculptures, having been introduced in 1989, bear the special 50th Anniversary stamp if they were actually created during that year but the color ones and any all-white ones created after 1989 do not.
Mary is 7.25” high and was one of the first three introductions in 1982, originally priced at $245 for the white/gold version and $295 for the color (pale tints and lacking any gold accents) as shown. Both colorways ended at $395.
Joseph was priced the same as Mary for the white/gold and color (shown) versions and ended likewise. 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 $275 for the color (top photo) and $215 for white with gold. Final pricing was $298 for either. Like the original 1950s Holy Family, the baby appears to be removeable to accommodate the tradition in some Catholic families of not placing the child into the manger until Christmas Eve.
All of the Three Kings were introduced in 1983, and all had the same introductory prices for white ($315) and color ($445). Both colorways ended production at $895 in the early 2000s although it’s doubtful that many (if any) were actually purchased at that price. The “gifts” they hold may be deliberately removeable 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.
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 and started at $275/white, $395/color. Final Cybis price was $795 for either color or white/gold.
This was the first of three camels to be issued for this nativity set. Originally titled Camel which was later changed to Camel I when the others began appearing, it is 10” high. First issued at $425 white/$625 color, according to their 2008 website Cybis was by then asking $1295 for either.
This is the first of four eventual angels associated with this second Nativity set and is called Nativity Angel (kneeling). She is 6.5” high. This kneeling angel was $275 and $395 but ended at $895 like many of the other sculpures in this series. (All of the Cybis angels can be seen here.)
The 1985 introductions were all animals; at least one of them – possibly more – had previously been released by Cybis as a standard (non-nativity) piece.
The Lamb is 4.75” high and is the larger of two lambs that would ultimately find their way into the nativity series. The only difference between the “color” and white/gold version is that the hooves of the latter are decorated with gold rather than grey. The introductory pricing is unknown but both versions were last seen on the Cybis site at $295.
Here’s where we get into the “split personality” scenario. This 5.25” high sculpture was first released by Cybis in 1983 as Burro ‘Benjamin’ who appears in the Into the Woods with Cybis post.
Then in 1985 he suddenly appeared as Burro, Reclining within the nativity series, available in either plain white or in the color version identical to Benjamin. Then in 1989 the gold-accented colorway above was added. I have no idea whether Cybis retired the “Benjamin persona” in 1985 or whether both Benjamin and Nativity Burro, Reclining, color appeared on the same Cybis lists concurrently. In any case, Benjamin was retired as a named edition and both colorways were moved to the nativity section of the 2008 Cybis site for $395.
And to make things even more confusing, Cybis released the nativity Donkey during the same year! He is 6.5” high. I honestly don’t know if he had a prior retail version although I tend to doubt it because many traditional depictions of a nativity scene do include a donkey, so perhaps he was designed for this set. (At least Cybis didn’t resurrect Fitzgerald!) Final pricing was $395 for either colorway.
This sculpture appeared in the Cybis web storefront simply as Cow and I believe that it was a new release in 1985 although I can’t confirm that. It is 4.25″ high. Like the Burro and Donkey, the bisque version is all white except for gold applied to the visible hoof and – in this case – the horns (some females do have horns; it depends on the breed.) Original pricing unknown but the final one was $395.
The second angel in this First Christmas series was the Nativity Angel II (standing) introduced in 1989 for $475 in all white, $525 in white/gold, and $575 in color as above. She ended up at $895 for either of the latter colorways, the all-white colorway having been retired in the interim. She stands 9.75” high. In design she appears to be adapted from the same mold as a contemporaneous non-nativity angel named either Angel Annunciation or Angel of the Annunciation (shown in the Angels post) except for some details of dress and the position of her right arm which I think is very awkwardly placed on this one.
This image of the Nativity Angel III (standing) is taken from a photo of a white-and-gold set and enlarged several times; it is the only picture I have found of this piece. The top half of this angel is obviously cast from the Nativity Angel (kneeling) and then combined with the lower half is probably from the Annunciation/Nativity Angel II. No doubt her last retail was the same as the other nativity angels, i.e., in the $800 range.
Camel II is the second camel in the series and is 8.75” high, early-2000s priced at $1095. Issue year is unknown except that it was after 1989.
The third and last camel in the series, Camel III finished up at $1195 and dates from the 1990s and after Camel II. Even a cursory examination shows that this sculpture is simply the body from Camel I with the standing legs removed and replaced by kneeling ones. 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. The Cybis site gives no height but it can be guessed as somewhere between 4” and 5”.
Two other previously-released standard editions were eventually drafted into this nativity set as well.
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/whoever, angled the head slightly upward from its original position, and brought it into the nativity series as the Small Lamb in 1989 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 Lamb is slightly larger at 4.75″ high and has its head turned to face the viewer. It is not from the same mold as the Small Lamb shown above. Both colorways were $295.
Little Angel, who was originally issued in 1986 as part of the “Children to Cherish Collection”, eventually showed up in the Nativity Collection after 1989. However, the copyright impression on both colorways is 1986. She was priced by Cybis at $395 for either the color or white/gold (which I have never seen) and is 7” high.
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 designwise she does not relate in any way to the other pieces. I’m curious to find out what the copyright year is on this piece but have never seen one come up for sale; it’s possible that none were ever actually sold.
Also offered was The Stable; measurements are 19” high and 30” wide. Retail price is unknown but a 1989 brochure states “Wooden stable available only if special ordered.” It was not mentioned at all on the Cybis website, but a text-only 2008 retail price list there for “the complete 19-piece set” was $12,908. That list of nineteen pieces did not include the Guardian Angel or the stable.
The sculptures in the color-version partial set shown above are, from left to right: Camel I, Melchior, Caspar, Nativity Angel Kneeling, Christ Child with Lamb, Joseph, Mary, the retired 1979 Lamb ‘Mandy’ which has never been part of the nativity set, Cow, Balthasar, (larger) Lamb, Shepherd, Donkey, and The Stable.
This Cybis photo of the same set is a bit puzzling because the stable shown here is definitely not the same structure as the one in the previous photo. Which one was the actual production piece?? Also, if you look closely at the cow she appears to be munching on some hay!
This bisque-with-gold set is almost complete, having 17 pieces; it lacks the Guardian Angel and The Stable. The pieces are, from left to right: Nativity Angel III, Camels II and II, the Donkey and Burro, Caspar and Melchoir, Joseph, Mary, Christ Child, Nativity Angel I, Balthasar, Shepherd, Cow, Lamb (just visible behind the Cow), Camel I, and Nativity Angel II.
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 appears in the “Hall of Fame” section of their shop. It uses 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, the three pieces are downsized versions of the ones used for the nativity set itself. 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 nativity-set Joseph is 9.5” tall without any base. Thus, what Cybis has done is 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.
The color version of this piece appears to be slightly darker than the nativity set version. Both colorways were priced at $595 on the Cybis website. I would bet a box of chocolates that the introduction year was in the mid to late 1990s; the Hall of Fame replicas did not exist until 1990 and this was definitely not among the early examples.
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 purchased from (and copyrighted by) the Atlantic Mold Company. This is no doubht why Cybis departed from their prior HOF naming convention of adding the Roman numeral II to the name of the replica; they could not call it “Holy Family II” if it was not taken from the 1950s Holy Family mold, and nd so they named the 1990s piece the Nativity, Holy Family instead. Ah, semantics!
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