A sad fact of life about Cybis porcelain has been the dearth of resources available to those looking for information about their sculptures – hence the need for the very comprehensive reference ‘encyclopedia’ that you are now perusing! However, it’s worth reviewing the alternative-format and previous research sources as well.
Most mainstream collectible lines end up establishing (or aficionados themselves establish) some type of collectors’ club or organization, and at long last the Cybis studio did end up creating a Cybis Collectors Society in the 1990s. Unfortunately it was short-lived and no reference materials were ever published in connection with it. Thus the collector’s usual first line of research was immediately a dead end.
To make things even more challenging, Cybis never published a collectors’ guide in the usual sense (meaning a 100% complete listing of all sculptures with photos, details, and original issue prices). However, in early 2009 I came across the mention of a Cybis collectors guide published in 2003 by Carol Marren. I have never seen this guide for sale, and attempts during 2014 and 2015 to contact the author were unsuccessful. This publication does have an ISBN but it is publicly available only at the Library of Congress.
The Cybis studio currently has a website (www.cybisporcelain.info) but its main focus is to function as a retail portal, showing sculptures which are currently available for purchase directly from them online. Unfortunately many of the items lack a photograph, some of the photos are attached to incorrect items (and vice versa) and there is no section showing completed or retired sculptures or any extensive history of the studio and its works. Therefore it is not useful for anything other than basic information and current MSRP, and even that is problematic because the site has not been updated since the end of 2008.
Faced with the absence of any comprehensive official channels for research, the only recourse has been via indirect and/or incomplete sources, both online and in print.
The obvious first choice has been to check the open and completed listings on eBay. The downside to this is that not all listings have the sculpture identified by name, which necessitates doing a search only for the name Cybis within the category of Collectibles (because there is a software company also named Cybis.) The upside to researching on eBay is that it will provide the most current idea of what the eBay buyer market is for a given piece at the moment; however, one absolutely needs to take into consideration whether or not the piece being offered, or recently sold, is in 100% mint condition — a factor that dramatically affects its value. A major downside to using eBay as an information source that misattributions from other sellers tend to go viral and end up perpetually uncorrected.
Another online resource is Replacements, which consistently offers a selection of Cybis. The sculptures are always correctly identified by name but not all have an accompanying image. If the name of the sculpture is unknown, a photo-by-photo check is needed. Useful information is limited to only the name, their asking price, and in a few cases the introduction year (shown as “style” for some reason!) Their NB code numbers are internal and have no relevance to Cybis.
A third online resource is Brock & Farrar, a reputable longtime dealer in collectible porcelain who usually has a good selection of Cybis for sale; at one time they were a brick and mortar Cybis gallery. Their site gives the original issue year of most sculptures as well as photographs and their current asking price.
Other selling venues such as Etsy and Ruby Lane typically include too few Cybis to be a useful information resource, and in most cases any information provided there (either correct or otherwise) is usually taken from one of the others listed here.
The Kovels online guide to collectibles does include Cybis but due to space limitations they cannot possibly list even a fraction of all that were produced – and certainly not any of the special editions, special commissions, and so forth.
The most comprehensive online resource is now this site; the About the Cybis Reference Archive page explains its origins and evolution.
Cybis introduced new sculptures only twice a year, in Spring and Fall. At those times the studio would distribute to their affiliated galleries a supply of their latest full-color 8”x11” ‘mini-catalog’ of a half-dozen or so pages showing the new sculptures and also the updated retail prices of all currently produced pieces as well as indicating which limited editions were near closing. These would in turn be mailed by the gallery to their Cybis retail customer list. During the mid to late 1970s these mini-catalogs were replaced by single-sheet foldout color brochures. These are great resources for identification but most collectors did not think to keep them unless they were enamored of the excellent photography. Cybis’ larger retail galleries also placed full-page ads in magazines targeted to a more affluent audience – i.e., The New Yorker rather than Womans Day or Family Circle. Unfortunately my entire original collection of Cybis advertising brochures was lost in a house move fifteen years ago and has been almost impossible to replace.
Although Cybis never published a collectors’ guide, they did publish three softcover large book-type catalogs and one hardcover book. The hardcover book (ca. 1980) was Poems for Children and Other People and shows many older as well as then-current pieces, some of which are still made today. Unfortunately this book does not give any information at all about the sculpture dates, markings, or prices; it was intended as an illustrated poetry book, not as a catalog with poems added.
There were several main print publications issued by or with the studio. The first was a 24-page ‘catalog’ entitled simply Cybis Porcelains, published in 1965 with later reprints, illustrating 47 different sculptures in large black-and-white photographs plus one on the cover which is their Little Blue Heron. Text is minimal and the photos are identified only with a name caption plus a short (often literary) reference to its subject. It also contains a brief history of the artist and studio as well as some detailed information about the original Holy Child of Prague, of which only 10 were made.
In 1971 the New Jersey State Museum mounted a year-long exhibit entitled Cybis in Retrospect and published a catalog of the same name to accompany it. The catalog includes many photos of the old papka, Cordey-era and early Cybis studio pieces including the spatterware plates and other rarely-seen items. The book gives the name, height, introduction dates, and edition type (although no prices) for the items mentioned.
The main reference is the mid-1970s Cybis catalog series first printed with the title Cybis: A World of Enchantment (with an embossed Pegasus on the cover) and subsequently again in 1979 but retitled as Cybis: Porcelains That Fire the Imagination (with the phoenix logo on the cover instead). The 1974 printing of this catalog also contained a single-page text-only list of “Verified Cybis Sculptures”, many of which were included in Cybis in Retrospect and/or in the appendix of the later catalog printings but others were not. Sadly, the only information other than a name is an asterisk indicating that the piece was a limited edition! No photo, no issue year (or even decade), no size, no description… nothing but the name. This list did not appear in later printings.
The 1970s catalog printings are virtually identical in general content, having 121 pages and including a number of color photographs. The sculptures are grouped in chapters according to the various Cybis “collections” such as Portraits in Porcelain, Biblical, Children to Cherish, etc. Photo captions include the sculpture name, dimensions, and declared issue size for the limited editions.
However, an often-misunderstood part of this catalog is the last section which is entitled “Alphabetical Guide to Sculptures”; many people assume that this is a comprehensive list of all sculptures that were issued up to 1978. Unfortunately this is not the case, because there are quite a number of sculptures whose information was included in the 1971 Cybis in Retrospect but for some reason were completely omitted from this catalog’s list. One such example is the American Screech Owl with Virginia Creeper which is described in the museum retrospective exhibit catalog and also appears on several 1970s individual-retailer price lists as being an available limited edition; and yet in the late 1970s catalog there is no mention of it having existed at all. So, collectors should be aware that the Alphabetical Guide/Appendix is only a partial list. One very helpful aspect of the list is that it does indicate if a limited edition sculpture had “closed early”, in other words if production was stopped before the original declared edition size was reached. This can have a profound impact on value, especially if a reseller only knows what the original stated issue size was but not the actual (ending) size. For example the Sleeping Beauty ballet sculptures had a declared issue of 500 each but both were closed after only 200 were made.
The next catalog appeared in 1981 (with subsequent reprints up to 1986) but was significantly downsized from the previous publication. It contains only 48 pages and quite a few of the photos are the same as shown in the earlier catalog. The sculpture list at the back only includes sculptures that are illustrated therein; it follows the same format as the 1971 Appendix but — unlike that list — it is obviously far more abbreviated and does not include any price information. It was reprinted in 1982 and possibly 1984 although I have not seen any later than 1982. This appears to have been the final Cybis softcover publication.
I have occasionally seen all of these available for sale on eBay and bookseller sites such as Abebooks and Alibris. It is definitely worth monitoring the internet for the availability of any these publications if you are at all interested in these sculptures.
Why Such a Mystery?
You may be wondering why there has been so little available information about Cybis porcelain while there is so much ‘out there’ on most other collectibles. This situation is a result of Cybis’ marketing strategy. During the 1960s through the 1980s Cybis was very choosy about which stores they allowed to carry their pieces. Sculptures were never sold directly from the studio, but only through approved retailers catering to a higher-end market. Cybis retailers included jewelers such as Bailey Banks & Biddle; the gift departments at Bonwit Teller and Neiman Marcus stores; antique galleries such as Wakefield Scearce Galleries in Lousville; high-end collectible galleries such as Brielle Galleries and Reese Palley Galleries, both in New Jersey; and other smaller but very select shops in locations such as Palm Beach and Los Angeles. Retailers were never permitted to sell any second-market pieces under any circumstances. Their marketing (and pricing!) strategy kept Cybis porcelain restricted to the upper echelons of collectibles… and thus, not many people were or are familiar with them as compared to, say, Lladro or Hummel which were available almost everywhere. In fact, the studio avoided the use of the word “collectibles” in the usual sense; they are always described as “porcelain art sculptures”.
You may also ask ‘Why not simply contact the studio for information from their archives?’ Sadly, that avenue of research is no longer an option. It’s unknown what happened to all of the rare early Cybis works and the archived information that had been kept by the studio ever since its opening in the 1940s. The Syracuse University Library holdings have some archived “business records” from the Cybis Studio covering the period from 1960 to 1970 but they are flagged as “unprocessed and accessible by special permission only”.. not available to the general public. It may well be that they are simply corporate and financial records and have nothing to do with the early output of the studio.
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