Way way back in the Dark Ages B.E. (Before Ebay), there were only two avenues for selling a piece of Cybis porcelain if you weren’t a retailer who was part of the Cybis Studio’s dealer network: You either placed an advertisement in the classified-ads section of a newspaper, or if you had a working relationship with a Cybis retailer as a collector you might be able to arrange some type of consignment deal with them. However, if the piece you wanted to sell was still being produced by the studio, the latter was absolutely not an option. If you were very lucky, you might know some fellow collectors to contact via the grapevine and put the word out that you had some sculptures for sale, but other than that there weren’t any viable options.
The individual high-end giftware and collectibles brick-and-mortar retailers became extinct by the end of the 1990s at the latest – certainly that was the case for Cybis – and so what used to be called the “secondary market” is now the only market for those who may have some sculptures they wish to sell. I’m regularly asked for suggestions as to the “best” venue, so thought it would be useful to answer that question in detail here.
The first thing to consider is whether “best” (for you) means “selling at the best price” or “selling with the least amount of hassle” or “selling in a reasonable amount of time”. This is important, because in today’s market you will be lucky indeed to get two out of those three.
Obviously, eBay is the best known of these and if you’re already selling other items there you know all the pros and cons, ups and downs, and of course the fee schedules. But what if you haven’t sold there in a decade or more (things have changed bigtime) or have never sold there before? You first need to educate yourself about all of eBay’s current policies and seller requirements, especially as it pertains to returns and fees; for example, at one time shipping charges were not subject to eBay’s transaction (selling) fee but now they are. Postage costs can mount up rapidly when a fragile item is properly packaged for shipment. The upside to eBay is the traffic: you’ll get the most eyes looking at your Cybis. The downside is the huge seller pool, which means that you’ll have to work very hard to make your listing more desirable than the other half dozen people selling the same one (this is particularly true for the long-running open editions like the Baby Owl, Mr. Snowball, the various child heads and animals, etc.) This means doing research to find out exactly what you’ve got, so that you can describe each piece accurately and professionally; this site is the best place to start and if you have a piece that isn’t shown here yet, feel free to contact me via the contact form in the About the Archive page and I’ll fill in whatever blanks I can. If you have the time and patience to deal with the numerous ins and outs of selling fragile items on eBay (more on the breakables topic later), and to commit the time and effort to make your listing more appealing than the others, it might be the best place for you. Just keep in mind that unless you’re willing to renew your listing repeatedly for a very long time and adopt a last-man-standing approach, you’re probably going to end up getting less for your Cybis than you would like or expect.
If you don’t want the hassle of dealing with buyers, packing, and shipping – and depending on where you’re geographically located – you could consign your Cybis to a local brick-and-mortar auction house that has a significant presence online and that also deals in similar collectibles (Boehm, Royal Worcester, etc). Many of these have been selling online for decades and have a regular following in the collectibles category, and they also make sure that the larger auction compilation sites link to their auction catalogs. It’s a good idea to go to the LiveAuctioneers site , do a search for Cybis in the Sold category, and browse the listings paying attention to the auctioneer locations; you should come away with at least a couple of places in your general area to contact. However, be aware that in most (not all) cases you may end up netting less for your Cybis this way than you would if you sold it yourself on eBay; at least that seems to be the trend over the past year or two. On the other hand, being able to avoid the entire packing/shipping scenario might be totally worth it! One last note re: auction houses is that they work better for the limited editions and/or the larger-size retired open editions than for the type of small open editions mentioned in the eBay section, unless those are offered in a single multi-piece lot.
A less regionally restricted option is a site called Everything But the House. They help people to sell estates and/or individual higher-end items and small collections via an auction-format online site. Rather than having a single brick and mortar location, they have representatives in various parts of the country. Their public website doesn’t offer many details but they do have a contact form for further information. It appears to be a hybrid sales alternative whereby the actual items stay in the seller’s possession (unlike an auction house) but EBTH takes care of the photography, listing, packaging for shipping, etc. Cybis pieces appear on their site occasionally but not what I’d consider “often”; I’ve also noticed that the Cybis selling prices there tend to be significantly lower than on other sites.
The two major non-auction self-selling online venues for Cybis are Etsy and Ruby Lane. Both have less Cybis shopper traffic than eBay and also far fewer sellers.
Unlike eBay, Etsy has category restrictions as to what can be sold there: it must be either Handmade, Vintage (20+ years old), or a Supply used for making a handmade item. Because individual Cybis sculptures are not dated, they are “aged” on Etsy according to when the piece was first introduced; thus, any piece introduced before 1996 qualifies…. in other words, the majority of Cybis porcelains will do so. Sellers on Etsy open an individual “shop” which can contain anywhere from one to thousands of items; there is no minimum stock, and items are listed in 4-month blocks for a listing fee of 20 cents per item. Unlike eBay, there is a maximum of five photos allowed per listing with no option to purchase additional photo space. Etsy currently charges a selling fee of 3.5% when an item sells (this fee does NOT apply to shipping charges, again unlike eBay) plus a payment-processing fee of 3% + 25 cents. Recent changes to the site now require that new sellers sign up with Etsy’s own Direct Checkout payment processing system; in the past, shops had a choice of what payment methods they wanted to offer to buyers. There are currently 79 Cybis listings on Etsy, compared to more than 500 currently on eBay (which depending on your point of view may or may not be a good thing!). However, Etsy sellers have the opportunity to purchase “ad” listings which allow an item to appear more than once in the site’s search results. Asking prices on Etsy are comparable to those on eBay and indeed a number of sellers offer the same item simultaneously on both venues. The upside to selling Cybis on Etsy is that you don’t need to worry about constantly renewing auction listings. The downside is that due to the much lower traffic, it will usually take much longer to sell. Despite its having gone public with its stock last year, Etsy is hardly a household name as yet. (If you only have a couple of Cybis to sell, perhaps someone you know already has a vintage-items shop on Etsy and can put it into their inventory on your behalf.)
Ruby Lane differs from Etsy in that sellers can only sell vintage items. Again the majority of Cybis pieces qualify for this, and again it is an individual-seller-shop venue. However, Ruby Lane sellers must keep a minimum of 10 items in their shop’s for-sale stock at all times. This immediately makes it impractical for anyone who is only looking to sell a few pieces, or even if they are selling a collection because at some point they are going to have less than 10 items as sales take place… and then what? They would need to shift to a different venue to dispose of the rest. Also, although Ruby Lane does not impose per-item selling fees like Etsy and eBay, sellers must pay a monthly per-shop fee of $54 for up to 80 listed items, as well as a 39-cent listing fee per new item and a $100 shop setup fee. There are also fewer Cybis typically listed there at any given time; currently there are only 46, and 12 of those are from the same seller.
Back in the “olden days” there seemed to be a half dozen small antique shops in every town, but just like the high-end giftware shops these have also virtually disappeared. The ones that remain tend to be (in my suburban area at least) multi-dealer venues where individual sellers rent display case space. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any Cybis for sale in any of these shops other than the occasional Baby Owl or Mr. Snowball. Any such local venue will typically look up the recent eBay selling prices for a given Cybis piece, slash that by 50% or more, and offer that amount to someone wishing to sell. Again, as with the auction houses, you need to decide if avoiding the time/effort/hassle of selling online is worth the discount. An upside to checking out the single-owner antiques shops – if any – is that you might be able to arrange a consignment agreement with them. (Sellers in multi-dealer shops are less likely to have extra space for consignment pieces.)
Replacements Ltd., physically located in North Carolina, operates on the same principle. They maintain the largest online stock of Cybis outside of eBay, with 168 current listings, many but not all of which appear on eBay because they sell there as well; however, whether their offer prices would be acceptable to a potential seller is something that can only be learned by asking. Also, I do not know what their buying criteria are; they may not buy pieces that are not in 100% mint condition.
Packing and Shipping
Aside from the financial considerations of fees and discounts, the main bugaboo of selling Cybis – or any breakable – online is proper packing and shipping. If you haven’t done it before, you will probably be very surprised at the cost to do it properly, and that cost goes exponentially up according to the size and complexity of the sculpture. Technically, all breakables should be double-boxed: a properly packed smaller box placed inside a properly packed larger one with at least 2” of protective material all around. That means buying heavy weight (200 crush test) shipping boxes, rolls of bubble pack (depending on the item, wrapping it may or may not be a good idea), styrofoam peanuts and good quality packaging tape. Recycling the box and “air pillows” from your most recent Amazon purchase is NOT adequate. You need to pack as if the box is going to be dropped onto a cement floor from a 10 foot height (as it very well might be) or is going to have a 20-lb Flat Rate Priority Mail package dropped directly on top of it (ditto.) Properly packing a fragile item is not cheap, so you need to correctly calculate your shipping fees to cover not only the actual postage cost from the carrier but also your packaging materials and insurance coverage as well.
On my personal blog site I have a post describing how to pack porcelain sculptures for safe shipment (page will open in a new tab.)
Knowing how to insure a breakable item is crucial, especially since postage costs for sending a box larger than 12” square can be high due to what’s called “dimensional weight”. That means, basically, that the size of the box can actually mean more than what it weighs: If you ship a 24” square box of feathers, you’re going to be charged in large part on the size of the box rather than its negligible weight. Let’s say you sell a Cybis Unicorn on eBay for $900 (a totally hypothetical price, so don’t get excited) and you charged a packing/shipping fee of $40 (which you’d better, considering that you’ll be double boxing it and it’s going to a buyer on the opposite coast.) If you insured the item for the $900 selling price but when the buyer unpacks it he finds it in several pieces, you’ll still have to refund your buyer the entire $940 but you’ll only be getting $900 from the insurer if you insured it with the US postal service… because the USPS does not allow you to insure the cost of postage. However, some other third-party insurers (such as U-Pic, Insurepost, Shipsurance, etc) do allow you to do that. Pick the wrong insurer, or don’t insure the item for your maximum possible loss, and it can cost you.
Then there’s the age-old question of whether or not to mark such a package “fragile”. There are two schools of thought on this: (a) Always mark it Fragile, because if you don’t and it ends up damaged, the insurance company can refuse to pay the claim because the contents were not properly identified, and (b) Never mark it Fragile, because it will only inspire every USPS, FedEx and/or UPS employee to play soccer or basketball with the box “to see if it will break.” So, pick yer poison. (When I sold breakables, I always slapped not one, not two, but FIVE big red FRAGILE stickers on every box after packing them to survive anything short of being run over by a Humvee, and insuring them to the hilt.)
So basically what it comes down to is deciding what level (if any) hassle you’re comfortable dealing with when it comes to selling your Cybis, versus the minimum you’re willing to accept for it/them after accounting for all applicable costs, fees, etc. Some people, like myself, just don’t like the constraints inherent in selling on an auction site; I did sell on eBay during the early 2000s and the experience was tolerable although I took a whopping loss on the Cybis compared to what they cost originally and what their value was in the B.E. days. (forget “video killed the radio star”… the lyric should be “eBay killed the Cybis market”) – but for an individual, selling on there now is night-and-day different from what it was then. You couldn’t pay me enough to be an eBay seller nowadays, but again, that’s just me. Etsy was a much better fit for me personalitywise, but it isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea either.
A final word about pricing; on this blog I don’t suggest prices for selling Cybis, because the collector market is so fluid and also so very different from what it used to be… not to mention so utterly dependent on the item’s condition. I delve into this more deeply in the Archive Pricing Details post. It’s impossible to say how much less any buyer would be willing to pay for a piece that’s described as missing a flower, or having a broken whatsit, compared to what they’d pay if it had absolutely no damage. As a former collector, I also find it somewhat hard to be objective about the prices (both high and low) that I’ve seen for Cybis over the past 15 years or so, having had experience with what they once were. That’s why I only act as a reporter of the official Cybis Studio prices either past or present. The relationship of any price, anywhere, to “market reality” is something that I leave completely to the sellers and buyers to interpret.
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