The two Boleslaw Cybis porcelain lines (Cordey and Cybis) both utilized a number system for their production but approached them in rather different ways. A working knowledge of both can be helpful when trying to identify the 1950s output of the Cybis branded items in particular.
The Cordey Numbering System
In the July 2004 issue of The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, Carol Perrry stated that the Cordey “numbering system began with the 200s and progressed all the way to the 8000s.” The word ‘progressed’ may give the erroneous impression that the numbering was chronological, i.e., that items bearing mold numbers in the 200s and 300s are older than those with numbers in the 7000s and 8000s. In fact the design numbers reflected the actual type (genre) of the item produced.
Cordey items often contain an embarassment of riches when it comes to numbers (more on that subject later) but an examination of a large number of pieces offered for sale in recent years shows this general breakdown of mold-number categories:
Numbers in the 200s are almost always teapots, coffeepots, sugarbowls, creamers, etc. Birds (other than the ubiqitous bird-in-a-tree) were in the 300s. The flat-backed wall-mounted “lady faces” such as the one shown within this post have numbers in the 900s. “People” molds – busts, torsos, and full figures – are numbered in the 3000, 4000, and 5000 range with the majority falling into the 4000-5000s category. This makes sense because the majority of Cordey molds were of this type.
The 6000 range is split between the various iterations of the bird-in-tree mold, and lidded boxes. The 7000 and 8000 ranges include a wide array of home décor items such as vases, centerpiece bowls, candlesticks, trinket dishes and lidded boxes, perfume bottles, and dresser trays. A few vases and bowls were given numbers in the 1000 series. Other than the ‘lady faces’ mentioned above, other wall sconces, pockets and shelves were put into the 7000s. Cordey made very few animal figures but those that do exist have been numbered either in the 6000s or the 8000s.
What’s interesting is the relative lack of Cordey pieces bearing design numbers in the 2000s; they seem to jump directly from the 200s to the 1000s and then directly to the 3000-8000s. I have a hunch (pure speculation) that the 2000s may have been initially intended for religious pieces when Cordey production first began, but then when the Cybis line was launched shortly thereafter it was decided to produce the religious pieces under that branding instead. I have seen only one Cordey religious figure but it has the number 4149 incised into the mold, as was typical for their “human” pieces. So the lack of 2000 series Cordeys remains a puzzle.
It’s not uncommon for Cordey pieces to have not one but several numbers on it and unlike the Cybis items being produced at the same time, these numbers were not removed. Often it’s impossible to winkle out exactly what mysterious code all the numbers conveyed! For example, here’s one of their people pieces; it has two mold impressions, the Cordey name and the mold number which is 4022. But it also has two numbers added in paint: 3013 and 15. Did either or both of these refer to additional mold pieces that needed to be attached to the main mold casting? Or to the type of decoration used? In an effort to discover this I looked for pieces that had these ‘extra’ numbers in common, to see if there was any correlation; there was none. The only result was more confusion, because several pieces with, say, #15 on them shared no particular characteristic. Obviously these numbers meant something to the Cordey artists; but what?
Sometimes the mold number was incised but sometimes it was handwritten with either paint (as above) or a crayon or grease pencil. Did a circle around a two-digit number indicate something special? Who knows? This piece really shows a bit of overkill on the Cordey name: not one but two mold impressions and a gold-paint stamp!
Cordey also applied a paper brand sticker, which is something the Cybis items never carried.
As discussed in several other Archive posts, there were occasional instances of “crossovers” in which the same mold was used by both the Cordey and Cybis lines during the same decade. Although these are rare, it’s hardly surprising: They were all being made in the same building, with the artists working literally a stone’s throw from each other. Actually the surprise is that there weren’t more of these “shares.” When they did happen, the mold/design numbers were assigned according to the conventions of whichever ‘brand name’ the piece was to carry.
The Cybis Numbering System
In contrast to Cordey pieces which displayed whatever production numbering had been used, the Cybis mold numbers were applied in pencil and then removed during the actual decorating process. However, some did slip through with their mold numbers intact and these are sometimes the only clue to what name a 1950s piece was originally given.
The 1979 Cybis catalog contains an Appendix that lists some – but not all – of the 1950s pieces, the vast majority of which belonged to the religious genre (in contrast to the almost entire lack of them in the Cordey line.) Also in contrast to Cordey, the Cybis design number system is, for the most part, fairly logical and goes like this: Religious design numbers always began with 2; bird numbers with 3; people (other than the Indians) with 4; flowers with 5; and animals with 6.
The “7” series of numbers is a bit murky because according to the catalog it was used for the North American Indians (which were made during the 1970s) and supposedly for a few home décor items that were produced during the 1950s. For example, the two 1950s Heart Boxes shown above are given numbers 730 and 731 in the Appendix which makes no sense considering that the first Indian design, Hiawatha, was #701 in 1969! Clearly the Heart Boxes were arbitrarily assigned a mold number in the catalog that they never possessed during their actual production.
Home décor items were assigned design numbers starting with 8, beginning in the mid-1970s. These varied from the Bonbonniere/Baptismal Shell (#818) to Turtle ‘The Baron’ (#820) to the Thinking of You heart box (#817.) During the 1980s the number range apparantly was expanded into the 9s for the giftware and home décor items.
One would normally assume that a lower number would mean an earlier piece chronologically, and in general that is true for Cybis except when it comes to the religious pieces, the vast majority of which originated in the 1950s and were assigned four-digit mold numbers. However, the 1950s-era numbers shown in the catalog reference cannot always be relied upon, as is shown below.
Every so often a 1950s piece will surface with its handwritten mold number still visible, as on this pair of companion Jesus and Mary busts, being marked 2004 and 2005 respectively. If you were curious as to what these may have been named, you could look in the 1979 catalog Appendix for those numbers, and indeed 2005 is there… but it’s assigned to Mater Dolorosa, an entirely different sculpture from the same period which is illustrated in the catalog! Ooops. What’s worse, #2005 is there also but it’s assigned to Ecce Homo (also illustrated) which was the companion piece to the Mater Dolorosa. Because the mold numbers on the actual pieces themselves must be the correct ones, that means the Appendix that was compiled almost 25 years later must be wrong in this instance. Hmmmm.
Here’s the underside of an actual Angel in Adoration which is a treasure trove of markings: the reddish Cybis stamp, the rarely seen Eagle stamp, and a mold number of 2006 followed by a W. This piece is illustrated in the 1979 catalog and is listed in the Appendix pages as….#2507! Hmmmm again. The addition of a W normally indicates that the piece was made in two color versions: undecorated (plain white) bisque, and painted. The presence of a W notation was to notify the artist that she shouldn’t paint this one. What’s odd is that the 1979 catalog doesn’t indicate that these particular angels were made in any color other than plain white (although several different Cybis angels were.) As far as the number discrepancy goes, the Appendix doesn’t include any piece supposedly being mold #2006 but again it seems that we must take our cue from what’s on the actual piece instead – unless the studio did a complete mold-number change mid-production from #2006 to #2507 which seems completely illogical.
Keeping in mind that the 1950s Cybis religious pieces were almost all cast from commercially purchased molds, the mold number assignments may have reflected that; for example, the molds they bought from Holland Mold may have been given #20** while the ones from Atlantic Mold Co (such as the Nativity Set) may have been #21**. This actually would make sense because it would immediately indicate what company they needed to order a new supply of molds from.
That said, when it comes to the post-1960s pieces the design numbers do indeed follow a timeline within the different genres. Beatrice, introduced in 1965, was design #445; Pollyanna, from 1971, was design #465; and Queen Titania in 1977 was design #499. At that point the “people numbers” jump to four digits, with the 1978 introduction Little Boy Blue getting mold #4000. The post-1960 sculpture information in the Appendix should be reliable because it does not depend on old, incomplete records from the Boleslaw Cybis era.
The current Cybis website does list “design numbers” for the pieces they offer, and interestingly some of them do correspond in part to the original numbers shown in the 1979 catalog. The numbers are modified; for example the Baby Owl, shown as design #334 in the book, is listed as #A20334 on the website. Other pieces follow the expected numbering convention, i.e., the Black Capped Chickadee, a 1987 introduction, is listed as #A20398. The bird that flipped the numbers over to four digits was the 1989 issue Golden Crown Kinglets with Apple Blossom which is shown on the website as #A03000. Shortly thereafter, however, the dating-by-numbers sequence on the website completely falls apart: Birds have numbers like #A06059 for penguins and #A06097 for a duckling. Other design numbers are shown simply as letters: PNEC for the Noble Eagle in color vs. PNEW for the Noble Eagle in white. Whether any of the post-1990 design numbers were utilized in the production process (which had by then been drastically curtailed) is open to conjecture.
Due to the complete lack of mold/design number markings remaining on Cybis pieces from 1960 onward, and then the ‘scrambling’ of them starting in the 1990s, their usefulness is essentially limited to the identification of the 1950s pieces. Despite the discrepancies so far uncovered, the 1979 catalog appendix can sometimes be useful in attaching a name to a 1950s piece but it’s smart to doublecheck the height and photo (if any) to make sure that everything “matches” what’s shown for that number on the Appendix list! I also suspect that many of the non-religious (birds, flowers, etc) 1950s design numbers in the 1979 catalog may have been ‘guesstimates’ by whoever compiled the list. The most useful aspect of a mold number appearing on a Cybis religious piece is as evidence that the item was made during the 1950s.
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