Cordey Lamps: A Retail History in Vintage Ads

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The next several Cordey posts in the Archive will take a look at the history of the company through vintage retailer advertising, accompanied by examples of the actual items that were sold at the time. This first instalment in the series will focus exclusively on the Cordey lamps.

A general timeline of the company’s corporate doings is provided in the History of the Cordey China Company post, so let’s jump right in with the earliest lamp ad that I’ve found to date.

Cordey Lamps from the ‘Cybis Era’ (1943-1959)

 

This sale ad from North Park Furniture appeared in the Buffalo Courier Express in 1944, a scant two years after the Cordey China Company was initially formed. The text reads:

Cordey China … brings to the home the hallowed charm of the old world and the exciting beauty of the new … Created by Cybis, one of Europe’s renowned Ceramic specialists, “Cordey China” fairly breathes the essence and grandeur of the [?] of Kings and Queens… Designed and created with the artistry of old paintings, “Cordey China” will enhance the appearance of any home and [further text illegible]
Buy them in Pairs $14.95 each, as shown at left and right (regularly 27.95 each)

The special $14.95 pricing applied only to the two small lady-torso lamps in the largest/top insets. The other lamps shown are more expensive, ranging from $24.95 to $49.95. It’s a shame that most of the photos are too dark to make out much detail; for example, the lamp caption at the far left upper row appears to say Pagoda in cobalt blue and gold. Some of the lamps carried with them the name of the Cordey figurine at its base: the lower righthand lamp caption says Winter Girl which was the name of that standalone figurine.

This is the lamp I have marked a with a red A in the advertisement. Most of these lamps will have had their original lampshade replaced during past decades. This lamp still has its original Cordey gummed sticker on the front, however. It is on sale for $34.95 in the ad. A bit of trivia: In November 1943 the average monthly Social Security benefit check was $23.42, so this Cordey lamp – even on sale – represented a month and a half’s worth of income for a senior citizen at that time.)

This is the pair marked B and C respectively, priced at $39.95 each by North Park.

The ubiquitous Cordey bird in tree as a lamp, for $29.95.

 

 

Unfortunately, I could not find a matching lamp for this October 1946 ad from Wales Decorators in Washington, DC. The ad writer has misspelled Alençon lace as “Alicean type lace.” The name Cybis is not mentioned in this ad, as it was in the 1944 one from North Park, nor is Cybis mentioned in any post-1944 Cordey ad that I have been able to find so far.

 

This ad was placed by the Abraham & Straus (known popularly as “A&S”) store in Brooklyn in 1949:

A&S brings you an unprecedented sale of lamps that are true works of art – a big proportion of them at half price! Every lamp is molded entirely of fine china – even to gossamer laces, ribbons and flowers of incredible delicacy. All are hand-painted, and topped with fine shades especially designed to match. For each figurine there is a companion piece (not illustrated) to form a pair. No room to illustrate all the beautiful styles – come and see the complete collection!

Notice that according to this ad, all their advertised Cordey lamps came in pairs. Interestingly, the same Pagoda lamp illustrated in the 1944 North Park Furniture ad is partially seen in the upper right corner.

Right next to the pagoda is this “Chinese Coquette” figure lamp, cited as 26” tall, regularly $74.95 but on sale for $49.95.

The expected small(ish) lady bust lamp base, 15” high overall and marked down to $14.95 (same as five years earlier) from $19.95.

Of course, we also see that the bird lamp is still around as well, on sale for $24.95 – only a few dollars less than its sale price five years earlier.

Here we can see not only the Colonial-motif lady shown in the ad for $39.95 (from $74.95) but also her male companion lamp as well. These are 30” tall.

 

Another 1949 ad, this time from the Lampcrafters store in Washington, D.C.

If the shades in the upper photo are not Cordey originals they are at least very close to it. The lower photo shows an additional such lamp that may have been the ‘designated companion’ for this pair.

 

The Hecht Company department store ran this ad in a 1950 issue of the D.C. Evening Star. Notice that the figural (busts, torsos, etc.) bases are less in evidence compared to the 1940s ads; a sign that décor trends were starting to change. Can you spot the inaccurate hype in the ad copy?

Top-Management gaped, oh’d and ah’d at these fabulous lamps. Our canny Shoppers said they’d never seen the like, at the prices. You’ll do the same! These lamps are as delicate as fine Dresdenware. Each a precious jewel in fine china. Hand-decorated by top European artists who look upon lamp making as an art … not a trade. They created figurines with the china spun into gossamer-like lace, worked into intricate head-dresses, ribbons and bows. They fashioned satiny china into love birds with softly tinted plumage. They sculpt exquisite flowers, applied them with discriminating eye to graceful urn and vase shapes. Topped each lamp with its own artfully designed shade. Note the two above for just $24.95. Note the others below at equally hard-to-believe low prices. Then come in and see our whole collection of magnificent Cordey lamps … lamps you’ll want for yourself … for gift-giving.

Inset: For 50 Lucky People! CORDEY LAMPS $10.95 and $14.95
We could get just 50 of these fabulous lamps at these ridiculous prices. Hurry! Make sure you’re one of the lucky 50!

By describing the lamps as “hand-decorated by top European artists,” the copywriter is implying that the lamps were made in Europe – thus providing more cachet – than only a few hours away in Philadelphia and Trenton. Of course, some of the Cordey employees may well have been from various parts of Europe, or of European extraction, but that’s clearly not what was meant. From left to right in the lower row, the lamps are priced at $44.95, $19.95 (the lady bust), $34.95, $44.95, $54.95 and $34.95

This is the male full figure lamp shown just above the T in the Hecht name in the ad, priced at $44.95.

As detailed in the Cordey Christmas Trees post, we know that this holiday lamp was being produced in the early 1950s and continued to be available (possibly from backstock) through that decade. Fun fact: the Cybis operation used this same tree mold for their 1950s nativity set with their Herald Angel figure attached to the upper section! The tree mold – like the other nativity figures – was purchased by Cybis/Cordey from the Atlantic Mold Company.

Another ad with, sadly, no matching real-life lamp example. This was placed by the Gimbels store in 1953. The ad copy reads

$20 originally $35 / $30 originally $50 / $40 originally $60 / $50 originally $85 / $60 originally $92.50

If you know fine table lamps, you know what the famous Cordey label means. It stands for exquisite, intricate workmanship, reminiscent of the Royal Copenhagen so treasured by connoisseurs. Each piece is entirely hand-molded, hand-painted on high glaze china. (Figures, laces, flowers, filigrees that are amazing in their delicate detailing.) Every shade has been designed especially for the base, and hand-sewn with infinite care, worked with ribbons, silks, laces. We show only 4 of the 20 magnificent styles, each at remarkable savings. Come in, come early for the best choice.

We now jump ahead a few years to 1957, and with the benefit of hindsight we know that the Cordey operation was struggling. Boleslaw Cybis – who may not have been involved very much in the Cordey operation for the previous couple of years anyway – died in May of this year.

 

Several examples of the lamps offered in this closeout-sale ad are shown below. The discounting is quite deep, whether from retailer backstock or the company itself dumping inventory for whatever retailers were willing to pay (no doubt pennies on the dollar.) Notice the “cash and carry” requirement; this was quite common during the 1950s.

Values from $19.95 to $150
* All Fine Quality
* Factory Closeout

Now is the time to buy these elegant “Cordey” “cream of-the-crop” lamps at rock-bottom low prices! A tremendous selection in many styles and colors. Cash and carry! Buy for yourself and for gift-giving.

$14.95 to $19.95 Values
$6.97
Lovely “Cordey” Decorator-Type Vanity Lamps
Delicate sculptured pieces in stick or vase styles.

$25 to $60 Values
$9.97
Exquisite Vase-Type Lamps
All hand-decorated with beautiful floral work and delicate coloring, topped with lovely decorator-type handmade shades. Approximately 26” high with large mountings.

$44.95 to $150 Values
$18.97
Charming CAVALIER or FEMALE FIGURINE
In this group you will find cavalier figurines; female figurines; female half figurine without arms; male half figurine without arms; large vase, double figurine and many others.

This is the “vanity lamp” on sale for $6.97; vanity lamps were typically smaller than other types.

This figure of a lady torso with arms held akimbo is found both with and without a hat. The one in the advertisement is the same as the example in the upper photo. The lower photo shows that Cordey had continued their practice of making many (most? all??) of their lamps as companion pairs. This pair of lamps still has original Cordey shades! The shades are identical to the one in the ad’s photo of a different lamp base. This and the next two lamps were marked down to $18.97 in the closeout sale.

Because this photo is very dark, it’s hard to see the brass ‘pipe’ section of this romantic couple lamp from the ad, but it’s there. Cordey did not produce many “two on a single base” human figures; the vast majority of them show just one person/torso/bust.This is the swirl-body vase lamp shown at the far right; it still retains its original Cordey sticker.

Recognize the Cordey lampshade on this pair of lamps? It’s the same one shown in the advertisement atop the ‘lady with arms akimbo’ model!

Post-Cybis Era Cordey Lamps (1960 onward)

The Schiller lamp company acquired the Cordey operation via bankruptcy sale in 1959, so all of these advertisements are for ‘Schiller-Cordey division’ lamps even though they were not described as such for almost another decade; clearly, the 1960s retailers wanted to use the more familiar “Cordey” branding instead.

There are no ‘figural’ lamps shown in this 1960 ad from the Sterns department store, although they are mentioned in the text.

As welcome as a day in Spring – these exquisite Cordey china lamps are masterfully crafted, with intricate raised decorations skillfully applied by hand and hand painted. Each lamp is handsomely mounted…has its own specially designed shade. The freshness and loveliness of these lamps complement any setting. Other exciting Cordey lamps in our large collection include figurines, boudoir and table lamps from $17.50 to $85.

 

Another ad from Sterns’ New Jersey store locations, placed in the New York Times.

Famous Cordey china table lamps – now at our lowest price ever! You choose from three classic shapes, each with delicate hand-applied raised flowers…complete with 3-way lighting and tailored taffeta shade. Save $5.00 on each; buy a pair and save $15.

This is the lamp shown at the left (lamp A) in the ad, with its original shade.  The copy reads: #1192 All white 34” 18th Century urn, white raised floral and leaf spray. If this pair was bought at the Sterns sale, the shopper got them both for $25 plus sales tax.

 

I really wish I could find ‘real life’ examples of any of the lamps described as “jewel tone” in this 1961 John Wanamaker ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It even includes the new lighting craze of the 1960s: pole lamps!

Yes, Cordey, America’s finest maker of lamps, selected us for the first showing of their new jewel-tone lamps…and also introduce new pole lights with exquisite china bullets. Rose quartz, emerald, topaz, amethyst, or sapphire flowers and designs on white bases. Decoratively tailored shades with trim.

The three-light pole lamp shown on the left sold for $39.98, while the table lamps (from left to right) are priced at $15.98, $19.98, $39.98 and $29.98 respectively.

 

I wonder if this advertisement (unfortunately the image did not include a sketch of this lamp “M”) is describing the same pole lamp that John Wanamaker was selling? If not, it must have been very similar.

 

Schiffs was a popular mid-priced independent department store on Long Island during the 1960s; they were regular advertisers in the Long Island daily newspaper Newsday, such as this one from 1962. Most or all of these were surely discounted backstock; in fact, the ad seems to depict one of the old figural Cordey lamps toward the back of the group.

 

Another 1962 ad, this time from Sterns in the New York Times. “Cordey-liers” was of course a play on ‘chandeliers’ – even though lights like these wouldn’t be considered as such in the usual sense. A selling point for this style of light was that no electrical work was required. The lamp came with 12 or 15 feet of chain plus a (chain-less) 6-foot electrical cord that simply plugged into an outlet. The lamp was hung from the desired location on the ceiling via one of the chain loops put onto a toggle bolt (for drywall or plaster ceilings) or wood screw (if a ceiling beam was available.) This style of light could be found in almost every 1960s home because of its versatility.

 

The Cordey division of Schiller also sold lampshades separately; I have not found any Cybis-era ads that suggested this was done during the 1940s or 1950s, however. This Gimbels ad appeared in the New York Times in 1965. “Celanese” is the trademarked name of the cellulose acetate fiber first produced in the mid-1920s by the American Cellulose & Chemical Manufacturing Company in Maryland. They changed their name to the Celanese Corp in 1930, and vintage lamps ads mentioning Celanese lampshades abound from the 1930s onward. The company also made other lampshade synthetic materials such as Lumarith.

 

One item that was still being sold at the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, at least by retailers if not via new production, was the Cordey Christmas tree. This Lord & Taylor ad appeared in November 1969; the trees were probably backstock from the 1960s Schiller-division shipments. This is a different model of tree from the one that was sold during the 1950s; see the differences, etc., in the Cordey Christmas Trees post. Both tree versions were sold by stores until their backstock was ultimately gone, which – considering the seasonal nature of the item – probably didn’t happen until the mid to late 1970s.

Present-day photos of post-Cybis-era Cordey lamps are hard to find because unlike the old-style figurine bases, the Schiller-division Cordey lamps appear not to have been marked other than by a removeable hangtag. Perhaps there was also a gummed sticker somewhere on the 1960s products but if so, it was probably either easily removed or eventually fell off. So, we don’t know what the ‘identifiers’ on the Schiller-era Cordey lamps looked like. Did they keep the old Cordey logo-signature format from the 1940s and 1950s or did they change it to something more modern and “with-it” for the 1960s?

When the Lightron Corporation bought the Schiller company in 1969 – and thus also the Cordey division – they did finally rebrand the lamps as “Schiller Cordey” for their 1970s offerings.

This is the hangtag used on the circa-1970s Schiller-Cordey lamp products. The back of the tag says Schiller Cordey Inc., a subsidiary of Lightron Corporation with no hyphen.

 

The lamps from the 1970s are much simpler in design. Gimbels advertised this lamp in a 1973 issue of the New York Times. Notice the inclusion of the lamp designer’s name and the hyphenation of Schiller-Cordey.

 

This slim green Schiller Cordey jar lamp is an example of their 1970s offerings.

 

This ad from a New Jersey lighting store appeared in a local paper in 1977. The milk-can style lamp was probably decorated via decal application rather than being hand painted. There is a difference: “hand painted” means exactly that, while “hand decorated” means only that a decoration was applied by hand rather than by machine; hence, a worker applying a decal to a ceramic lamp base was “hand decorating” it.  The (usually chrome) floor lamps of the style shown here were popular in the 1970s and for retro décor even today.

Schiller-Cordey lamp products seem to have dwindled or disappeared during the 1980s. It’s quite possible that Lightron deemed the division unprofitable and simply closed it. A Google search turned up a LinkedIn page for a sales manager who was with Schiller Cordey from 1972 to 1980 but that’s about it. Clearance (50%-70% off) text ads mentioning Schiller Cordey lamps were found from 1979 which may indicate that Lightron was dumping inventory at a discount; I have not yet found any illustrated Schiller Cordey retail lamp advertising from the 1980s. It would be interesting to know when the division was actually shut down.

Additional vintage Cordey ads can be seen in the History of Cordey post. The next post in this series will take a look at the advertising of the Cordey figurines and décor items (non-lamps) during the 1940s and 1950s. A separate post featuring unusual and unique Cordey lamps is also planned.

Browse other posts about Cordey

Name Index of Cybis Sculptures
About the Cybis Reference Archive
What is Cybis?

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