Many of the inquiries I have received during the past five years of the Archive’s online existence have begun with “I have a [name of Cybis sculpture], can you tell me how much it is currently worth?” A very understandable question, and one that I have answered privately via return email because of an agreement with the studio that I could use any of their copyrighted photos that I needed, as long as I did not offer or advertise any Cybis for sale, nor discuss any pricing or value other than the studio’s own retail price(s). This was also understandable because, despite the studio having been essentially shut down for years, the owner was still offering sculptures for sale on the Cybis website. That is why I wrote a post specifically about Prices in the Cybis Archive to explain the omission.
However, since Cybis has sold its premises and liquidated all of its remaining stock and thus is no longer operating in the retail marketplace as of late 2019, I am now free to discuss current market values publicly. But first, an important disclaimer: Because I no longer actively collect Cybis myself, and thus “have no dog in this fight” (so to speak), the opinions below are based solely on objective reporting of market history and my observation of actual sales that have taken place online during the past 10 years to the present day.
Cybis Values ‘Then’ and ‘Now’
The most useful thing that a Cybis owner who is thinking of selling a piece that they bought new from a retail gallery (or the studio itself) since the 1970s is to throw away the receipt…figuratively, if not literally. Especially if the piece was purchased in or since the mid-1980s because that was when the MSRPs first began to soar. Cybis always controlled the prices that their retailers set (no discounting was allowed), and so whatever Cybis decreed, was what you – the collector – paid at any given time. Let’s take a couple of open (non-limited) editions as examples of Cybis pricing through the decades.
Baby Owl (a long-running ‘entry level’ open edition) $18 at introduction in 1957; $30 in 1971; $75 in 1981; $100 in 1988; $125 in 1993; $195 in 1999 and final Cybis website price.
Funny Face (a long-running mid-priced open edition) $225 at intro in 1976; $295 in 1981; $395 in 1989; $595 in 1999 and final Cybis website price.
The limited editions, by their very nature, were not as long-running…at least, at first (the 1980s limited editions ‘moved out’ more slowly than had their 1960s and 1970s counterparts.) But we can look at three comparable examples based on subject, size, and workmanship per introduction decade:
Ophelia (edition of 800) $650 at intro in 1969, $875 at completion in 1974.
Good Queen Anne (edition of 750, later reduced to 500) $975 at intro in 1978; $1250 in 1982; closed in the late 1980s at an unknown price, probably around $1500.
Elaine, Lady of the Lake (edition of 350) $2100 at intro in 1987; $2375 in 1989; $2750 in 1995; $3250 in 1999 (final studio website price)
So by and large, the average price of a Cybis limited-edition ‘Portraits in Porcelain’ figure was less than $1000 during the 1960s, and between $1000 and $1500 in the 1970s. During the first half of the 1980s, limited editions were typically between $1500 and $2000 – basically a slow and steady rate of rise, to be expected given the market conditions then. But all heck broke loose with Cybis MSRPs starting in the mid-1980s, and was connected to the studio’s financial woes. A glance at the “Portraits in Porcelain” (single full figures comparable to the three examples above) section of their February 1989 price list shows only one for less than $2000 (King David at $1975). The others all range from a low of $2175 (Camille) to a high of $3975 (Madame Butterfly.) Persephone, a slightly-oversized piece that was introduced in 1982 at $3250, is now $5975 which became her final price. The studio’s final (1999/website) prices for the other three were $3475, $3995, and $6500, respectively.
Obviously, anyone looking at any one of those 1980s and 1990s prices would expect that their Cybis limited edition piece should bring at least four figures today. Unfortunately, that is not the case and has not been for about 20 years.
The harsh reality is that as a general rule, most limited edition Cybis pieces have a current average market value of roughly 20% of whatever that sculpture’s retail price was during the 1980s. This assumes that the piece is in mint undamaged condition. If it isn’t, you are probably looking at a percentage in the single digits to the low teens.
A survey of actual selling prices – not listing prices! – on various online venues such as ebay, Etsy, and brick-and-mortar auction houses that also offer online bidding gives a range of between 15% and 25% of that 1980s benchmark for limited editions in mint condition. This doesn’t mean that an occasional mint-condition piece won’t sell for as little as 10% or less of its 1980s price or, conversely, as high as 40%; but the majority do fall into that 15%-25% range.
Things are a bit different, but not much, for the open (non-limited) editions, because their 1980s prices were lower overall than those of the limited editions. A quick survey of the actual Sold prices on ebay for the Baby Owl and for Funny Face during the months of February, March and April 2020 gives these results. The cited prices do not include whatever the seller charged for shipping.
Baby Owl: Six have sold during the past 90 days. Two owls sold as a pair for $25; one owl for $8.25; one owl for the best accepted offer under $12.99; one owl for $18.99; and two owls sold as a pair for the best accepted offer under $21.24. This gives an average per-owl price of about $10, which is what the market value of a Baby Owl has been for at least the past decade. At a circa-1980s retail price of between $75 and $100, the average value is now between 10% and 15% of that figure.
There are currently 46 Baby Owls being offered for sale on ebay as of today, with listing prices running the gamut from $8.99 to a completely unrealistic high of $60 each, with most falling into the $12 to $30 range of “asks.” Most of the over-$10 listings also include an “or Best Offer” option.
Funny Face: Only three of these sold during the past 90 days, for $29.90, $45.00 (with an accompanying circa-1970s Cybis catalog in excellent condition), and $50. Those give an average of about $40… again between 10% and 15% of his 1980s price which were in the $300s, after factoring in the catalog which would normally sell for about $10 online. Looking back an additional month to include January 2020, another six sold for between $15 and $40 each, to bring the overall average to 12%-15% of his in-the-$300s 1980s level.
There are currently 18 Funny Face being offered for sale on ebay today, with prices ranging from $39.99 to $200. Most are listed for under $100 and with an “or Best Offer” option.
As a general rule, we see most Cybis non-limited editions fetching between 10% and 15% of their 1980s retail prices when sold today, again depending on condition and, to a lesser extent, that piece’s overall population in the marketplace. A piece that is not seen that often may bring more than something familiar such as the Baby Owl and Funny Face, but still rarely more than the 15%-20% average that a limited edition typically brings.
What About Cybis Pieces from Other Decades?
There are general ‘percentage’ rules of thumb for those as well, broken down into the decades in which most of them were sold.
1950s Cybis pieces are the only ones that can be expected to bring as much, or sometimes a bit more, than what they sold for back then…. but only because the prices were much lower at that time. Most of the 1950s pieces were of a religious nature, which can either increase or decrease potential selling prices depending on the buyer. Frankly, not many people collect 1950s Cybis per se nowadays; it is more likely that someone may collect certain religious figurines according to subject rather than “brand.” Some people who do still collect Cybis dismiss the 1950s pieces because the majority of them were not original designs but were cast from commercially available molds. The typical retail price for an average-size 1950s Cybis item was between $10 and $45; the physically larger pieces that were sold as a pair, such as the Angels in Adoration and American Eagle, sold for what was then “top dollar” of $100 for the pair. The individual nativity pieces from this era, which were fairly complex combinations of multiple molds on a single base, were $30 for the plain white bisque and $45 for the color version. While it would be unlikely to see an undamaged 1950s Cybis piece sell for $10 or $15 today, a selling price of $35-$50 would be in line with today’s market (for an average size item, with large 15”-18” pieces bringing between $50 and $100.) In other words, circa-2000s market value is essentially the same as what it was for these pieces fifty years ago, give or take a few dollars in either direction.
1960s Cybis items start the “percentage off” ball rolling. Most of the non-limited editions such as Alice in Wonderland, the ballerinas, and the small animals sold for between $20 and $100 each, with most falling into the middle of that range. The first limited editions appeared during this decade and there was a noticeable pricing difference between the ‘open’ pieces and the limiteds. Even so, they were still in the three-figure range. The most expensive limited editions in the 1960s were the bird/flower studies that were sold as a pair, such as the Blue Headed Vireos with Lilac at $1200 for the pair, thus valued at $600 each.
A brief survey of various circa-1960s Cybis sold recently produces a Windflower in color selling for $25 (50% of its 1960s price of $50), a Thumbelina for $20 (2/3 of her 1960s price of $30), two examples of the limited edition Beatrice for $75 and $80 (about 30% of her 1967 price $250) and a Rebecca for $17 (25% of her 1964 price of $65.) So, for the circa-1960s pieces, today’s market value is usually between 25% and 60% of what it was then, with the limited editions often taking the biggest ‘hit’.
1970s Cybis retail prices rose in response to increasing demand, thus altering our present-day market value percentages proportionally. More of the ‘Portraits in Porcelain’ figures debuted in this decade, as did the North American Indians and an increasing array of animals, many of which were designed by Charles Oldham. The 1960s child-bust pieces proved to be popular and was expanded into a “Children of the World Collection” of about a dozen designs. The various open-edition children and animals increased in retail price and by the mid-1970s there were more priced at over $100 than under. These pieces often sell for 10%-20% of their original prices today, such as Pandora for $10 compared to her early 1970s price of $75, or Mr. Fluffy Tail for $30 versus his original $90. The 1970s limited editions cannot reasonably be expected to bring more than 30% of their former values today… again, in mint condition only…and often between 20%-25% . For example, a Queen Titania recently sold on ebay for $150 to the sole bidder; she sold for $725 during the late 1970s.
The North American Indians series is a bit of a special case because they were a “niche” series that – both then and now – appealed to a very specific collector base and thus, coming to the attention of the right buyer is key. These sculptures show up more often in auction house sales than on ebay, but there have been a few: In March 2020, an At the Council Fire with some damage to the wood base sold on ebay for $615; fourteen per cent of what it sold for $4250 in the 1970s. A Hiawatha sold for less than $100 versus its former $1500 retail (six per cent; ouch.) In early 2019, ten various North American Indians pieces sold at an auction house for between $300 and $800 each; the $800 sale was Wankan Tanka, who was $3500 in the late 1970s…an almost 23% depreciation over time. Forecasting the value of any of the North American Indians pieces is very tricky.
The 1990s Cybis retail (MSRP) prices are where we see the numbers going totally bat-poop crazy. As described in The End of the Cybis Studio, at that point they had lost many of their retailers (most of whom, after severing relations, began to discount their remaining Cybis stock by 30%, 40% or 50%) and began offering pieces directly to the public. You would think that eliminating the ‘middle men’ would result in a benefit to the collector; what happened was quite the reverse. Frankly, I don’t even like to quote Cybis’ 1990s retail prices because they were becoming noticeably divorced from the existing market’s reality, and went even more off the rails as the decade progressed. The 1999 price list was transferred onto their website and the prices remained at that level until the site disappeared in 2019; the prices were so outlandish, compared to what the same pieces were selling for everywhere else, that I decided not to include them in my Archive citations.
During the 2000s, if someone did inquire about an item on the Cybis website Theresa Chorlton would usually offer them a “special 25% discount” if payment was made by check rather than via credit card …. but the fact was, when you are pricing something at 10x the current real market value (defined as “what most people are currently willing to pay for this item”), 7.5x that figure is still waay overpriced. The 1990s and 2000s “official Cybis prices” have zero connection to market reality and should be completely ignored when determining what any piece is actually worth today.
So, What Happened?
The market fate of Cybis was not terribly different from that of almost all the other art porcelain studios that flourished during the 1960s into the 1980s, and I will be writing about that particular Big Picture later this year on my blog site (The Chatsworth Lady.) Several factors contributed to it but the biggest and deadliest nail in the coffin was ebay, which burst upon us in 1995. In 1998, the longtime brick-and-mortar china and collectibles retailer Replacements began selling on ebay and on its own website as well. By that time, plenty of individual ebay sellers were listing and buying pieces of Cybis on ebay for a fraction of what both Cybis and Replacements were asking for the same sculptures. Why, people asked in 2000, should I pay $595 to Cybis, or $300 to Replacements, for a Funny Face when an ebay search brings up five of them for less than $100 each? Why, indeed.
I experienced the harsh reality of the millenial Cybis market values firsthand – twice, in fact – when I had to liquidate the first half of our collection in 2001 and the remainder several years later. It was painful, because unlike those sellers who had either inherited or picked up their Cybis for the proverbial song at a tag or estate sale, we had paid full price for all of ours (except for one Great Horned Owl whose tale is related here, and that I did manage to sell for almost, but not quite, what it had originally sold for in the 1950s.) But as far as the prices realized for all the others, well, it was actually more than painful; it was brutal.
Believe me, I have taken no joy in explaining to correspondents, as gently as I could, about the “limited editions market value is only 15%-20% of what they sold for during the 1980s; and less than that for most open editions” rule of thumb. But it is a market reality that is not going to reverse itself in the future. Why not? Partly because art porcelain production and collecting was a generational thing, and that generation is fast disappearing. The heirs of that generation are often the people selling Cybis on ebay and Etsy and in auction house lots nowadays. The buyers of these sculptures are usually buying them because they like them, not primarily because they are Cybis. (Back in the heyday, that equation was often reversed!) Should Cybis porcelains be selling for higher prices today than they do? Yes, from an artistic point of view (in most cases!) but the eternal laws of supply, accesssibility and demand, along with the inexorable changing of generational tastes and general economic conditions, dictate otherwise.
Some Suggestions, If You Choose to Sell
I wasn’t entirely kidding when I suggested that you should throw that 1980s or 1990s Cybis receipt away; the disparity between that price and today’s real-world value is only going to depress you. You may end up deciding to keep your Cybis piece(s) and simply enjoy them for what they are, without regard to what they cost then or are worth now. But if you do choose to sell, may I make a few suggestions?
(1) Read the post about Selling Your Cybis for an overview of what options are out there.
(2) Don’t look at the prices that people on ebay, etc., are asking for the same or comparable pieces; those are usually wishful-thinking prices. If they weren’t, that item would have sold already. Don’t look at auction house “pre-sale estimates” either; they are too high at least 90% of the time, unless the proverbial Right Buyer comes along who has to have that piece come hell or high water and doesn’t care how much they have to pay to get it. Those are scarcer than hens’ teeth. Keep in mind, too, that even the low starting bid items may have a Reserve (minimum hammer price) that you don’t know about. And other starting bids are just flat-out pie-in-the-sky too high.
(3) Look only at actual Sold prices on ebay and the auction sites. You’ll need to register (free) on the auction compilation sites to view these. “Lot passed” means that either item had a too-high reserve on it that was not met, or nobody thought it was worth even the starting bid; take heed.
(4) Be suspicious of unusually high Sold prices on auction house and ebay lots. “Shill” bidding IS indeed a thing. Yes, it’s possible that someone was crazy enough to spend several thousand dollars on something they could have bought on ebay for $200; maybe they got caught up in the moment and kept hitting the Bid Again button, or maybe was bidding while less than completely sober. Maybe. But….
(5) There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from listing a piece of Cybis for what you think it should be worth, based on past retail pricing or because you haven’t found any others that have sold or because it has a special value to you. Just be aware that an ongoing complete lack of interest means that you’re probably asking more than the market will ever again bear.
(6) If someone makes you an offer that falls within the general percentage guidelines I’ve talked about here, please don’t automatically dismiss them as someone trying to rip you off. It’s also possible that it is their opening offer in what may be a reasonable negotiation. However, if you are bound and determined to not take less than what you originally paid for the piece, it’s only fair to tell them that up front.
(7) Lastly, do recognize that the wild-eyed breed of rabid Cybis collector who roamed the market during the 1970s and 1980s (okay, I’m exaggerating…but not by that much! I used to be one, after all) is almost extinct these days. Some of them have retired and have stopped collecting and/or downsized because of limited space or finances; others have died and their collections been dispersed (probably on ebay.) Today’s Cybis purchaser doesn’t look at it as an ‘investment’ that will increase in value over time, as we/they once did, and is well aware that we’re not in the Reagan era anymore. There’s nothing wrong with citing the 1960s or 1970s retail price of your Cybis piece – or even the 1980s one, if you’re so inclined – but don’t expect that that information will increase the price that it will ultimately bring today… which will, in most instances, follow the percentage averages described above.
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