The Cybis Collectors Society, Discovered

When the Cybis porcelain studio decided to begin selling sculptures directly to the public in the 1990s, they decided to also follow the ‘collectors club’ trend as well. At that time I had severely cut back on my own collecting and as a result this completely escaped my attention; I did not become aware of its existence until long after it had ceased to exist.

I decided to reach out to Dorothy Farrar, proprietor of Brock & Farrar who has been selling fine porcelain such as Cybis, Boehm, Royal Doulton and others for decades, to see if she could shed some light on the Cybis Collectors Society backstory.

Ms. Farrar explained that “Yes there was a Collector’s Club at one time, my first knowledge about it was in the mid 90’s when the Golden Princess, then the Golden Prince and then Little Princess were released. These pieces were supposedly only available to [club] members, but it seems some dealers had multiple copies in stock…. On all the price lists I have, all three pieces are listed under the section titled “Available to Collectors Club Members Only”.

(In this post I will use the terms ‘Collectors Club’ and ‘Collectors Society’ interchangeably, because the studio itself wasn’t consistent in what they called this endeavor. Most of the pieces are marked C/S (meaning Collectors Society) but the 1990s Cybis price lists call it the Collectors Club. The semantics are moot because both refer to the same thing.)

Cybis Collectors Society 1990s members only sculpturesThe three special members-only sculptures were – shown from left to right — the Golden Prince (8.5″ high), the Little Princess (5″ high) and the Golden Princess (7.75″ high.)

The first known advertisement for the Collectors Society and its introductory piece seems to be this one, appearing in the December 1995 issue of Collector Editions Quarterly magazine.

Roberta’s was one of only a few retailers who remained within the Cybis dealer network in the mid-1990s. The larger ones (Brielle Galleries, Armstrongs, and the Zales network) had either already jumped ship or were no longer in business. Notice that this ad doesn’t call it the Collectors Society or Collectors Club, but only a “members-only figurine.” For the purchase price of $275, the buyer received a “free membership” (to what, is not explained) and also the Comanche Chief medallion which is shown later in this post. The idea of it representing “Made in America” is something I’ve never run across before. What is really puzzling is this part:

*A Cybis First* The tiny leaves and flowers that embellish many Cybis sculptures are created individually, petal by petal.

Okay, well…leaving aside the fact that there are NO leaves or flowers on the Golden Princess, what exactly is this trying to say? That Cybis never made flowers and leaves by hand before? We know that is completely untrue, because the studio had been doing that since it first began. The only “first” being hawked in this ad is that the Golden Princess is the first piece designated as part of a members-only format.

The Golden Princess

golden-princess-collectors-club-piece-by-cybisSomething looked familiar about the Golden Princess and it drove me slightly nuts until I figured out what it is: This piece reminds me of Disney’s Snow White! The hair, the style of her gown, and of course the winged creature in her upraised hands… yep, definitely a Snow White wannabe. Although Cybis produced a number of fairytale characters (including three versions of Cinderella) they never made any named Snow White. I’ve since learned that the studio did indeed originally intend for this to represent the iconic animated Snow White but did not obtain permission from the Walt Disney Company to do so, and thus she was shelved until being resurrected a couple of decades later under this new name.

The Golden Princess was available at $275 from November 1995 until October 1996. All of them are signed in gold paint but they are not always consistent in their markings.

Golden Princess backstamp v1Golden Princess signatureGolden Princess mold impressionEach of the members-only pieces includes the Collectors Society year (number and date) to which it belongs. Thus the signature on the Golden Princess says 1st and also 95-96. The second and third photos show the location of the Cybis signature (on the back of her dress) and the mold impression which shows a copyright year for this design as 1994.

Golden Princess with wrong year rangeThe image above shows an example that was offered for sale online; it has the correct numbering (1st) but the wrong year range! For some reason the artist dated this one as 96-97 instead of 95-96. The C/C/S stands for Cybis Collectors Society.

Collectors Society brochureThis is the only photo I have found of a brochure connected to the Collectors Society. Because it shows the Golden Princes, it is likely from 1995. It would be interesting to see the inside of it!

The Golden Prince

A year later, Roberta’s Collectibles placed an ad in the same magazine (Collector Editions Quarterly) for the second figure in this series.

Here we see the Golden Prince priced at $395, and that the small freebie was the Crown (shown below in this post.) The caption “secondary market welcomes Golden Princess” indicates that piece having been supposedly available for only one year, and that retailers were free to set their own pricing for any leftover ones they might have (as Dorothy Farrar had mentioned.) Here we do see a Society membership fee of $55 in addition to the cost of the members-only Prince.

The third piece, entitled Roberta, is simply a dealer-special blue colorway of the 1987 open edition Young Rose, which had been decorated in pink. She was $325 at that time. In 1988 they moved her into their Wedding category as a Bridesmaid figure. The blue 1995 Roberta colorway was numbered on the bottom and signed T. Rose rather than T(heresa) Chorlton.  Notice the error in Roberta’s caption? It says that the rose in her hand is “handcrafted pedal by pedal” (!)

GOLDEN PRINCE by Cybis for Collectors Society members onlyThe Golden Prince was slightly-tweaked re-issue of a piece called The Prince that had been introduced in 1987 but made for only that year (see Of Princes and Paupers for that figure’s history.) The original piece was designed by Lynn Klockner Brown. What the studio did for the Society re-issue was to replace the original Prince’s hat with a crown, and change his clothing from shades of green to plain white bisque with some gold decoration added so as to match the Golden Princess.

The Golden Prince was available to Society members from the autumn of 1996 until autumn 1997, at which point he joined the Golden Princess as a “secondary market” (i.e., charge whatever price you like) piece.

Golden Prince signature example 1Golden Prince signature example 2Golden Prince signature example 3Golden Prince signature 4A comparison of the signatures on the four Golden Prince sculptures from Brock & Farrar shows various differences even though all four are genuine club pieces. Three of the four include “Trenton N.J.”; only three (but not the same three!) include the 96-97 designation; and only three include the C/S notation for Collectors Society.

The impressed copyright year on the Golden Prince is 1996 even though the mold (except for the crown) is the same one that they copyrighted in 1986/87 as The Prince. This was probably because the studio didn’t want the Golden Prince to look “ten years out of date” to purchasers. However, it certainly wouldn’t have been any secret to collectors that the Golden Prince was a variation of the previously released and retired sculpture. The studio normally didn’t bother to change the copyright year on other pieces that they re-released, and so I am surprised that they did so in this instance.

Well, just to muddy the royal waters even further, Cybis apparently also created – but for who or what purpose, and exactly when, is another mystery – a separate white-and-gold version of the Prince! Although at first glance it may look the same as the collectors’ club Golden Prince, it has several differences. All of the Princes are compared in Of Princes and Paupers.

The Little Princess

Turning now to the final (autumn 1997-1998) collectors’ club piece, the Little Princess, she is an adaptation of a piece which had been part of Cybis’ late-1980s bridal party series. Although very similar in name, she should not be confused with the Ballerina, ‘Little Princess’ which was produced for two years during the 1960s. I did not find any advertisement for this piece, by Roberta’s Collectibles or any other retailer.

The club piece Little Princess is the wedding’s Flower Girl after being decorated in gold and losing her basket and flower elements.

I do not know what the members’ price for the Little Princess was, because I have no price lists between Spring 1996 and Spring 1999. However, that 1999 price list does show that club members could indeed purchase any of these three “past” figures even after they had supposedly been ‘retired.’ The snip below is from that price list:

Obviously these pieces did remain available for purchase later, although at an unspecified price-point.

The Comanche Chief Medallion – 1995 membership piece

Cybis Collectors Society 1996 Indian Head medallion frontThe “freebie” for the 1995 membership fee was this final iteration of the Comanche chief medallion first used in 1970 on the facing page of the Folio One lithograph series and also as a framed item; all of its versions are shown in the Comanche Chief Medallion post. For the Collectors Club the year 1970 was removed from the front of the mold and it was produced in white with gold accents.

Collectors Society medallion reverse 1Collectors Society medallion reverse 2

The back of the medallion is incised with the Collectors Society year range of 1995-1996.

Oddly enough, the Cybis Fall 1995/Spring 1996 price list is at odds with the December 1995 ad placed by Roberta’s Collectibles in regard to this item. That ad – which covers the same time period as the Cybis price list – clearly says that the Comanche Chief Medallion is “free to first year members.” However, the Cybis price list includes it as design #20725, Indian Plaque for $75, under the section heading ‘Available to Collectors Club Members Only’. So it looks, from these, as if a buyer would get the medallion for free only if they bought their Golden Princess from Roberta’s.

The Small Crown – 1996 membership piece

CROWN for Cybis Collectors SocietyCybis Collectors Society crown signatureThis small crown, 2.25” in diameter and about 1.25” tall, in white bisque with gold decoration was the annual membership-fee freebie for year two (1996-97.)

One day I happened to be looking at a photo of the Cybis House of Gold madonna and child, which was produced only between 1957 and 1965, and suddenly realized that this late-1990s Collectors Society crown is in fact the same one as on the retired vintage madonna piece. Here is a photo, enlarged to show detail:

crown from Cybis House of GoldThe House of Gold sculpture is 9″ wide and so a crown diameter of slightly more than 2″ is certainly proportional. Thus, the 1995-96 Collectors Society item is actually a decorative element from a piece retired thirty years previously.

I do not currently have any Cybis price lists for 1996, 1997 or 1998 and so do not know if the Crown was ever offered separately as a secondary market item, as was the Comanche Chief medallion. Neither of them appear on the 1999 price list that I do have.

The Miniature Cybis Sign – 1997 membership piece

 

The final (1997-98) membership-fee freebie was a miniature version of the Cybis display sign. I only recently (thanks to a helpful Archive reader) became aware that this was used for this purpose, because nothing about it corresponds to the Collectors Society. However, this is indeed what the studio sent to people who joined or renewed their membership that year. It is only 2.5″ high and is all white bisque — no gold anywhere — and the reverse is incised simply Trenton NJ with no reference to the club. A side by side comparison of this piece with the full-size original (some of which were, ironically, produced in white-with-gold!) can be seen in the Cybis Display Signs post.

The foregoing six pieces are the only items that Cybis issued in conjunction with their Collectors Society. None of them appeared on the Cybis website during the 2000s, so it’s safe to assume that the Collectors Club ended its run at the turn of the millennium.

Some of the Collectors Society sculptures have been offered on the auction market as supposedly being part of a “golden treasury collection”. It is true that Cybis had various categories for their porcelain sculptures and some of the categories or names thereof changed/appeared/disappeared over the years. However, I very much doubt whether the studio would have chosen to anger collectors who had previously paid for a sculpture marketed as having very restricted availability, by later offering those same pieces to the general public. The likely explanation is that one secondary market seller – having no clue as to what the sculptures were originally for – decided to insert “golden treasury collection” into their description in order to make the pieces sound more special… and then subsequent seller(s) picked up on that. Ah, the internet!

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