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 link below 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 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.
2020/2021 Addendum: When choosing a brick-and-mortar auction house during this time of COVID-19, it is well worth finding exactly where and to what extent they have an online presence where people can bid remotely. This has become very important because in-person attendance at auctions may be curtailed or even suspended during pandemic spikes/outbreaks. Or auctioneers may impose entry requirements, such as masking or proof of vaccination, that some in-person bidders may not want to comply with. So it is advantageous if the auctioneer puts their sales on at least one (preferably both) of the two biggest compilation/bidding sites which are LiveAuctioneers and Invaluable. Advertising the sale in the digital edition of your local newspaper is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far!
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. 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. Update, January 2022: Based on my experience on the buyer end, I now hesitate to recommend this site although admittedly it may function differently on the seller end. Their user account interface is frustrating if one needs to edit any information originally given; anything that involves money is an exercise in aggravation. I ended up hitting the “Delete My Account” button but got no confirmation or indication of whether that was actually done, or if they continue to store financial info on their servers after that is done, so I have to assume they probably do keep it. Not cool. Their “contact customer service” form demands both an email address and a “web phone” (whatever that is supposed to be) as a requirement to initiate any contact at all, which is ridiculous; one of the two should be enough. I hate to think what might ensue if a seller or buyer actually had a major problem with a transaction; there are a slew of complaints about them online.
Non-auction options can be classified into “online” and “in person.” The two major non-auction 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 tighter 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. Cybis items are always put into the Vintage category regardless of actual age; almost all were indeed made before 2000 anyhow. Sellers 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. There is a maximum of five photos allowed per listing with no option to purchase additional photo space. Etsy currently [circa June 2020] charges a selling fee of 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 (in the United States). 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. 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 all 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 [circa June 2020] a monthly per-shop fee of $69 for up to 80 listed items, as well as an addition per-item charge if the shop inventory exceeds that number, 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.
Replacements Ltd., physically located in North Carolina, maintains the largest online stock of Cybis outside of eBay, with 168 current listings. Many of them appear on eBay because they sell there as well; however, whether their “buying” prices would be acceptable to a potential seller is something that can only be learned by asking. Replacements typically offers only about 10% of what they themselves are asking for the same item on their own site. A purchase offer from them may end up being the same or even less than you would net if you were to sell the item yourself on eBay. (I know this from personal experience.)
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.)
Some people opt for one of the local person-to-person (direct sale) sites and/or apps, of which Craigslist was the first; venues such as Letgo and OfferUp are more recent entrants in this field. All are locality-based and are simply a medium whereby individuals can contact each other directly and arrange a sale. Although they are free to use, they are not without risk, the least of which being that a supposed buyer may simply not show up at the meeting place, wasting the seller’s time and effort. Other risks are more serious, and is the reason that some local police departments now offer a designated and video monitored meetup area in the precinct parking lot. Simply meeting at “a public place” is not necessarily a guarantee of safety. If you are comfortable using one of these selling venues, it does eliminate any selling fees and shipping challenges. But keep in mind that buyers are aware of those upsides too, expect that your asking price will be lower because of it, and eBay sellers often scour the “free” sites for items to resell.
If you have only one, or just a few, Cybis to sell, it is always worthwhile to ask your circle of friends and family if they know anyone who might like to buy it. Don’t laugh: I know someone who was going to donate her American Bullfrog ‘Enchanted Prince’ to a local church’s thrift shop because she didn’t want to try to sell online and was afraid to use the free venues. She happened to mention her dilemma to a friend via email; it turned out that the friend’s sister collects frog items and was delighted to buy the Cybis piece when she saw an emailed photo. So it is worth asking; you never know! 🙂 If your Cybis piece belongs to a popular collector genre such as cats, dogs, horses, carousel figures, ballerinas (someone may well have a daughter, niece or granddaughter for whom it would be a perfect gift), or madonnas, it may find a new home more easily than you expect.
Speaking of donations, that is also an option…. especially if you find that after calculating your ultimate net sale amount via other methods, it turns out to be less than you are happy with. If you donate the item to a legitimate charitable organization and get a receipt for a stated value based on recent online sales of other examples in similar condition, you can include it as a charitable contribution if you itemize deductions on your Federal tax return. However, whether it ends up being useful will depend on your own income tax situation.
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 $500 (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 $500 selling price but when the buyer unpacks it he finds it in several pieces, you’ll still have to refund your buyer the entire $540 but you’ll only be getting $500 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 personality-wise, but it isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea either.
A final word about pricing: 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. This is the because the “collector market” of the 1970s and 1980s doesn’t really exist anymore. I delve into this subject in my Current Market Value of Cybis Porcelain post which breaks down the situation and supplies guidelines for likely selling prices today, based in part on what the piece sold for originally and/or during the 1980s. It is worth reading if you are considering selling your Cybis (or any comparable piece of art porcelain, nowadays) before deciding which selling venue might be best for you.
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The Cybis Archive is a continually-updated website that provides the most comprehensive range of information about Cybis within a single source. It is not and never has been part of the Cybis Porcelain studio, which is no longer in business.