Recently I decided to investigate why certain Cybis porcelain sculptures seemingly appear so often as knockoffs/copies. The answer involves the Cybis studio, another Trenton company, and of course the question of copyright.
Polish immigrant Boleslaw Cybis operated his studio – first as the Cordey China Company and ultimately as Cybis – beginning in the early 1940s. The appearance of what is generally recognized as the modern Cybis style dates from the early 1950s.
Frank Hollendonner came to the USA from Austria in the early 1940s and subsequently worked for Boleslaw and Marja Cybis as a moldmaker at their studio. In 1946 Mr. Hollendonner opened his own business, the Holland Mold company on Pennsylvania Avenue in Trenton, selling molds to manufacturers and hobbyists. The company published regular catalogs and because of the high quality of their molds they became very well regarded in the industry; the company operated until 1997.
Holland Molds did not create any finished products; they only produced the molds to be used for ceramics casting. Cybis, on the other hand, produced molds and a finished product – but not necessarily both in each and every instance. The question is, when looking at the Cybis pieces that are often copied: Who actually designed the original mold? In other words, who owns the copyright to the actual design? Clearly, if a Cybis piece and an identical produced-from-Holland-Mold piece both bear a maker’s copyright designation in the mold, one of them has to be invalid – but which one?
As tempting as it may be to jump to the conclusion that Mr. Hollendonner’s company stole certain Cybis designs, that would be an unfair assumption without some serious research. So the first thing I did was to access the online US Copyright Office records for ‘works of art’ because that category encompasses both molds and finished figurines. This database includes copyright registrations from July 1891 through December 1978. I began my records search in 1946 because that would have been the earliest date that Holland Mold (or Hollendonner) should have appeared. I also searched each year for “Cybis” and also for Cordey just in case some designs were copyrighted under that name initially.
The first surprise was that there were no Cybis copyright entries found until 1965! The first one was the copyright registration for two related bird sculptures: Solitary vireo with lilac, male [bird perched on lilac branch; statuette] ©Cybis; 6 Mar 65; GP56553 and Solitary vireo with lilac, female [bird perched on lilac branch; statuette] ©Cybis; 6 Mar 65; GP56554 . This is followed by an entry for the Guinevere bust: Guinevere. [Half-length view of girl with long braid over shoulder; statuette] © Cybis; 3Nov65; GP56552. Neither of these sculptures were released by the studio until 1967, which seems strange. But of course the bigger question is why there are no copyright registrations for Cybis before 1965, even though they had been producing and selling Cybis sculptures since the 1950s.
On the other hand, the earliest Holland Mold/Hollendonner entry dates back to 1951… and it is for a mold that Cybis used during that exact same period. The plot thickened!
I was hoping to find a copyright entry (under Cybis and/or Holland) for each of the often-seen copies but only succeeded in finding one of them. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that the mold in each of the examples shown below is identical for the Cybis-produced item and for Holland Mold examples.
IMPORTANT 2018 UPDATE! It has recently been discovered that some 1950s pieces did occasionally emerge from the Cybis studio withouit being signed. See the Identifying Unsigned 1950s Cybis post for insights on how to determine if this is the case for any 1950s piece that is neither marked Cybis nor Holland Mold Company – especially the religious subjects.
Note: None of the items shown below that were made from the Holland molds were claimed to have been made by Cybis. All of them were found via searches for ‘vintage Holland Mold’ and none of the descriptions mentioned Cybis. All of the corresponding examples of Cybis sculptures bear a legitimate Cybis signature on them and/or appear in actual Cybis publications.
1950 Madonna, 4.5” high
My first example is a madonna that was sold by Cybis simply as Madonna in 1950 which was at the cusp of the transition between the Cordey and Cybis lines; this madonna has been produced by Cybis in one form or another ever since, although under slightly different names. This example has a “Cordey-esque” decoration with applied elements; however, it is signed Cybis in the proper manner for that time. I did not find any Cybis copyright entry for this madonna. It is noteworthy that between 1953 and 1957, Boehm also used the identical mold and produced it in a plain white glazed version and also as white with gold accents; that madonna has been chronicled and illustrated in Boehmn reference books, and it bore the Boehm backstamp …just as the Cybis one was signed Cybis. However, it was neither a Boehm nor a Cybis original design.
Below are two examples of the same madonna, made from the Holland mold by home crafters.
The seller of the yellow one notes that “the bottom is signed B. Cheltstowski… 2-57” indicating that it was made in February 1957. The blue one is dated 1951 making it, too, contemporaneous with the Cybis sculpture. I did not find any Holland copyright entry for this madonna, but the mold itself has “Holland Mold” on the underside.
Here’s an example of the Holland mold being used by a company named Goldcrest which manufactured ceramics in Trenton from 1947 to 1953; they were selling the madonna under their own name as a copyrighted item … which is stretching the truth a bit, because there are no changes to the Holland mold at all.
1950s madonna with blue veil and long hair, 7.5” high
In April 2013 a group of Cybis sculptures dating from the 1950s and early 1960s were sold at auction (sorry about the tiny first image but I wanted to show that particular angle). The lot of five pieces included this 7.5” high early 1950s madonna with a blue veil. It bears the Cybis stamp in blue (dating it from the 1950s) and the rare – but legitimate for this era – addition of “fine china” which is sometimes seen on Cordey/Cybis transition pieces which means it’s probably more early-1950s than later. There is no doubt that this madonna is a Cybis, and that its mold was also being sold by Holland as can be seen in the examples below; the first two are hobbyist examples. Many others can be found online, especially eBay, simply by searching for “vintage madonna bust” or “Holland Mold madonna”.
The third (plain white) madonna is another example of Holland selling their mold to a manufacturer; the seller’s description says “made by Terrace Ceramics (of) Marietta Ohio; Terrace Ceramics opened 1961 after acquiring Shawnee (Pottery) Molds.” Shawnee did not make religious subjects and so Terrace must have bought this mold from Holland; no copyright entry for this design under Holland or Cybis.
This Holland Mold madonna was sold as part of a pair as well as separately; numerous hobbyist examples of such pairs have been found, such as these which are both dated 1956.
Madonna ‘The Annunciation’, circa early 1950s
Cybis made at least two versions of The Annunciation during the 1950s; one had a hand-carved wooden halo, the other did not.. The 1979 Cybis catalog lists it as having been offered in white bisque and in color, starting in “the 1950s” and continuing until 1965. Both of these illustrations are from vintage Cybis publications.
These are two hobbyist versions of Holland’s mold. Notice that this mold includes the Holland name and copyright designation.
Our Lady of Lourdes ‘Healer of the Sick’
This is the circa-1950s Cybis Our Lady of Lourdes ‘Healer of the Sick’; it is 19” tall.
This is the Holland Mold for this piece. The difference is that Cybis added the solid halo and the floral spray at her feet, and also eliminated the lower “base” portion (if you cover that part of this photo with your finger it becomes identical to the Cybis version). The seller of this piece gave the height as 20” which means that the lower base portion was 1” high. The hobbyist creator of this piece incised it with the year 1962 on the underside.
1950s seated madonna with child, 9” high
This is a legitimate Cybis version (with correct Cybis stamp) of a glazed seated madonna and child from the 1950s which is 9” high. Note the solid halo which is seen on other similar religious sculptures of the period, including the Lady of Lourdes above.
Of course this is an example from Holland’s mold. Whatever hobbyist applied all of those flowers must have literally had the patience of a saint!! This one was dated by the creator as 1958 which meshes perfectly with the era of the Cybis-produced piece. Even though this isn’t “my thing” as per style, I have to admire the workmanship. Holland may have sold these tiny flowers and leaves as separate molds, or perhaps they were created from clay by the hobbyist.
This hobbyist version was done in plain white bisque; in the description the seller mentioned that the hands, as well as the baby, were separate mold pieces. This explains the fact that some hobbyist versions have visible hands while others (like the previous example) do not. The drapes and pleats are much sharper on this piece than on the others; perhaps this was the first casting from the mold.
Early 1950s madonna, basis for ‘Queen of Angels’
This is the actual Holland mold for the same 6.75″ high, early 1950s madonna that was the basis of Cybis’ iconic ‘Queen of Angels’ issued in the mid to late 1950s — one of their best-known and longest-running sculptures and certainly the most popular of their madonnas. This Holland mold was offered on eBay for less than $10. The only difference between this and the actual Cybis sculpture is that the base portion is decorated in the Holland version, which as seen in the Cybis piece below was plain and smooth.
These are two legitimately marked, circa early 1950s, Cybis pheasants; they are both males but done in slightly different colors.
These are several hobbyist examples of the Holland mold, and I believe this is the pair that I discovered in the copyright records as Cock pheasant. [Mold] H-88O. Plaster. © Holland Mold, Inc.; l6jun51 and Hen pheasant. [Mold] H-881. Plaster. © Holland Mold, Inc.; I6jun51. Apparantly Holland sold these as a pair, because most examples I have found online were created/sold that way; they are all marked copyrighted Holland in the mold.
This is a closeup of the detail on the Holland male pheasant. The Cybis piece has a piece of foliage (?) added in front of the bird’s left foot, as well as a few other applied decorations, but in all other respects the mold is the same.
For this comparison I am showing the Holland molds first. Holland offered this mold in several combinations: a separate male duck (drake), a female (hen) duck, and a base which could be cast either as a solid piece or as a lamp base; the third photo shows the cutout in the rear of the mold to accommodate the cord. Hobbyist examples of this mold are found with dates in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Cybis made use of these Holland molds in several ways, for three different sculptures that were all introduced between 1957 and 1962… the exact same timespan.
Here is the Wild Duck, which is the Holland drake poised above a network of branches and foliage.
The Cybis sculpture Golden Mallards utilizes two of the Holland hens, positioned at slightly differing angles upon the porcelain base, which is the same one that Holland sold as the base for their pair molds.
Notice how similar the star-shaped foliage element is to the one that was applied to the Holland/Cybis male pheasant. Cybis also produced a sculpture called Teal Ducks which is essentially the same as the Holland pair, and on the same base.
The Boy and Girl Heads
It turns out that all (yes, every one) of the ubiquitous Cybis-lookalike Boy and Girl heads that are found on eBay and other online venues originated with Holland molds, whether they were produced by hobbyists or manufacturers and whether the mold carries the Holland Mold impression or not. There are probably hundreds of examples of these for sale at any given time.
This pair was homemade from a Holland Mold in 1966; the Cybis heads were introduced in 1963. The Holland mold is 7” h which is the same height as the actual Cybis heads (their overall height was almost 10 inches, including the ~3” high wood base upon which they were mounted).
Holland also sold these molds to a Florida company called Marwal who produced them in chalkware during the 1960s; these often have Marwal copyright impressions in the mold.
There is an entire genre of collecting devoted to Marwal heads but it’s not known whether Holland supplied the modified boy/girl molds for each, or whether they simply sold the basic boy and girl head to Marwal for further customizing by that firm. The Marwal heads are sometimes referred to as “ethnic busts”. They are easily found online by a search for Marwal bust.
Holland even sold a hobby version of the boy and girl molds with extra “hair” and “hats” molds! Examples can be found for sale on eBay. At first I thought that someone had added fabric headgear but then found two listings which said “molded hair and hats” in the description! The heads bear the Holland copyright.
These are the actual Cybis boy and girl heads. One small but 100% consistent difference is that the Cybis girl head does not have the small wavy/curly lock of hair above the right side of her forehead, but the Holland Mold examples do have it… hence my nickname for those of “fake Girl with curl.” All of the Cybis examples are marked as copyrighted by Cybis.
All of the designs shown above were clearly being used and sold by both Holland Mold Co., their customers and by Cybis at the same time. How could this happen, when the 1964 Holland Mold catalog shown below clearly states: “Every Holland Mold is made and sold under a registered Trade-Mark which is stamped on each mold. All Copyrighted molds are likewise registered.”
But how is this possible when Cybis and Holland ‘copyrighted designs’ coincide? Was some copyright infringement going on, and if so, by whom?
During a conversation with someone who worked for Cybis for two decades, I learned three interesting things:
(1) In the 1950s some (or even most) molds, especially the religious ones, were obtained by Cybis from Holland and from other mold companies and thus the Cybis retail sculptures made from those molds were not copyrighted Cybis designs; they were Holland Mold designs that were being produced in porcelain by Cybis and sold under the Cybis name. But because the commercial mold company actually owned the design, Holland could – and did – sell the same molds to other customers as well, both wholesale and retail.
(2) In the early 1960s, when Frank Hollendonner no longer owned the company, Cybis purchased the rights to certain Holland Mold Company designs. Most (perhaps all) of these were designs that Cybis had been producing from Holland molds for years, which means that from that point in time onward, the copyright for those pieces now belonged to Cybis…not to Holland Mold Company. This is one reason why the 1950 Madonna in the first example – which, while the design was owned by Holland Mold Company, originally had a plain veil – suddenly appeared in the 1960s as a Cybis piece with a lace-trimmed veil as the Cybis-copyrighted ‘Madonna with Lace’. It would be interesting to compare the marks on a Cybis example that was made in 1955 with one made in, say, 1967; I have a hunch that the earlier one would not bear a copyright symbol next to the Cybis name, but the later one would. Unfortunately Holland did not include a copyright year designation on otheir molds – merely the company name and copyright symbol.
(3) Some Holland Designs were sold to Cybis with very slight modifications, so that Cybis could claim their own separate copyright while Holland could continue to sell the original version. This was clearly the case with the heads of the Boy and Girl, which were released by Cybis at essentially the same time (early 1960s) as their purchase of certain Holland Mold copyrights. It accounts for the slight difference in the hair molding on the Cybis pieces. This was a very profitable mold for Holland and they may not have wanted to sell the exclusive rights to their exact design (which includes the small wavy lock of hair on the girl); therefore, Cybis owns the exclusive rights to only the “non-curl” version. All of the Cybis heads clearly bear the Cybis copyright designation, as seen above, just as the Holland and Marwal molds bear their own.
As a former collector and still an aficionado, I confess that when I first discovered that not every single Cybis sculpture was a Cybis “original” I felt rather let down…. especially after seeing all the hobby versions made from the exact same molds! But of course the design is only half the story – much more goes into a finished piece than that. There’s the material (porcelain rather than ceramic or chalkware) and the fine finishing and of course the painting, glazing, and creation of the carefully-applied elements. Are the Cybis pieces that were cast by them from Holland-designed molds less valuable because they are “non-Cybis designs”, or because the same mold was also used by so many other people? In the end I don’t think so, because it’s the ultimate result that counts. And I was probably the pickiest collector ever: It took me four years to find the “right” Ophelia – a sculpture that I loved at first sight – simply because I was put off by some niggling little bitsy thing such as precisely how the eyes were painted on one, or the lips on another, or the exact tint of the blush on another example’s cheeks!
On the other hand I think it’s important to know that there are some Cybis pieces that have a “shared heritage” with another company (in this case, Holland Molds), so as to avoid jumping to conclusions when seeing examples for sale. In this age of counterfeit this and copyright-infringing that, it’s easy to assume something is a “cheap made-in-China knockoff” – especially if it’s not dated or marked in any way, or in a seemingly-nonstandard format — although the likelihood is that the piece is a (legitimate) home- or factory-made item that was made from a (legitimate) Holland mold, rather than an attempt to deceive or to be a copy of a Cybis. But if a seller is claiming that it’s an “unsigned Cybis”, especially if it’s one of the older designs, well…. keep the Cybis/Holland history in mind, and caveat emptor!
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