The Cybis Court Jester (or, Send In the Clone)

If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then the Court Jester figure by Cybis should be very flattered indeed. One of the most striking lookalike (copycat) clones surely must be the one that was issued by the Milano Porcelain company. But first, the authentic Cybis sculpture:

The Court Jester was issued by Cybis in 1978 as a declared edition of 500 but before completion in 1982 the edition size was halved to 250. He is 15” high. His issue price was $1450 and his closing price $1750. The US Copyright Office catalog of copyright entries contains the registration record for this piece in 1978: “Court Jester. Statuette on base. Porcelain. Dressed in typical medieval costume, holding jester doll in right hand. Cybis.”

This piece went ‘traveling’ a bit within the studio’s own Collections categories. Initially, he was quite properly assigned to the ‘Portraits in Porcelain’ group and there he remained for two years, until the studio inaugurated a new ‘Theatre of Porcelain’ category in Spring 1980. The Jester sat there all alone until he was joined by the similarly-themed (but entirely different) Harlequin and, later, various other figures from the opera. (For a dive into the Cybis studio’s Collections madness, read this post.


THE JESTERS JESTER given to Bob Hope by Cybis

This one of a kind version named The Jester’s Jester was presented to Bob Hope by New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne during Hope’s special two-night appearance at the Garden State Arts Center. The colorway is different and it has small elements added to secure it to its special base. The plaque on the base reads Bob Hope/ The Jester’s Jester/ Garden State Arts Center/ New Jersey/ July 20, 1978. The sculpture was sold in 2013 as part of the liquidation of Mr. Hope’s estate.

Another specially-decorated Court Jester was recently discovered in Austria.
This piece was spotted in 2021 inside a trash bin at the American Embassy in Vienna where, sometime between 1978 and 1982, it had been given as a gift to the American Ambassador. While the giver is not known, the three candidates for recipient are Milton Wolf, Philip Kaiser, and Theodore Cummings. Unfortunately, all three gentlemen are deceased and so I cannot follow the trail that way. Notice the different paint decoration pattern on his tunic, compared to the retail and Bob Hope versions. From this photo, it looks as if the only apparent damage is to the head and handle of the jester doll, which is pretty amazing when you consider its ignominious disposal.

Enter the Clone

eda-mann-copy-of-cybis-jesterThis blatant copy of the Cybis Court Jester was produced by Milano Porcelain, probably during the early to mid 1980s. It is 11” high and was not any sort of limited edition; in fact, the company was very much a mass-market retailer of various china and porcelain items, many of which were made in Asia. The designer, Eda Mann, was the wife of Seymour Mann (nee Nathan Weisman) and the mother of author Erica Jong. Among their retail wares were home décor items and dolls made with porcelain heads and hands, marketed under the various company names of Seymour Mann Inc., Milano Porcelain, and the Connoisseur Doll Collection.

The similarities to the Cybis piece are so strong that one has to wonder how the Mann piece could ever have been brought to market without being slapped with a copyright infringement suit within days (which it well might have been.) Even if the Cybis Court Jester had been designed by Eda Mann – and I have found no indication that this was the case – I cannot imagine that Cybis would ever have allowed such a blatant copy to be produced by her own company at any time, let alone during the same general timeframe that the Cybis piece was in production. To say that Cybis was active in the protection of their copyrighted designs would be an huge understatement!

But it seems that the Mann company was no stranger to the halls of justice in this regard. For example, in 1993 they were sued for copyright infringement by a doll artist for creating and importing copies of her dolls and selling them to a department store chain and to the QVC cable shopping network. In 2004 the Lee Middleton Doll Company won a lawsuit against them for making unauthorized copies of a doll face and other parts copyrighted by the Middleton company. There may have been other lawsuits that simply haven’t made their way onto Google, or were settled out of court.

eda-mann-jester-copy-backstampSo it appears that their jester copy was probably another such instance, especially since (despite the use of the © symbols in its backstamp) I can find no entry for this item in the US Copyright Office records under either the Seymour Mann Company or Eda Mann, and there were no copyrighted items ever registered by ‘Milano Porcelain’. But as “clones” of Cybis pieces go, however, this one was definitely among the most ambitious.

(Other knockoffs of Cybis porcelains are immortalized in the Hall of Shame.)

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