They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to things like copyright infringement there’s such a thing as being a little too flattering! So herewith the Archive inaugurates a Hall of Shame displaying blatant knockoffs of Cybis Porcelain copyrighted designs.
There is one item that I dithered over adding to this post, and that is the extremely close copy of the Cybis Court Jester that was produced by the Seymour Mann Company. Personally I would consider this to be an unauthorized copy BUT there are enough slight differences to keep a few lawyers busily arguing (while collecting fees) for a while. That knockoff/copy/whatever is shown in a dedicated post, The Cybis Court Jester (or, Send in the Clone) for your perusal.
I’d also like to point out that the sellers who offered the Hall of Shame examples shown below are almost certainly not the same people (the copyright infringers) who created them in the first place! The sellers who took these photos were merely offering an item which they most likely had absolutely no idea was an unauthorized knockoff of something else. So in this post I have deliberately omitted any identifying watermark, in order to protect the innocent.
The purpose of the Hall of Shame is simply to illustrate how some people chose to create a copy of an original Cybis; and also to point out how their “knockoff” status is discernable (other than, of course, the absence of any Cybis signature or mold impressions.)
Items are added to the Hall of Shame as discovered. The knockoff is shown first, followed by an example of the actual Cybis sculpture.
This copy of the 1956 Madonna with Bird appeared for sale on eBay in 2008 within a mixed lot of religious jewelry (some of which festoons and surrounds the sculpture) and other items. There was only this one photograph, and the only detail the seller included was that it was “signed Slovenia on the bottom”. That is a mystery in itself and I wish a photo had been included!
Other than the colors being different from any of the three legitimate Cybis editions of this sculpture (the original – shown below – and the two later reissues shown in the Later Madonnas post) there are other red flags. The bird is not cast from the same mold as the one Cybis used; look at the wings and also the shape of the end of the tail. The position of the sleeve/hands mold pieces, where they join with the torso mold, is also “off and the cloak edge is completely in the wrong place. The position of her hands and their fingers does not correspond exactly to the genuine piece. And lastly, the vertical braid sections do not exist in the original, and the neckline is plain rather than trimmed. The mystery here is where and how a Slovenian maker acquired a mold (or even a piece from which to cast a “negative”) of an Ispanky piece that was created by him in the USA.
This is the actual Cybis Madonna with Bird.
This knockoff/copy lacks the bird but otherwise is from the same mold as the ‘Slovenia’ one. Residue on the underside suggests that at one point this had a felt covering but the mold is unmarked. Height was cited as 9″ as shown.
Here’s another copy which does have the bird but here Mary appears as a peasant woman: I’ve never seen a madonna depicted wearing a headscarf! Multiple further tweaks include smoothing out her hair and an entirely new shirt and shawl/jacket. Not only are her hands in different positions but the right (bird-perch) one has the fingers in a different orientation as well. The seller’s description gives its height at 6.75″ which is considerably smaller than the original’s 11″, even accounting for the base upon which the Cybis one sits. The only discernable mark on the underside is a stamped 6355. It’s too bad there’s no way to date this example; is it possible that this could have been the original inspiration for the Cybis piece?? It’s a known fact that quite a few Cybis pieces were either close adaptations or outright copies of pieces found elsewhere. It does seem odd that any company would go to quite as much trouble to not only change but downsize a knockoff of a Cybis piece. I suspect that there are secrets yet to be discovered about the history of the Madonna with Bird!
This unsigned ceramic was a clear attempt to copy the 1977 Cybis piece Rusty and Jonny (Playing Marbles). It’s unclear whether the maker actually cast a negative mold from an actual piece and simply didn’t do it very well, or whether they created their own version freehand.
In this case the maker tried, equally unsuccessfully, to copy the colorway of the original as well.
And now, as they say, “for something completely different”: This is not a ceramic at all, but a candle! It is, of course, the iconic Mr. Snowball from 1962, but here cast in beeswax. This is the only such example I have found, and I reached out to the seller to inquire if perhaps the mold was currently being sold commercially to candle and/or chocolate makers. Alas, it turns out that the mold for this was included in a liquidation sale of a former candlemaker several years ago and so it’s impossible to trace its source.
I must say that the candle is quite a faithful copy of the porcelain, and it’s deliciously ironic that a design named “snowball” would end up being reproduced in a medium that would, by its very nature, eventually “melt” and disappear!
Although this 1950s madonna bust was not an original Cybis design – it was one of many that they bought from Holland Mold Co. during that decade – I am including it here because Cybis made such extensive and continual use of it during the ensuing fifty years. This original mold was produced by them as Mother Most Admirable during the 1950s, then tweaked into the Queen of Angels and then later as Madonna Angelica in the 1990s. But here we find the 1950s version produced as a 7.5″ high nightlight or small lamp, though obviously not by Cybis (or Cordey, despite their penchant for lamps.) A small hole at the top of her head allows the heat generated by the bulb to escape; the number shown is the only marking. It is 7.5″ high. The Cybis piece (third photo) has a plain base.
Here are two blatant copyright-infringing knockoffs produced by a very well-known collectibles importer: Lefton China.
What’s really puzzling about this knockoff of Springtime is that the mold is reversed! She is a mirror image of the actual Cybis piece whose photo appears below it.
If there was only a single photo of the Lefton knockoff I’d wonder if perhaps the seller of this piece accidentally ‘flipped’ their photograph but the odds of them doing that for two images is infinitesmal! Before we discuss timeframes I also want to show a second Lefton knockoff piece from the same era.
This is a Lefton copy of Wendy. For this they used an actual Cybis mold. A clearer case of copyright infringement can scarcely be imagined!
Both of the Wendys shown in this photo were made by Cybis. The standard version is on the left; the one with the floral decoration was made specially for a retail gallery event.
Both of these knockoffs are identifiable as Lefton products via their undersides. The Springtime Lefton knockoff still has the its original Lefton sticker which that company used between 1953 and 1971. The real Cybis Springtime was produced between 1963 and 1969. The Lefton Wendy knockoff no longer has its sticker but it has the stamped item number: KW2288, which is the same as on the phony Springtime. When Lefton made something to be sold as a pair they gave both of them the same item number. Thus, although I cannot yet date the Lefton items (I’m working on that!) we know that Lefton sold these as a pair. The KW in the Lefton stamp indicates that these were made in the Kowa Toki factory in Japan for the Lefton company to import. Cybis first produced Wendy in 1957 and continued to keep her in the line until the 1980s. However, the much shorter six-year timeframe for Springtime narrows the Lefton copies to the 1960s.
This is a really clunky attempt at copying the Wood Wren with Dogwood, but a knockoff nonetheless. A photo of the underside wasn’t provided, nor were any marks (or size) cited. Believe it or not, the knockoff’s photo is as improved/sharp as I could make it!
This entry is intriguing because there is a very small chance that this might not be a knockoff at all. There are two factors that indicate it is a copy, but also another two factors that say it might just possibly have come from the Cybis studio (although not “officially”): The dipped lace, and the workmanship of the rose and the leaves. The glazing is a could-go-either-way factor, because the 1950s Cybis religious figures were often glazed.
The big “probably-isn’t-Cybis” factor is the underside of the piece being this open. I have never seen a finished Cybis porcelain with this a wide-open underside like this. (It is also not signed, but that alone doesn’t necessarily disqualify a 1950s piece.)
This is what the bottom of every definitely-Cybis one looks like, whether it is the early-1950s version (design #201) or the 1960 version (design #2080); see both of those together in the Later Madonnas post. Notice how much smaller the hole is.
The odds are that the glazed bust is simply a copy — albeit a very good one! — of the 1950s Cybis pieces, which were, of course, themselves produced from the same Holland Mold Company mold that anyone could buy and use. What distinguished the Cybis ones were the dipped lace and floral decoration. It is possible that a Cybis artist took a casting from one of the molds and simply made one for him/herself without bothering to take the extra step of ‘closing in’ the bottom. That would also explain the lack of a Cybis signature. Or it could simply be an extremely good copy by someone totally unconnected with Cybis!
[Update, June 2020: For a truly bizarre “copy” situation (which actually may have been legitimate, in a shadowy-legal sort of way) that deserved its’ own Archive post, see A Cybis on Your Cake ]
If any readers know of other potential Hall of Shame “inductees”, there is a direct-contact form at the bottom of the About the Cybis Archive page.
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