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 not the same people who created them in the first place! The sellers who took these photos were merely offering an item which they most likely had no idea is an illegal copy of something else. So in this post I have deliberately omitted any identifying watermark, in order to protect the innocent.
A few of the pieces are not knockoffs in the strictest sense, because the mold that Cybis used to create their piece was also available to other buyers from the mold company itself. Those molds all date from the 1950s and are best described as “creative alternate usages” of the same mold that Cybis also used.
Items are added to the Hall of Shame as discovered. Because one particular (and very well-known) mass market importer has a long history of illegally using Cybis designs, they have their very own ‘room’ in the Hall of Shame, in the lowest section!
The Madonna with Bird copies
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.
Here’s another example, this time with a very garishly-patterned veil! This is almost certainly a hobbyist version. In addition to the ‘bling’, Mary has been given eyelashes – the first time I have seen that on one of these knockoffs.
This knockoff/copy lacks the bird but otherwise is from the same mold as the previous two. 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 this particular mold, especially since it appears to have been made in at least two colorways (the wood base under the pink one was a seller’s prop.)
And in the “here’s something completely different” category, we have a copy that not only incorporates a votive-candle holder but is also a music box (the seller didn’t mention what tune it plays). The iridescent glaze covering the entire item is an…..’unusual’ touch.
This is the actual Cybis Madonna with Bird.
The Mr. Snowball Copies
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 bunny 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 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 Mr. Snowball, 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!
At the extreme other end of the materials spectrum is this cement/concrete casting/copy which was probably intended to be a garden ornament.
I am admittedly perplexed by this mini copy of Mr. Snowball, shown next to a real one, and here’s why.
The real Mr. Snowball is only 3.5″ high, making it one of Cybis’ small pieces right from the get-go. This mini one is only 2″ high, which begs the question: Why?? Two inches is basically netsuke-sized. Why would anyone go to the trouble of taking a cast of the actual piece and then downsizing it into an even smaller mold? Because the mini is close enough to the real piece to make that obvious, although the finer details have been lost. The inside of the ears are not tinted, and the eye painting is just a dab of red, but then again, that’s a really small eye area!
The mini is not signed, which is the strongest argument for it not having originated at the Cybis studio. However, there’s a partial outline in dirty glue residue of what once was some kind of label or price sticker on the underside. I’d totally dismiss it as a copy except for that faintest hint of blue in the same area; Cybis did use blue paint sometimes for their 1950s “Cybis” name stamp. But… Mr. Snowball was not introduced until 1962, and on a piece this tiny, the Cybis name stamp would be bigger in relation to the underside real estate. And still there’s that pesky question of Why Make One This Small?? Logic points several fingers at this being a ‘shrunk‘ bootleg copy of the actual Cybis piece.
Other Copies of Cybis Designs
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 knockoff’s maker tried to copy the colorway of the original Cybis piece (shown here) as well.
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.
‘Creative Alternate Usages’ of Cybis-utilized Molds
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 Mother Most Admirable had a plain base, as seen in these three examples.
And I suppose that Jesus deserved his own lamp persona as well. When Cybis used this Holland mold for their Jesus bust in the 1950s, it was also available in Holland’s catalog and so this is another case of a ‘creative usage.’ However, this one didn’t take place until 1985 as per the incised initials and date on the underside. You have to give respect to any mold that manages to stay in a retail lineup for thirty years!
Here’s the 1950s Cybis porcelain Jesus Bust. He had a companion Mary bust, and so it will not surprise me in the least if I someday come across a hobbyist lamp made from that mold as well. For the version shown above, Cybis retained the original mold’s impressions along the collar, but their examples without the floral decoration treated the collar edge differently.
Here’s another ‘creative interpretation’ of a circa-1950s Holland Mold that Cybis used. In this case it’s the one for their Annunciation bust, but here someone has cast it in cement for use (I assume) as a garden ornament.
I suppose one could say that this is concrete proof [sorry!] that this was a generally appealing design? (The Cybis example here is in their Cypia finish.)
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.
Lefton China knockoffs of Cybis Porcelains
One of the most egregious offenders when it came to copyright infringement of Cybis pieces was Lefton China. I won’t go into their company history because it’s well-documented elsewhere; they operated as a ‘collectibles’ importer starting in the mid-1940s. The original family-owned company was sold in the early 2000s to OMT Enterprises who still utilizes the Lefton brand name as part of their mass-market import items portfolio. The Cybis pirating dates from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; there are enough of them to warrant their very own section in the Hall of Shame, and I am sure that there are more examples yet to be found!
What’s really puzzling about their knockoff of Springtime is that the mold is reversed! She is a mirror image of the actual Cybis piece which is shown in the third image. Before we discuss timeframes I also want to show a second Lefton knockoff piece from the same era.
This is the Lefton copy of Wendy. For this they used an actual Cybis mold with absolutely no alterations. 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 clearly identifiable as Lefton products. The Springtime knockoff still has its original sticker that was used between 1953 and 1971. (The real Cybis Springtime was produced between 1963 and 1969.) The Wendy knockoff no longer has its sticker but it has the stamped item number: KW2288, which is the same as on the phony Springtime. Why? Because when Lefton made something to be sold as a pair, set, or other ‘associated’ group, they gave both/all of those designs the same product number. Thus, we know that Lefton sold these as a pair or at least as companion pieces. The KW in the Lefton stamp indicates that these were made in the Kowa Toki factory in Japan. Cybis first produced Wendy in 1957 and continued to keep her in the line until the 1980s. Thus, the Cybis Wendy and the Cybis Springtime were ripe for the Lefton plucking as companion items starting in 1963, and the Lefton sticker narrows their production timeframe to between 1963 and 1971.
This is a slightly different case: Was Lefton knocking off the Holland Mold Company (the original creator of this madonna bust mold), or Cybis (who chose to decorate their version with a lace trimmed veil and central floral), or both? The mold itself was sold by Holland to anyone who had a few dollars to spend, so it was fine for Lefton to use it (if they paid for it, which I rather doubt.) However, the choice of decoration approach was clearly lifted from one of the Cybis versions. That said, Lefton did add hair to theirs. The Cybis studio did three iterations of this mold with the lace trim added: in the 1950s (those were glazed), as white bisque in 1960, and finally a color bisque version in 1992. This was Cybis design number 202, indicating that it was one of their very first religious issues. There are several known Lefton product/item numbers for this piece, such as KW3042, KW3043 and KW3207. All of them look exactly like the one shown above, however. Lefton numbers starting with KW indicate that the item was a Kowa Toki, Japan factory piece made between 1953 and 1971.
Lefton was still up to their old Cybis-design-snatching tricks as recently as the late 1980s and early 1990s. I spotted not just one, but two, separate instances of them knocking off the Shepherd from the second Cybis nativity set.
No sane intellectual-property judge would agree that George Lefton actually originated this design, but that didn’t stop the company from claiming so. This is the backstamp on the 1987 knockoff, which was part of their ‘Christopher Collection.’ The sticker noting the Taiwan origin matches the history of the company; in the early to mid 1980s they shifted production from Japan to Taiwan. Most sources pinpoint this as happening between 1984 and 1986. Other factory locations were in Malaysia and China.
Five years later (1992) Lefton brought out another nativity series, dubbed it the ‘Spirit of Bethlehem’ collection, dusted off the 1987 Cybis knockoff, tweaked a couple of surfaced (such as the blanket), gave him a fresh paint job, and tossed him into it. The pieces in this series were not given individual Lefton item numbers, following the company format of giving all items that were part of a pair, set or series the same item number. This series was also made in Taiwan, based on the stickers.
Lefton pirated both of the first two pieces that appeared in the 1975 Cybis ‘Caprice Collection’ and turned them into trinket boxes several years later. Lefton assigned item number 658 to both.
This is a very dirty example of their knockoff of Cybis’ Turtle ‘The Baron’.
It is almost exactly the same size as the Cybis piece (2.5″ high x 4″ wide, versus 3″ high x 5″ wide for the real thing.)
And here is the knockoff of the Cybis Ladybug ‘Duchess of Seven Rosettes’. Because Lefton wanted to make it into a trinket box, they added a small ladybug at the top to serve as the ‘handle’; no need to do that with the Cybis turtle because The Baron already had a frog as a rider! Lefton also eliminated the Duchess’ antennae and feet as extraneous. Both Lefton pieces were made in Taiwan, which dates them to the 1980s; but they did not get the typical Lefton red-and-gold sticker. Instead, the copies I have seen only have a plain, narrow gold foil strip saying Taiwan. They do have the normal Lefton stamp and item number, however.
If any readers know of other potential Hall of Shame “inductees” (Lefton or otherwise), there is a direct-contact link below.
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