The Cybis ‘Bonnet Girls’

Despite many of us being engaged in digging out from the latest snowstorm, Spring actually has arrived in some places which may bring to mind (for those old enough to remember it!) the classic Irving Berlin song “Easter Parade” popularized by the 1948 movie of the same name:

In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.
I’ll be all in clover and when they look you over,
I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade.

On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure.
Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet,
And of the girl I’m taking to the Easter parade.

And so, in the spirit of the season, here are the eleven Cybis girls who were depicted wearing or holding a bonnet (with or without frills!) or hat. They are shown in chronological order.

The honor of being the earliest known “bonnet girl” goes to this sweet little figure of a little girl carrying a hat in a style and size worthy of any classic Southern belle! She is definitely from the 1950s and is done in their glazed Cypia tonation. Although we don’t know her Cybis name (or if she had one), she was cast from a Holland Mold Co. mold that they sold as Shirley…so that will be her Cybis name here as well. She is 7.5″ tall and is the earliest known full-figure Cybis child piece.

MARY MARY by CybisThe first post-1960 (modern-studio style) Cybis “bonnet gal” was Mary Mary, a limited edition produced from 1974 to 1979. She was inspired by the nursery rhyme and wears a Victorian-style ‘boater’ hat. There is some discrepancy in the Cybis records as to what her final edition size (originally 750) was ultimately reduced to. She is 10.5″ high and was not mounted on a base.

NANCY AND NED SLEDDING by CybisNancy and Ned (Sledding) from 1978 was one of a series of open-edition pieces showing two children playing. Nancy, like her friend or brother Ned, wears a knitted winter cap; hers sports a jaunty pom-pom.

The prize for the largest and most elaborate topper must surely go to The Bride (a/k/a ‘The Polish Bride’) whose incredibly intricate floral headdress seems too over-the-top to be described merely as a bonnet or hat – but it is, and so it joins this lineup! This was an edition of 100 introduced in the spring of 1980, and she has her own Archive page with many more details and views.

LITTLE MISS MUFFET by CybisAlthough Little Miss Muffet does not wear a “bonnet” in the usual sense, she does wear a hat and so she’s included with the bonnet girls.  An open (non-limited) edition made for only two years (1980 and 1981), she is just about 8″ high and sold for $335.

Valentine was the 1985 female companion to the studio’s long-running boy clown head Funny Face from the 1970s. This bust is 9.75” high on the wood base; the concurrent Valentine with Holly was the holiday-decoration version.

LAURA by CybisLaura view 2Laura holds a wide-brimmed straw-look hat embellished with a green ribbon and daisies. She was introduced in the autumn of 1986 at $325 and was priced at $395 in 1999. The Cybis brochure described her as “capturing the innocence of a bygone age.” She is 9” high. Although not a young child, she appeared in Cybis price lists under the “Children to Cherish” heading. (Other young Cybis ladies of similar teenage appearance were Betty Blue and Melissa, both of whom appear in the Pink and Blue post.)

I wasn’t sure whether to include this as a “bonnet girl” example but it does squeak into contention because (a) the hat definitely belongs to the girl, and (b) her hand is touching it and so technically she is ‘holding’ it! This is Pony and Children, an open edition from 1988. This particular piece is the only actual example I have seen, and it came from the studio’s 2019 liquidation.

DADDYS LITTLE GIRL by CybisTheir next gal with headgear is definitely in the child category: Daddy’s Little Girl appeared in 1989, and so some of them will have the special 50th Anniversary stamp. Standing 11″ high, she was a non-limited edition but could be personalized upon request with the name of little girl who was commemorated by or would receive her.

The Swimmer was one of a series of child sports figures that were released during the late 1980s and early 1990s as open editions. She is 8.75” high and was introduced between 1990 and 1993. This particular example is an alternate colorway that was in the liquidation sale; the normal retail edition supposedly wore a white suit with blue trim, but the same solid blue swim cap.

The final Cybis bonnet gal is also the least often seen and the least successful in terms of design. She’s also a bit mysterious as to origin. Titled Sabrina, she is only 6.5″ high and was copyrighted in 1987 according to the mold impression. She does not appear in any of these subsequent Cybis price lists that I have: February 1988, February 1989, Spring 1990, November 1993, Fall 1995, and May 1999. I do not recall ever seeing her photo on the Cybis website, but thanks to a reader of the Archive I now know something of her backstory. [photo above courtesy of the Museum of American Porcelain Art]

Sabrina was offered for a short time in 2008 when the Cybis studio made a brief foray onto eBay as a seller. Various pieces were listed, some being in mint condition while others were described as having “slight imperfections” or “noticeable imperfections” (Marylin Chorlton probably turned over in her grave at that.) The listing description cited her as mint and with a “suggested retail price” of  $875, but a listing price (as a Buy it Now) of $395. When my correspondent inquired to confirm its identity, never having seen this piece for sale before, the studio responded that she had been made for “a very short time” in the past but because of “unusually high breakage” they stopped making them. Unfortunately, after making his eBay purchase the buyer never received the piece from the studio and eventually got his money back after filing a claim with eBay. I have seen three of these offered for sale in the past few years but have no idea whether those were pre-eBay or post-eBay sales from the studio.

In my opinion this was one of the studio’s least artistically successful pieces and not only because of “high breakage”; the glazed Pepto-Bismol-pink trim is cloying, the flower-bedecked base calls to mind something mass-produced in resin overseas, and the appearance of the girl semi-submerged in something solid [I confess that my personal nickname for this piece is The Lady in Cement, a la the 1968 movie starring Frank Sinatra] is just…. weird.  I do not know who designed her, other than that it was not Lynn Klockner Brown nor Bill Pae. She has a very slight look of Ispanky about her but I do not think this was one of his leftover 1960s designs that sat on the shelf unused for two decades; for one thing, it’s much too small. Sabrina is more likely to have been done by a freelance artist trying to emulate the Ispanky-Cybis “look.”

And so ends our small Easter Bonnet Parade from the Cybis studio; happy Spring (when it ever does get here) to all!

(September 2021 update: Surprisingly, the Cybis males far outnumber their females when it comes to hats! See that fashion parade in the Men In Hats post.)

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