The recent liquidation of the Cybis studio’s holdings has resulted in some important updates on the ‘identification’ front: One wholly unexpected, one positively perplexing, and another somewhat misleading.
A Cybis Gummed Sticker
It was common practice for the Cordey items to have a gummed sticker affixed before they went out the studio door; enough lamps have survived with them still in place for us to know that this was a normal part of the production process.
These were made of a black-and-silver paper and were probably about an inch long. When Cordey went bankrupt in 1959 and was bought by the Schiller company these stickers were no longer used (if they hadn’t already been discontinued.)
We do know that none of the “modern” (1960 and later) Cybis pieces received any sort of sticker and because no 1950s pieces had turned up with one either, I assumed that it was just something the studio didn’t use. But it turns out that at least some 1940s-early 1950s items did have one…. perhaps even all of them??
This unmistakably-Cybis sticker has managed to remain on the felted underside of a 1950s piece. The inclusion of the copyright symbol is surprising because the studio didn’t begin actually filing for copyright registrations on any of their designs until the early 1960s! (It’s also surprising because almost all of the 1950s pieces – including this one – were cast from molds Cybis bought from other companies who were the true copyright holders of those designs.) The two uppercase letters following the Cybis name are not quite decipherable: is it DK ? DV ?? DR ??? And what would any of those letter pairs stand for, anyway?
Update, July 2020: It is very possible, perhaps even likely, that the initials DK on these stamps stand for Dorothy Kaminski who started her career with the Cordey operation and then moved to Cybis. She was there well into the 1980s and will be featured in a future Artist Profiles post.
However, on this second example the handwritten initials appear to be DP. This sticker is on an angel bust whose materials and style appear to match those listed in the museum catalog Cybis in Retrospect as being “circa 1942-1947.” However, this particular bust ALSO incorporates the exact same halo that was used on some of the early-1950s Mother Most Admirable madonna busts.
Another piece of evidence comes from the same sticker found on the felted underside of some “folk toys”, which Cybis in Retrospect cites as having been made between 1944 and 1948. These stickers clearly say “DK” at the end.
If it was indeed standard practice to affix one of these stickers to every retail item during that time period, perhaps the glue on the back wasn’t strong enough to adhere for very long. Or perhaps these were only used for a short while and then phased out. In either event, the rare surviving Cybis sticker is a surefire indication of a mid/late 40s or possibly very early 50s piece…. something that, sadly, can no longer be said for every instance of their 1950s name stamp, as will be shown below!
1950s Paint Stamps on 1980s Items
The recent discovery of the use of the old (circa 1950s) Cybis name-stamp on pieces that were not even designed – let alone sold – until the 1980s has twisted the studio’s former “signature chronology” into a bit of a pretzel. New items bearing the old format markings began turning up when the studio’s owner began disposing of leftover stock.
This is one of the two original 1950s Cybis name stamps (which I call Style A; there is a slightly different stamp that I call Style B, but both were used during the 1950s) as it appears on two actual 1950s pieces. It has been seen in paint colors ranging from blue to brown to red to black. Sometimes the studio added the additional “Fine China” stamp as well, but sometimes not. The font is almost exactly the same as seen on the gummed sticker, by the way.
Under normal circumstances this stamp should ONLY be found on a piece that was made during the 1950s. The operative word here being “normal” …..
This 1950s stamp appears on a Tang Dynasty II sculpture that was designed and made during the 1980s.
It likewise appears on a Tang Dynasty III figure from the same decade.
To make things even more confusing, the old stamp and a not-seen-yet-on-any-1950s-piece Made in U.S.A. paint-stamp appears on a Ruffles and Truffles which was part of the studio liquidation. It also is hand-marked as an artist proof (A.P) in either black paint or marker. The Made in U.S.A. stamp had previously been used only as a mold impression on 1980s pieces but here it has been used as a paint stamp instead.
This piece was designed in the early 1980s, introduced at retail in 1983 as a limited edition, and completed in 1988. This is how all of the retail ones were signed, on the lower back edge of one of the cats. The sculpture number was painted separately on the same general area of the other cat.
The 1950s stamp plus the made-in stamp on a Queen of Sheba, designed in the mid-1980s and issued as a limited edition in 1987. Notice the circa-1980s phoenix logo mold impression adjacent to old stamp(s.)
These marks appear on a Walrus ‘Wellington’, an open edition first introduced in 1983. The A.P.R is a “mystery designation” that first showed up occasionally in the first round of liquidated backstock items from the studio, handwritten in fine-line black marker. However, on this piece it was applied via a stamp. I have absolutely no clue what the R stands for but am assuming that A.P. continues to mean “artist proof.”
There is one possibility, which is pure conjecture on my part but I will throw it into the ring anyhow. It’s well known that the studio would often add an A.P. designation to pieces that were not in fact artist proofs (meaning either a ‘painting standard’ or an experimental colorway) in order to increase their perceived value. This was commonly done when they donated a piece to a charity auction, for example. But it was also done during the 1990s after the studio began selling directly to the public instead of through retailers. The most egregious example of this was the addition of A.P. to an already-numbered-for-retail-sale sculpture. Anyway, one possible reason for an A.P.R designation being added might have been to alert employees to the fact that this particular A.P.-marked piece was “reserved” … i.e., not to be accidentally sold to a customer but instead kept in the studio’s backstock. Again, this is just a guess on my part.
I’ve no doubt that there are going to be more of these “1950s signature on a 1980s item” sculptures showing up on the market in the future. What I don’t know is why they were marked by that method in the first place. It is possible that, because the studio had no permanent artist staff during the 1990s and 2000s, they found it easier to stamp any unmarked pieces than to fuss with a brush and pot of paint, and there were some old Style A 1950s stamps lurking in a drawer somewhere. As mentioned earlier, the Made in U.S.A. stamp had previously been used for mold impressions (not paint stamps) starting in the 1980s.
Modern Signature on 1940s Cybis Items
Now we come to the studio’s practice of adding a modern hand-painted Cybis signature plus a copyright symbol and an A.P. designation to items that were made during the 1940s. Most of those items had previously remained in their original condition (unsigned) and certainly never had either a copyright symbol or an A.P. designation because neither of those marks were put onto any of the 1940s pieces at the time they were made. Although I can understand the need to identify unsigned pieces with the Cybis name, in this case the studio was using A.P. not only on 1940s items that were one of a kind (those that are listed in Cybis in Retrospect as being prototype pieces) but also on 1940s pieces that were not one of a kind but were simply one among a quantity that had been made for retail sale.
These marks were added to two 1940s pieces that came onto the auction market in February 2013 along with several other 1940s Cybis. The consignor was likely the studio, although it’s possible it could have been a collector who had previously bought them from the studio’s collection.
An assortment of 1940s pieces to which the studio added modern markings at a later date. Some of these may be one of a kind (prototypes) while others may be one of a number of such items that were made for sale during the 1940s.
These modern marks are on one of three black Sheep within this assortment of six that were all made during the 1940s. Although the auction house only photographed the underside of one of them, it’s likely that all six are marked in this way. In cases like this, A.P. has no real meaning either as “one of a kind” or as “painting standard.”
In the two ‘signature’ situations described above (old on new, or new on old) it is important to date the piece in question by appearance (design/style) rather than by signature format. A 1980s piece with “old” stamps may also have a phoenix logo mold impression as well; that mold impression simply did not exist during the 1940s or 1950s and so is an infallible indicator of a modern-day Cybis piece.
On the other hand, the presence of a surviving Cybis gummed sticker – which has only been found on a late-1940s and early-1950s piece thus far – appears to be a reliable indicator of the item’s age. If anyone happens to have a Cybis piece with this sticker intact, I would love the opportunity to add a photo of it to the Archive; there is a direct contact form at the link below.
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