I love a good mystery as much as anybody, but this one is a real head-scratcher and I’m hoping that some Archive readers may be able to help solve it.

It appears that some Cybis pieces were pencil-marked in an odd way and for an unknown purpose. The first question, of course, is whether the marks were applied by the studio and, if so, what their purpose was.

The format of the ‘mystery marks’ is three X’s preceded by another letter. Two such pieces came up for sale on eBay in recent months.

This Alice in Wonderland has a penciled SXXX mark just above the painted Cybis signature. It was sold on eBay in June 2020 by a seller in Illinois, and had no evidence of damage, repairs or anything out of the ordinary (except for the penciled mark.) It’s the typical version with the large flowers, rather than the less-often-seen original/early version in which her pinafore bodice is edged with lace instead.

 

This white bisque Queen of Angels also has a mystery XXX mark but in this case it is KXXX instead. Like the Alice, the marks are adjacent to the painted Cybis signature. This piece does have damage: It is missing the leaf that was originally in the empty “crown” space above her left eye but otherwise is perfectly ‘normal.’ The eBay seller of this piece is located in Virginia.

These two pieces appear to have nothing in common except a slightly overlapping production timeframe. Alice was introduced in 1964 and retired in 1969. The white Queen of Angels, however, was in Cybis’ retail lineup for a much longer time: from the 1950s until 1986. So, the most we can say is that the one with the KXXX mark may have been made during the mid to late 1960s but there’s no way to know for sure.

If the studio did add these pencil marks, what could have been the reason? We know that the studio experimented with selling some pieces on eBay during the early 2000s, and that some were described there (and on the Cybis website home page) as being “less than perfect” – in other words, factory seconds. It’s possible that an XXX mark could indicate this, except for the fact that there appears to be nothing wrong with the Alice marked SXXX.  And even if that did mean “second”, why then would the Queen of Angels be marked differently (with a K instead of an S)?

The studio also began selling pieces directly to the public from their showroom during the early 1990s, and it is possible that this XXX mark served some purpose in that regard as well.

If the marks were applied by someone other than the studio, there are a few possible scenarios but each has a fly in the ointment, so to speak.

Auction sale lot designation: I have never seen any auctioneer identify an item with a lot designation other than with a hangtag or a gummed sticker. It’s just “not done” to physically deface an item by adding a mark. The format (letters-only) also doesn’t work because auction lots are always numerical.

Antique-mall seller designation: Antique-mall/co-ops that have multiple sellers displaying wares within the same building (or cabinet) do identify each piece as to which seller it belongs to, but again it is usually with a gummed sticker. Sellers are usually indicated by relevant initials (for example, JDA to indicate “John Doe Antiques”) or a number code (if not an actual name) so KXXX and SXXX don’t make sense here either. It’s not impossible but it is unlikely.

eBay consignment-seller designation: This is essentially the same situation as the antique-mall scenario, even if the consignee is one of the companies who offer to list and sell items on eBay on behalf of people who don’t want to get involved in doing it themselves. Could both of these Cybis pieces have once been listed by the same eBay consignment seller on behalf of the same consignor/owner? Possibly, but only if it was done like this hypothetical:

  1. Mary Smith contracts with “WeSell4U” to list and sell on eBay the 20 items that she wants to dispose of.
  2. WeSell4U assigns Mary the next available consignor number in their database, which happens to be XXX.
  3. They then identify each of Mary’s items with a letter, starting with A: the first being AXXX, then BXXX, and so on. Of course, it would be completely irresponsible for any seller to add a mark, even in pencil and even if their intention was to remove it before shipping it to the purchaser. But theoretically, this scenario could explain the initial letters and the XXX as well.

Any Others Out There?

I confess that I had not been checking ‘normal’ online listings of pieces that I already have in the Archive, and only became aware of these mystery XXX marks via a sharp-eyed collector friend. This means that there may be other Cybis pieces with a penciled XXX added to them that have gone unnoticed until now. Of course, now that they have surfaced, it would be remiss of me not to try to determine whether these are studio-applied marks or not! In that effort, the feedback of anyone who happens to have a Cybis piece bearing an XXX mark will be invaluable.

If you do have an XXX-marked piece of Cybis, it would be a great help if you could let me know what sculpture it is and where you acquired it; for example: via eBay, in an antique mall, at a garage or estate sale, from a brick-and-mortar auction house or at the studio itself. If from eBay, did you buy it directly from Cybis when they were selling there? I know that their username included the name Cybis and may have been cybisporcelains or cybisporcelainsinc (they are no longer searchable as an eBay seller.) There is a contact-form link below.

If this XXX-format mark was indeed studio-applied, it will need to be added to the Signatures and Marks post so that others will know where it came from, even if we don’t know what it actually meant.  In the meanwhile, though, we can all play Sherlock Holmes for a bit! Many thanks in advance. 🙂

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