Among the several distinct style genres of Cybis porcelain (papka, artsy 1940s porcelain, 1950s commercial-mold, and post-1950s) there is a small subset that I call ‘Cordey-Cybis transitional.’ In a nutshell, these are pieces that anyone would mistake for Cordey items except for the fact that they are signed M. B. Cybis, or stamped Cybis, instead.
This immediately raises a classic chicken-vs-egg question: Which branding appeared first on the general retail market: “Cordey”, or “Cybis”? There are four possible scenarios that might account for these Cybis-in-Cordey-style items.
(a) The M. B. Cybis pieces were the studio’s first foray into the general marketplace, but these were re-branded as Cordey when that company was established in late 1942, after which point all such items carried the brand-name Cordey rather than Cybis. If this scenario is correct, then we should find retail advertising for Cybis items before 1943, but then for Cordey for this type of item after that point.
What we find is a puzzling mixture. The Bonwit Teller department store advertised “a collection of ceramics by the Polish artist Cybis” in 1942. An April 1943 retailer ad in the Detroit Free Press mentions “Design by Cybis” figurines and that “each are different; each one lovelier than the next…some with quaint bonnets…some with garland trimmed dresses.” This is clearly the Cordey look being described. A 1945 ad in the Courier-Post in Camden, New Jersey, “cordially invites your inspection at our showrooms of these masterpieces of ornamentation created by Cybis, one of Europe’s foremost ceramic specialists.” A 1948 advertisement for what are clearly Cordey candlesticks and wall brackets describes them as “created by Cybis, one of Europe’s most renowned specialists.”
The earliest Cordey-brand retailer ads that I have been able to find are all from 1944. This would seem to date the M. B. Cybis items to between 1942 and 1943, if not for those outlier 1945 and 1948 ads that cite the Cybis name instead; if a switch did occur, by that time the branding should have been firmly Cordey.
(b) The M. B. Cybis pieces were the original studio prototypes for the Cordey look but were never distributed to retail stores. The relative scarcity of surviving M. B. Cybis-signed items, compared to Cordey-branded ones, seems to give some support to this theory. But it doesn’t explain those retailer ads that describe items as “by Cybis” with no mention of Cordey. If these were merely in-studio prototypes, they would never have appeared in retail ads at all.
(c) The M. B. Cybis pieces were sold only at the Church Street location and for a short period of time. Remember that the Cordey operation had two locations: on Columbia Avenue in Philadelphia (lamps, figurines, and décor items) and Church Street in Trenton (figurines and décor items only; no lamp assembly.) We do know that Boleslaw Cybis did sell items directly from his studio (see this post for the story of the sale of a pair of prototype mugs) and so this scenario is definitely possible. There would have been no reason to mark such pieces as Cordey even though there is no significant difference other than the signature. But again, the problem of those 1940s retail ads showing drawings of Cordey items that are identified only as Cybis rears its head.
(d) The Trenton studio continued to produce Cordey-style items, marked variously as either Cordey or Cybis or M. B. Cybis, concurrently throughout the 1940s until the Cybis brand’s focus was changed during the 1950s. This scenario would account for all of the 1940s retailer ads that mention Cybis but not Cordey and is probably what really happened, although a much smaller volume of M.B. Cybis and Cybis-stamped items actually went out of the Church Street door compared to those marked Cordey. The number of Cordey items seen nowadays on eBay makes that clear. So the question now becomes, why bother to make the same product line under three different brandings at the same time?
M. B. Cybis items in Cordey style
The examples of M. B. Cybis pieces below are shown with their Cordey-branded counterparts for comparison, whenever available.
In addition to their visual ‘match’, M. B. Cybis pieces have also been found in multiple colorways. Both of these Asian ladies are signed M. B. Cybis although parts of both signatures have faded or worn away. Notice the four-digit design code on both – another Cordey attribute! They are both marked 5072 although the final digit is almost closed on the purple one.
This is the Cordey version; it is one of the few for which we have a name. It is shown as ‘Chinese Coquette’ and design #5072 in a page of an old Cordey catalog.
Both of these are signed M.B. Cybis.
These images are from an old Cordey catalog, in which the same figures are titled ‘Mandarin Man’ and ‘Mandarin Woman.’
Here is another M. B. Cybis figure which is a less ornate version of the Cordey Mandarin Woman shown above. I’m not sure whether this one was meant to be male or female.
Both of these peasant children are signed M.B. Cybis as in the example shown. There are no other marks or mold impressions on them.
Here are the Cordey children in the same colorway. In this comparison there is a difference in decoration, with the Cybis version sporting a lot of dipped lace while it appears only on the girl’s sleeve and dress edges on the Cordey pair.
Here’s an M. B. Cybis example of a Restoration-era court gentleman. The painted blue curlicue design on his cuffs and pockets will be the subject of a future Archive post because it appears only on two particular styles of Cordey pieces…and also on a few early Cybis as well. This figure appears to be unglazed.
The marks on the underside are intriguing because of the 194.M which I have absolutely no reference for; supposedly, both Cordey and Cybis design numbers started with 200 as the lowest numerical series.
Here’s the Cordey version, which must have been quite popular because examples are often seen for sale on eBay. The Cordey design number is 5042.
This flat-fronted vase is signed M. B. Cybis on the bottom. The roses and gold decoration are typical Cordey.
Here’s the same vase mold with a bas-relief geisha added to the front, produced as a Cordey.
And speaking of bas-relief appliques….
This M. B. Cybis vase has a court gentleman applied to the front. Many thanks to the helpful Archive reader who sent me these photos! The vase is 16” tall.
For comparison, here is a Cordey wall plaque with a bas-relief lady in the center. The ‘plaque’ is actually one of the Cordey tray molds with a keyhole added for hanging. The lady is more dimensional than the man on the vase, probably because the center of the tray/plaque is recessed; the front of the vase, while curved, is flatter.
Here is the same M. B. Cybis vase with a slightly different treatment. Instead of the gentleman we have a spray of applied roses but in all other respects the vases are the same. The red sticker is the same as one that was used on some Cybis items during the 1940s and possibly also the early 1950s. The design number (8030) corresponds to the 7- and 8-number design codes typically used by Cordey for décor items (the studio would assign the 800 series to decorative items, starting in the 1950s.)
Here is a pair of small but very Cordey-style ornate vases signed M. B. Cybis and these have a wealth of information on the bottom! They are both dated 1945. This shows that M. B. Cybis items were not limited only to the pre-Cordey-production years but were actually being made concurrently with Cordey. The question now becomes, did they continue to create/sign ‘Cordey’ pieces as M. B. Cybis right up until the first commercial-mold 1950s Cybis were brought to market? It would be nice to find other M. B. Cybis pieces that include a date on the bottom! At least this explains that 1945 retailer advertisement but there were far more Cordey retailer ads during that same year. Also, it’s unclear whether the 197 and 198 indicate design numbers, decoration instructions, or are an early instance of a numbered Cybis piece.
Another 1945 retailer ad, this time from B. Altman in New York City, featured “china heads by the artist Cybis” and is shown in my dedicated Archive post about a particularly lovely M. B. Cybis lady bust:
This piece also has a number (252) on the bottom. As with the small vases, it’s impossible to know whether this represents a design/mold number (if so, it doesn’t fit with either the Cordey or Cybis systems) or an individual sculpture number. Additional views of this bust, which has an unusual open top, can be seen in this post.
I have discovered only one photo of a lamp marked M. B. Cybis, and it uses the same open-top head shown above.
Here the open top has been closed with a hat; this is also signed M. B. Cybis. To date, I have not found any photo of a matching Cordey bust mold; that may indicate that it was never made as a Cordey. The painting of the eyes and mouth is definitely more Cybis/less Cordey, but the decorative elements are very Cordey-esque indeed.
Cybis-stamped items in Cordey Style
Although most Cordey-format Cybis found to date have been signed M. B. Cybis, there are others that bear the same Cybis paint stamp that was later used on most of the 1950s production items. Do these items indicate that the Cybis stamp was first used during the second half of the 1940s? Or does it mean that there were still some Cordey-style items being branded as Cybis in the early 1950s? The Cordey operation was not legally detached from Cybis until the death of Boleslaw Cybis in 1957.
Here we have identical lady busts with two different markings. The one on the left has the typical blue 1950s-Cybis paint stamp signature, just as countless Holland-Mold-cast 1950s Cybis items do. The bust on the right has a Cordey mold impression, Cordey design code 5020 mold impression, stamped Cordey signature (notice that the color of the blue paint is identical on both) and paint code(?) 4005.
Ironically, the painting technique on the Cybis-stamped bust is more typical of Cordey pieces, while the same areas of the Cordey bust look more like Cybis. This is where the difference between individual artists (painters) becomes very apparent. The face shapes are also slightly different, probably due to differences in the mold stock (and possibly also production location.)
Here is the same lady bust as part of a pair, with both the male and female busts being stamped Cybis.
This pair of male and female busts are pure Cordey in design but are stamped Cybis. The number 40 probably refers to the colorway.
Here’s a situation where we have a pair but only the male bust is stamped Cybis; but it also bears typical Cordey numbering for mold and decoration. The female bust is not stamped Cybis and doesn’t seem to be marked Cordey either, although it too has a typical Cordey design code; I have no idea what the incised characters mean.
Dual Signature Cordey and Cybis Items
Just to muddy the waters irretrievably, a few items made their way out of the Trenton facility marked both Cordey and Cybis! A definite slip-up in quality control.
Here is the same female bust as shown above, with her male companion piece. Both are stamped Cybis in blue but the Cordey mold impression can also be discerned, although faintly. Whoever was supposed to have removed the Cordey impression from these molds did not do the best job of it. These same bust molds were used to make many Cordey-branded variations.
Here’s a somewhat unusual bust that is marked both Cordey as a mold impression and M.B. Cybis in paint; it also has a four-digit Cordey design code that seems to be 5003. It’s unusual because a couple of parts were decorated in black paint, which was less often used, and the signature seems to be in that color also, rather than the typical blue. The under-the-chin scarf-and-hat combo is also something a bit different, although IMHO not particularly attractive – it looks more like a bandage than a scarf!
This elaborately-gold-decorated dancing couple is commonly seen as Cordey pieces either singly or as a pair, but these are marked M. B. Cybis instead. The added numbers (200 on the woman, 200-A on the man) are puzzling, just as the 252-marked lady bust is. If this was meant to indicate the 200th example of this matched pair, why not 200-F and 200-M? Or at least A and B?
Here is a Cordey pair for comparison. The marks display more logic: 5090 and 5091 as the design numbers, 100 on both (for paint or decoration?) and the Cordey name as a mold impression. The base is decorated the same in both versions.
All of these examples show how difficult it is to distinguish some 1940s Cybis pieces from Cordey. Certainly, the Cordey ‘look’ is not something that most people would associate with Cybis, and the studio itself went to great pains to distance itself from all things Cordey after the death of Boleslaw Cybis. Nowhere in any piece of Cybis literature will you find any mention of Cordey; they seem to have regarded it as a sort of “red-headed stepchild” even though there are examples of Cybis-branded pieces (and vintage ads) for all to see. The 1970-71 museum exhibit catalog Cybis in Retrospect, which includes photos of some rarely-seen Cybis genres such as cup plate and lusterware reproductions, shows not one piece that resembles Cordey, and the Cordey operation is entirely omitted from the Cybis timeline pages. The Chorlton-owned studio clearly wanted to erase the Cordey connection from its history, and one can’t help wondering why. It’s true that the Cordey operation was spun off into different ownership in 1957, after which it went into bankruptcy two years later and was later acquired by a lamp manufacturer; but nobody is likely to confuse 1960s-1980s Cordey lamps with anything Cybis. The Cybises probably derived a good deal of revenue from the Cordey brand during the 1940s and 1950s (see my History of Cordey post if you’re interested in the timeline), and so it remains a puzzle as to why that part of Cybis history was later so completely disowned by the studio.
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