Cybis Retailer-Event and Private-Commission Sculptures

Back in the heyday of art porcelain collecting, most purchasers belonged to one or more of three general categories: (a) They bought whatever sculptures they liked, budget permitting; (b) they focused mainly on certain genres, which the Cybis studio termed ‘Collections’ – more about those in a future post; and/or (c) they made their purchase decisions with an eye to future value appreciation (and we all know how that turned out.) But as time went on and the art porcelain market changed, some collectors narrowed their focus to pieces that were not easy to locate or even to know about. Basically, that means the various retailer-event editions or (even more of a challenge) pieces that Cybis produced as private commissions.

Private-Commission Sculptures

These really are the needle-in-a-haystack Cybis pieces, because they received the least exposure of any of the studio’s sculptures. They are not mentioned in any Cybis literature, and often their availability was only disclosed to a relatively small group of people – perhaps the employees of a single company, the members of a specific club or organization, or the parishioners of an individual church. Because of this extremely limited ‘advertising’, other Cybis collectors never knew about them unless they were part of, or knew someone in, that group.  A private commission could be a uniquely colored or decorated version of an existing piece, or a porcelain copy of an object that was of particular significance to the commissioning client.

SPIRIT OF ECSTASY Rolls Royce Flying Lady by Cybis view 1A great example of a private commission is the Spirit of Ecstasy requested in the late 1970s by the Rolls-Royce Owners Club for availability in 1979 which was the car’s 75th anniversary year. The full story of the creation of the ‘Flying Lady’ is told in her own Archive post, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that the original plan was for Cybis to make either 400 or 500 of them. The end result was only 101 pieces: 90 numbered, ten numbered artist’s proofs, and one un-numbered by request. All of the advertising for the Spirit was done by the Rolls-Royce Owners Club in several print venues including nationwide auto magazines such as Motor Trend as well as the Club’s own publication. This relatively wide-ranging outreach was the reason for the initial edition-size estimate. To what extent did a lack of consumer response factor into its subsequent reduction? We don’t know for sure, but it must have had some impact.

RYDER CUP TROPHY by Cybis view 1In 1987 the Ryder Cup was held at the Muirfield Village Golf Club, owned by Jack Nicklaus. The Club management wanted two porcelain commemoratives to mark the occasion – one a limited edition and the other as a memento item.

These pieces also have their own Archive post, with additional photos and details. Between 20 and 25 porcelain replicas of the Ryder Cup were made. This piece was, like the Spirit of Ecstasy, simply a copy of an item supplied to Cybis by the client. The actual Ryder Cup is 17” tall; the Cybis Ryder Cup is 15” tall. One of the official replicas of the Cup was no doubt lent to the studio so they could make a casting of it; two inches is a very common dimensional reduction when downsizing. The Cybis cups are not numbered, which is odd but perhaps the client didn’t want it done. There have been a few instances of these coming up for sale but without any numbers it’s impossible to know if any of those were ‘repeats.’

The Ryder Heart Box was easy for the studio to do: Just take the 1987 Stars and Stripes Heart Box shown on the left, add an inscription to the normally-blank scroll on the lid, and another on the underside of the lower half. It’s not known how many of these were made.

In 1994 the Trenton Savings Bank requested a commemorative piece for their 150th anniversary. Cybis used the mold from their 1990 open-edition introduction Young Eagle which had already been re-used by them in 1992 as a “new” (quotes deliberate) retail piece called Bald Eagle, removed the wood base, and added marks on the underside. This is one of only three known instances (so far) when Cybis used a decal rather than hand-writing everything on their items. Clearly, their client (the bank) wanted their anniversary logo on the commissioned item and a decal was the only way to do that. The production quantity is unknown.

Another latter-day private commission was done for an invitation-only charity gala benefitting the Chi Chi Rodriguez Foundation in Clearwater, Florida. The piece used the open edition Woolie Bear who was a late-1990s introduction. For the charity event he was painted light golden brown and gained a hat sporting a golf club decoration. This piece was titled Chi Chi and The Bear because Jack Nicklaus (a/k/a “The Golden Bear”) also attended the event. The production run was probably either 100 or 200; they are not individually numbered. I’ve only ever seen two come up for sale and one had a badly damaged hat.

This vase is a real head-scratcher, because it’s clearly a registered trademark or logo of something or other, even though I’ve been unable to match it with anything via either image or trademark searches. It was among the many multi-item mixed lots in the studio’s liquidation auction sales and is signed Cybis in the normal way, so it was clearly a commissioned piece that they made for a client at some point. This is a great illustration of how such Cybis pieces can fly under the radar indefinitely. If anyone happens to recognize this logo, do let me know, because I’m curious!

Retailer-Event Pieces

The other hard-to-find Cybis pieces are the ones that were chosen for a specific year’s retailer Cybis events. I hesitate to call these “annual” retailer event pieces because I don’t know if the studio offered one every year; neither do I know when they began this practice, nor when it completely ceased. It was definitely ‘a thing’ during the 1970s and 1980s, though!

Retailer-event pieces (I will just call them REPs from now on) were always an alternate form, in color and/or decoration, of an already-existing Cybis open-edition retail piece. Sometimes the piece selected was also a new introduction that year, but not always. The studio would decide how many they were going to make – usually 200, 300, or 400 – after consulting with their largest retailers; that amount was set as the total for that year. Availability was first-come, first-served and so it behooved the retailers to get onto the Cybis new-intro event list earlier rather than later. Retailers who didn’t have the ability (either square footage or otherwise) to host one of these events would have to miss out. Each participating retailer did their own advertising of that year’s REP.

Here’s part of the spring 1983 price list printed by Armstrong’s Gallery, one of the highest-volume Cybis retailers (others included Brielle Galleries, Reese Palley, and Wakefield-Scearce.) It shows the designated REP for that year and encourages their customers to place an order in advance. Their event/party was on April 9th. These lists were mailed out to their customer database. (Can you spot the spelling error? Clearly, their proofreader didn’t!)

Zelden’s, another California retailer, chose to advertise their event in a local paper. It’s not known if Armstrong’s did the same. Zelden’s event was three weeks after the one at Armstrong’s, so there’s no knowing how many of the allotment of the 400 April were actually available to Zelden’s customer base by that time. Living on the opposite coast from these retailers, I never even knew about this particular REP until the early 2000s, when I happened to come across this ad in a newspaper-archive search for something else!

Before we get into a listing of the known REPs, I should mention that identifying them can be tricky. Just because a piece is a differently-decorated version of an existing Cybis, doesn’t necessarily mean that it was once a REP. Sometimes they were both normal retail versions that were available to everyone.

“Barnaby” is a good example. There are three differences between these two: their body color, the production timeframe for the white one, and their advertised names. The brown one was advertised as either Bear ‘Barnaby’ or Circus Bear ‘Barnaby’ depending on what you were reading. Only the white one was advertised as Barnaby the Bicentennial Bear…despite the fact that both of them have 200th on their trumpet! Neither of these were ever used as a REP; they were both standard retail open editions, although the white one was only produced during the Bicentennial year (1976.) Both bears were retired in 1977.

Another possible point of confusion is numbering, because the studio sometimes numbered a given year’s REP… but sometimes not. They were wildly inconsistent about that. Normally I would have said that if you see an alternate-decoration of a known open edition that is nevertheless numbered, it’s probably a REP – until I learned something about certain 1987 pieces.

In 1987 the studio set up a new category called The Constitutional Collection because that was the year of the US Constitution’s bicentennial. Among the new introductions that year were First Born, Virginia Dare and the Golden Eagle. The Liberty Bell was another such new item, and all were normal open editions although the bell and the eagle came in a choice between color and white. However, the studio advertised that any of the ‘Constitution’ pieces physically created during the months of May, June, July or August 1987 (the “Constitutional Celebration” months) would be individually numbered in order to acknowledge that fact. After August 1987, they wouldn’t be numbered. I know they did it with Virginia Dare because I have seen numbered and un-numbered ones come up for sale (the highest numbered one so far is 165.)  I’ve never seen a numbered Liberty Bell, nor any of the Golden Eagle at all. But I can envision someone coming across a numbered example of any of these and assuming that it is either a limited edition or a numbered REP. Wrong on both counts, sadly!

Known Retailer-Event Pieces (REPs)

All of the sculptures in this section are known to have been REPs at some point, although the specific year is often an estimate; I recall some of them from personal experience but because we only chose to buy four of those designs at the time, and I no longer own them or their original receipt, I can’t tell you the exact REP year. Because most retailers advertised these by direct mail to their own customer base, they usually don’t show up in newspaper-ad archive searches. I’ve sorted them roughly in a general way by decade of the piece’s first appearance as a REP.

I only recently found out that there was a retailer-special version of Thumbelina, who was an open edition from 1967 until 1972. During a conversation with David Armstrong, owner of Armstrong’s Gallery, he mentioned that the studio had done a specially decorated edition of 100 for his gallery to give as a gift to his best customers at a holiday party. This special version has a book on her lap with Merry Christmas written on the pages. I’ve often wondered if it is the same book mold that had been previously used for Alice in Wonderland. I’ve never seen one of these come up for sale, but with such a small quantity made – and allowing for the inevitable attrition due to breakage over the years – the odds of that are slim indeed. However, if any reader does have one, I’d love a photo! There is a contact form link at the bottom of this post.

Here’s an unusual case of a retired open edition being resurrected for use as a REP. First Flight (holding the bird) was made for one decade (1963-1973) and then retired. Nevertheless, she was selected by the studio as their REP for 1976, in which they replaced the bird with flowers, changed her hair ribbon color to orange, and named her First Bouquet. If memory serves, she was an edition of 300 and definitely is not numbered.

The standard retail Betty Blue was offered continuously from 1974 onward. The pink version was a REP from the mid or late 1970s, dubbed Patty Pink by the studio (but not all REPs were given a special name) and was claimed by Brielle Galleries to be an edition of 100. These are not numbered and I wonder whether she was, like the Christmas Thumbelina, a gallery-specific piece or if Brielle was only allotted 100 of a larger REP production run.

Pandora had two REP versions that I am aware of. The normal retail Pandora, made from 1967 until the early 1980s, is the one in the pink-trimmed dress. During the mid-1970s she was selected as an un-numbered REP edition of 200, titled Pandora in Blue.

She was used again, but in an entirely different decoration, as the REP for 1983. In this incarnation she was titled April and had an individually-numbered production run of 400. Despite having a larger REP edition size than most, I have only seen three of these come up for sale during the past decade.

The standard pink-decorated Melissa was sold from 1976 to 1980. The blue version is a REP from that same time period; her name, if she had one, is not known and she is not numbered.

The top two bunnies were both retail editions. Bunny ‘Pat-a-Cake’ was made from 1977 to 1981. The white Bunny ‘Bisquit’ was introduced in 1978 and retired sometime between 1983 and 1987. The REP, from the late 1970s, was called Pat-a-Cake in White with Carrot and was a numbered production run of 200. It is Bisquit with a carrot added and the base given a different treatment: moss instead of daisies and leaves. This REP is extremely unusual in that the edition size is indicated along with the numbering; it is the only Cybis design (regardless of type, edition, or purpose) that I have ever seen with this numbering format. Normally, only the sculpture number is shown, never the edition size. I know that the piece shown above is not a one-off because we had one of these, and ours was numbered the same way.

ESKIMO CHILD heads SNOW BUNTING and NANUQ LITTLE POLAR BEAR both by CybisThe child bust at left is the normal open edition Eskimo Child ‘Snow Bunting’ which was made from 1972 to 1981. The example on the right is the late-1970s REP called Nanuq, Little Polar Bear and was a numbered run of 200.
This third piece may have been either a later REP or a one-of-a-kind presentation piece; either way, it was called Ahmah and may have also been titled either Eskimo Girl or Eskimo Child. There is a record of her having been given as an official gift in 1975 which fits right in with the timeframe for both of the other pieces.

WENDY and BETSEY BOBBIN by CybisWendy was used for at least three REP editions that I know of, and another that I was told of anecdotally. The standard Wendy (upper photo, left) was available from 1957 to the mid-1980s when she was finally retired. The version on the right in that photo is the 1982 REP which was titled Betsy Bobbin and was even given a backstory by the studio. She was a numbered production run of 300.

The lower image shows a 1970s REP that may have been the first one in which her dress was decorated with painted flowers. This was titled, rather prosaically, Wendy in Blue and Floral Decoration and was an edition of either 200 or 300; I confess that, even though we once owned one of these (from the Brielle Galleries event) I can’t recall which edition size she was. She was not numbered. The other example, with peach/apricot trim and holding a spray of matching flowers, was a REP from an unknown year.

The anecdotal Wendy REP was supposedly one decorated in a Hallowe’en motif in orange and black. Because Cybis retailer events were always held in the Spring and Fall (often April and October), I can easily imagine this being a great REP idea. I would love to see a photo of one, and so if anyone happens to have a “Hallowe’ndy” (sorry, could not resist!) on a shelf, there’s a contact form link below…

CHILD CLOWN HEAD FUNNY FACE regular and holly editions by CybisFunny Face had two normal retail editions, at least one REP edition, and at least one private-commission edition! This image shows the original retail Funny Face on the right, available continuously from 1976 onward. In 1978 the studio added Funny Face with Holly, shown here at left. Both of these were standard retail editions.

On the left is Funny Face in Green with Daisy, which was available at Reese Palley Galleries as a REP in the early 1980s; it was a numbered run of supposedly only 150. In 1987, the Claridge Casino/Hotel in Atlantic City commissioned 300 specially decorated ones to be used as table centerpieces for their New Year’s Eve celebration and then raffled off at the end of the night. This individually numbered piece is titled Lucky on a brass plaque affixed to the front of the base. ‘Lucky’ is thus a private commission piece rather than a retailer event piece.

The upper photo shows the two retail editions of the same hippopotamus. Hippo ‘T.G.I.F’ appeared in 1986 and continued in the Cybis lineup thereafter. In 1995 the studio created a New Jersey themed retail collection and added Hippo Baseball Fan ‘Play Ball’ to that lineup. However, the original hippo with baseball cap and popcorn had been created in 1985 by Cybis artist William Pae; the studio didn’t bring it into the retail line for another decade. On the other hand, the Hippo with Butterfly was produced as the studio’s REP for 1987. Some of these were signed by Joseph Chorlton at various retailer events but are not numbered.

Baby Rhino with butterfly by CybisThis piece had two standard retail versions: Baby Rhino ‘Monday’, available from 1985 onward (at left), and Baby Rhino ‘Love is Blind’ from 1987 onward. The version with the butterfly on his nose (snatched from the retired 1960s Pansies pieces) was a REP at some point during the late 1980s. They were not numbered.

I feel confident in saying that one of the final – if not the final – retail event pieces was the one made in 1996. The original open edition was Young Rose, with pink trim and flower, who appeared in 1987 and spent most of her retail life in the studio’s Wedding category where she was regarded as a bridesmaid. However, during the second year of the studio’s short-lived (1995-1997) Cybis Collectors Society, Theresa Chorlton attended a retailer event at a Florida shop called Roberta’s Collectibles, who advertised the event along with the availability of a blue version called Roberta.

That production run is numbered, and some were signed on the bottom by Theresa, who signed as T. Rose (her maiden name) rather than as Chorlton.

The last two examples show pieces that were possibly or probably REPs.

This one is the “possibly”, because the outlier example was among the items in the studio’s 2019/2020 liquidation sales and thus could instead just be a test piece.  The upper image shows two normal retail versions. The one with the yellow-trimmed dress is Clarissa, introduced in 1986. The other, with the flowers replaced by hearts and with a small heart in her hand, is Little Heart who appeared in 1987 in the studio’s new “Sweetheart/Valentine” category. What I don’t know is whether the red version of Little Heart was a late-1980s REP, or just a test piece. If I ever find a photo of an additional red one, that will indicate that it was a REP edition.

I have a really strong hunch about this one, but again no confirmation because I’ve seen only a single example. The top image shows the standard retail versions of The Prince and The Pauper, both of whom were introduced in 1987 and retired in either 1994 or 1995 (I have no price lists for either year and so cannot check which.) My hunch concerns the second image, which is the same two pieces but made in white bisque with gold accents. It is quite possible that this pair could have been a special REP for 1989, which was the studio’s advertised 50th year and, ironically, also the final year of ‘normal’ studio operations. The studio went rather hog-wild doing things in a white/gold version for that year, and so it certainly would have made sense to have gone above and beyond for retailer events also. If these were indeed “Golden Anniversary” retailer event pieces, they would not appear on any normal Cybis price lists but as per Murphy’s Law, I don’t have any such lists from 1989 either.

The studio did produce a version of The Prince in 1996 for its special Collector’s Society piece which they called the Golden Prince. Shown at left in this image, his decoration is not the same as whatever the “mystery gold-and-white” prince was; not only does he have a crown instead of a plumed hat, but the Golden Prince actually has less gold decoration! This seems illogical until one remembers that in 1996 the studio no longer had a full-time staff of artists, and the ones who were available were not the same ‘crew’ who were around during the 1980s.

If anyone has a Cybis retailer event piece not shown here, or any paperwork giving a specific purchase year, I’d love to add that information to this post. There is a contact form at the bottom of the page.

Are the Retailer Event Pieces and Private Commission Pieces More Valuable?

Ah, that is indeed the question. In today’s market the answer depends entirely on whether a potential buyer is interested in such pieces specifically (as compared to the piece’s standard retail edition). If not, the fact that the REP or privately-commissioned piece was originally available to a much smaller audience, and was made in a smaller quantity, won’t matter one bit. In that case it will simply come down to whether or not the buyer likes the way it looks, and the REP won’t be any more valuable than the standard edition piece that it was based on.

Let’s use the Pandora versions as an example. In 1975 the standard edition sold for $95; there are 14 of them for sale on eBay right now, all in Buy It Now format and most with the “or Best Offer” option. The asking prices range from $19.99 to $125 even though the most recent actual sale of one was for only $12.00 plus shipping. A sensible real-world price would be somewhere around $20, depending on whether or not shipping is extra.

The REP Pandora in Blue sold for either $135 or $150, if I recall correctly (we bought one at the time but no longer have it or the receipt.) I thought the blue version (my favorite color!) was nicer than the standard version, which I hadn’t bought because my reaction to it had been “meh.” But if a blue one showed up on eBay nowadays, it would be unlikely to go for more than a standard Pandora does. One did appear in a brick-and-mortar auction house lot in January 2021, along with a Heidi and a Pollyanna. The asking opening bid for the group of three was $20; it got none, and the lot was passed unsold…as did most regular Pandoras because there are simply too many of them out there.

As you’ve seen, when April was the 1983 REP she was priced at $345 but that was at the height of the art porcelain/collectibles craze. At that time the standard Pandora was still available for $265 but it should be noted that Armstrong’s still had some leftover Pandora in Blue available at the same price as the regular Pandora version. So at the retail level the blue and the standard versions were already valued the same. Because the difference in April was more than just a paint color change, Cybis clearly thought that an $80 upcharge would not be a deterrent – and in that market, at that time, it wasn’t.

I personally think that April is much nicer than either of the previous Pandora versions. About 10 years ago I saw one for sale online for the ridiculous price of almost $800. This is a seller whose asking prices are always above market (no, it’s not Replacements.com although theirs are likewise) so there was no way I would ever pay that much, even though I fell in love with the piece at my first sight of the photo. I assumed, rightly, that with up to 400 of them made, at least one would be bound to pop up somewhere else eventually – and indeed one did, two years ago on eBay for $39.95 in mint condition, which I snapped up in the proverbial New York Minute. (It was one of only two Cybis that I wanted to acquire after having to sell most of our collection twenty years ago, so I would have paid somewhat more but was happy to not need to!) I believe another April showed up on eBay since then, for under $100. If you are a collector of, or want to collect, Cybis retailer event pieces, you only need to be patient. As a seller, you need to realize that there isn’t much –  if any – difference between the market value of those versus the regular retail edition.

The private-commission pieces are trickier, because there probably aren’t any prior sales to compare them to if one does appear. They might well also be “genre” subjects: Who but a golf aficionado would likely be interested in a porcelain reproduction of the Ryder Cup? How many people do you know who would want a porcelain Rolls-Royce ‘Flying Lady’? In this way the private commissions are somewhat like the North American Indian pieces, i.e., very much a niche item. It will be the subject that “sells” a private-commission piece, not the Cybis name nor its originally-restricted distribution. They are the ultimate market-value toss-up!

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