Cordey Figures and Smalls: A Retail History in Vintage Ads

This companion article to my Cordey Lamps in Vintage Ads post will look at their human figures and home décor objects. I’ve combined the two genres because most retailer ads contained both; ads showing Cordey lamps usually showed only those.

Retailer ads for Cordey items first appeared within a year of the company’s 1942 incorporation. These items were carried and advertised by a mix of gift shops and department stores. In addition to the ads illustrated here, the mid- to late 1940s also saw similar advertising from retailers in Baltimore, Salt Lake City, Shreveport, Scranton, Detroit, Fort Worth, Akron, Camden, and Nashville. The five newspaper ads below span the heyday of Cordey popularity and marketing, which was the mid-1940s to early 1950s.

1944 ad from John Wanamaker’s

This full-page ad appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer; John Wanamaker’s store in that city was one of the first American department stores. It opened during the late 1890s and remained one of Philadelphia’s iconic establishments. Among the Wanamaker store ‘firsts’ were many things that we take for granted today: price tags, the establishment of a restaurant within a retail store, the ability to return items for a refund, and advertising of wares in a newspaper. The store was also the first department store to have electric lights, a telephone, and a pneumatic tube system to transport cash and receipts from one part of the store to another without being hand-carried. Wanamaker’s was probably the most prestigious store to carry Cordey during the 1940s. The fact that the primary Cordey factory was also in Philadelphia was a definite plus! This 1944 ad text reads:

Artistic Gifts for the connoisseur with a taste for fine color, line and texture. Just a few examples of our lovely decorative accessories – for gifts and for your home.

The featured figure in this ad is the 26” high Mandarin Lady which, as we know, often differed in decoration from example to example. This item is listed in the ad as “Exquisite Chinese figure of Cordey porcelain” for $125.00 which was quite expensive for the time; after adjusting for inflation, that would be about $1800 in 2021 money.

The next most expensive items in the ad are the peasant children, sold separately at $18.50 each. These are 10.5” high and were Cordey design numbers 5047 and 5048. The ad describes them as “Victorian boy in tight knee breeches” and “Victorian girl Cordey porcelain”.

The candle holders, described as “Gracefully designed candlesticks of decorated porcelain” were also sold separately, at $15 each. These were Cordey design #8013 and are 11” wide.

The least expensive Cordey item in the ad is one of the ubiquitous lady torso pieces, about 10″ high. Listed as “Victorian lady of delicate Cordey porcelain”, it cost $10. An interesting quirk to this particular design (#5060) is that some of them have a painted-on necklace, while on others (like this one) it is molded.

Unfortunately, I could not find a real-life photo match for what appears to be a wide-mouth vase, although the ad describes it as “Intricate flower handles on white porcelain bowl” for $15.

1945 ad from Wales Decorators

Wales Decorators, in Washington D.C., is a great example of the kind of independent/mom-and-pop store that carried Cordey (and later, Cybis.) This half-page long vertical panel ad is titled Gifts dear to every bride’s heart; sadly, the central text is too small and pixelated to be readable even when zoomed.

The full-figure lady with the panniers (side bustles) was made in both pink and blue colorways. She is 12” high and is $25 in this ad – the only readable price in it.

This small torso piece is the one I always think of as the “shoulder-pad lady” – she’s very 1940s!

This small Cordey torso advertised in 1945 is regularly found for sale nowadays on eBay.

The small round trinket box is one of three décor items in this ad. It’s 7” in diameter, 5.25” high with the lid on, and was Cordey design #6041.

The bird on the flowering branch was a Cordey staple and is their design # 6004. This example matches the one in the ad sketch; however, some of them had a flower added to the end of both side branches, not just one of them. These pieces are 10” high.

The Cordey perfume bottle, design #7043, is 7” high including the stopper.

1946 ad from Woodward & Lothrop

Woodward & Lothrop was to Washington, D.C. what John Wanamaker’s was to Philadelphia. Like Wanamaker’s, “Woodies” opened in the late 1880s. This 1946 ad, in the Washington Evening Star newspaper, includes and illustrates a popular pair of Cordey figures:

Cordey creates a collection of china bibelots…including these delightful French court figurines $25 each.

Here the pink-colorway gentleman is marked 5042 but the pannier-wearing lady does not have her design number on the underside.

Here the blue gentleman is marked 5042 and 137; his companion is marked 5084A and 98 in paint, and impressed 5084 in the mold. Notice that in this pair the gentleman wears a periwig and his coat front is partly closed rather than open as in the pink version.

1947 ad from Wales Decorators

This Wales Decorators ad in a February 1947 issue of the Evening Star is especially interesting because it also mentions Cybis by name – although as an artist rather than as a brand.

These beautiful Cordey pieces bring to the home the hallowed charm of the old world and the striking beauty of the new …created by Cybis, one of Europe’s renowned ceramic specialists.

This text employs a bit of license, because when Boleslaw Cybis was living and working in Europe, he was first and foremost a painter, and did not begin to experiment with porcelain and related wares until after he came to the USA. This ad features décor items only.

The cigarette box is 5” long and priced at $9.98.

The candy box is also $9.98.

These days, we often forget how common ashtrays used to be! This one is about 5” in diameter and sold for $4.98.

1950 ‘sale’ ad from Sattler’s

This last ad is fascinating because it was placed by the Sattler’s store in Buffalo, NY, in the local Buffalo Courier Express in 1950. Sattler’s, like Wanamaker’s and Woodward’s, was a department store founded in the late 1890s but with a difference: It expanded a percentage-discount pricing policy to more than just a typical “bargain basement” section.

Beautiful Cordey China which compares in beauty and workmanship with some of the finest china art pieces made in the old world. Each piece is painstakingly created with exacting care for detail and color! A special purchase enables us to bring you this handsome china at sensationally low prices! Sorry, no mail or phone orders.

Notice that the ad gives the non-sale price as “value” rather than “regular” or “retail” price. Let’s take a look at what was on offer here, starting from the top left.

This 7”-high lady bust/torso wears a sunflower-shaped hat. She was Cordey design #4007. In the 1944 Wanamaker ad, a comparable but not identical piece cost $10. In this ad she is given a ‘value’ of $7.95 and a 50% discounted price of $3.95.

I couldn’t find an exact match for the round, footed box and so have moved on to this vase which is ‘valued’ at $15.95 but marked down by half to $6.95. It is 8.25” high.

There were so many of the two or three basic small-lady-torso examples made, in so many slight variations, that it’s sometimes impossible to find an exact match for a specific one in a vintage ad, but this is fairly close. It’s the smallest (6.5”-7” high) version, with either a single rose or small group at the center front, and some type of headgear. In this case, it’s ribbons and flowers rather than what looks like a small hat, and she doesn’t have the side ringlets like the one in the Sattler’s ad does. But both of them likely were priced the same.

On the other hand, this is an exact match for the 1950 photo. She is 6.5” high and priced the same as the adjacent example, discounted to $4.95 here.

Here’s the single candlestick/candleholder as a pair, which the ad acknowledges by noting that they are priced at $4.95 each. These are 7” high.

This lady with the wide-brimmed hat is the same height as the candle holder. She is given a $12.50 value and priced at $6.95 here.

This mold is what I call the “arms-front torso” and at 9” is taller than the lady with the hat, although you wouldn’t know it from the ad layout. Her larger size also increased the cited pricing ($13.50 to $7.95.)

The two most expensive items in the ad are the full figures. If the examples above are not the exact same pair photographed in the ad, they are remarkably close to it! They are 13” high. Listed as “Colonial Figures” with a value of $29.95, they are marked down to $19.95 each. This makes them the only items that with a ticket price of one-third, rather than one-half, of the cited retail value. It would be interesting to find a 1950 ad from a full-price retailer, to see what the competition’s sticker price was at the same time!

And finally, here is the second style of candle holder, again shown as a pair. Sattler’s also made clear that their $7.45 ticket price was for a single rather than a pair. Although this is only ½ inch taller than the $4.95 one, it is wider and has more flowers and leaves.

The early 1950s was a turbulent time for the Cordey operation, which may account for the fact that post-1950 ads for figures and ‘smalls’ are hard to find. The Philadelphia factory definitely shifted its focus even more to lamps at this time, and as for the Trenton shop, they were having problems (labor and otherwise) of their own in the early 1950s. It is easier to find Cordey lamp ads during that decade than ads for figures and décor items. Keep in mind, also, that the 1950s saw the emergence of the mainstream-market Cybis-branded religious figures as well.

Speaking of Cordey lamps, keep an eye out for an upcoming Archive post showing some of their more unusual designs!

Browse other posts about Cordey

Name Index of Cybis Sculptures (no Cordey)
Visual Index (for Cybis human figures/busts only)

About the Cybis Reference Archive
What is Cybis?

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