Cybis Collection Categories (or, Too Much of a Good Thing)

A feature (or a bug, depending on how you look at it) of the Cybis studio’s advertising strategy was to assign each retail sculpture to a named genre-category which they called a Collection. This approach was not fully adopted until almost two decades after the inception of the Cybis brand, but it would eventually run amok, proving the old adage that you can indeed have too much of a good thing.

Because I have not yet found any Cybis price lists from the 1950s – if indeed there were any, other than order forms given directly to retailers – the earliest Chorlton-era price list I have is from 1963.
This list puts all eleven limited-edition pieces, regardless of subject, into their own section. The non-limited editions are sorted into six genres: Objects d’Art, Animals, Decorative Accessories, Birds, Madonnas & Angels, and Religious. The “Objects d’Art” category, being mainly non-religious human figures, contains three designs that one would think should belong elsewhere. For example, why is the #2144 Crucifix here instead of in Religious, as is the #2542 Crucifix? Why aren’t the Horse and Horse Head ‘Racer’ in Animals? The design number formats of all three coincide with the pieces that are in those categories.

However, by the 1966 list (which is the next one I have), all those categories have disappeared, replaced by only two: Limited Editions and Non-Limited Porcelains. This format continued in 1967 and (one assumes) in 1968, broken only by one new section in 1969.The July 1969 list includes a section titled North American Indian Series, showing the first three pieces which are already listed as being “completed” even though they had only been introduced a few months earlier! The July 1970 list is a similar format, except that there is now a short introductory section headed New Releases and then broken down into the two new limited and two new non-limited pieces.

The ‘Collections’ format first appeared in either 1971 or 1972; I don’t have any 1971 lists but I do have the Fall 1972 one. It shows the New Releases, followed by the Non-Limited (notice that the non-limited offerings are now “editions” rather than “porcelains”) broken down into three themed collections: Woodland Collection (which includes birds and flowers), Animal Kingdom, and Storybook Collection. The limited editions have seven: Birds, Flowers, Biblical, Personages, Animal Kingdom, Commemorative, and North American Indian Series. Thus, the initial ‘Cybis Collection Count’ was a total of 10 because there were two separate Animal Kingdom ones. In Spring 1973, some of the collection names were changed. The Storybook collection was renamed Children to Cherish. Over in the Limiteds, the Flowers collection was renamed Porcelain Gardens and a Children to Cherish Collection was added for them as well but with only two residents: the Baby Bust and the first Rapunzel.

1974 saw some noticeable changes in the marketing format. The New Releases heading is now Introductions and the rest of the price list is headed Collections. The Personages collection was renamed Portraits in Porcelain, and two new collections were added: Carousel and Fantasia. In addition, every Collection group now contains all of the available sculptures within them – both limited and non-limited – instead of separating them. This made the list much more user-friendly. The total Collection count was now 11, plus the Limnettes which were separate and would disappear as an available series shortly thereafter.

The 1975 list sees two additional collections: Children of the World (for the Eskimo and two Indian Child busts) and Caprice for three new items best described as home décor. The Commemorative category doesn’t appear in the Spring list because there are no longer any available pieces in it, but reappears in the Fall because of the introduction of the George Washington Bust. The Circus collection is also inaugurated with three animals, as well as a Bicentennial Collection. The George Washington Bust appears in two categories: Commemorative and Bicentennial. (I’ll have a few words to say about the Commemorative Collection later.)
A rather odd new collection called North American is also added, containing the Eskimo Mother and the American White Buffalo (who is also in the Animal Kingdom) as well as the completed ‘Magic Boy’ who used to be in Commemorative. This Fall 1975 list is the first one where some pieces are assigned to more than one Collection. Because the North American section appears just beneath the North American Indians one, it looks rather confusing. It makes the reader wonder, “North American what?”

With so many new sculptures being issued every year, the studio soon had to do some Collection-consolidation in order to keep their price lists the same physical size and format. In 1976 they combined Birds and Porcelain Gardens into a Birds and Flowers Collection. All of the denizens of the Animal Kingdom and the Woodland Collection were merged into a single Animal Kingdom and Woodland (logical!) heading. But there were still 14 different Collections in all.

Because the Bicentennial year was only 1976, the studio chose to put those pieces into a new Americana Collection in Spring 1977. The addition of the Land of Chimeric collection upped the Collections count to 15 although, frankly, there is no logical reason why the new two fairy pieces (Marigold and Tiffin) couldn’t have gone into Fantasia instead. More Collection-squishing took place in the Fall 1977 list by eliminating the North American Collection, putting its’ residents into Americana and renaming it the Americana-Commemorative Collection. (Confused yet?)

The Spring 1978 list has some big changes, including…suddenly, no more Collection headings!! All the sculptures are instead shown as one giant list, alphabetically by name, with their Collection assignment shown at the end of each line. On this list, the North American Indians series has been converted to American Indian, and the Circus and Carousel collections combined into a single Carousel-Circus. This is also the first appearance of the word Open to describe the non-limited-edition pieces.

In the Spring 1980 (“40th Anniversary”) price list, the Collection headings have returned – and with a vengeance, the word now appearing at the top of every panel! There are a baker’s dozen. Carousel-Circus remain combined, Commemorative has returned as a separate Collection with one entry (the Polish Bride), and there are two new ones: Sports Scenes and Theatre of Porcelain. That latter category was created by inserting the Court Jester, who had previously lived in Portraits in Porcelain ever since his introduction in 1978. He was joined in Fall 1980 by Harlequin (these two are sometimes confused with each other, as mentioned in the Jester’s dedicated Archive post.) The Sports Scenes Collection existed for only a single year; its only two residents, the male and female joggers, were retired in Spring 1981. The Fall 1981 list added a new category called Cybis in Retrospect, containing just one piece: Adoration, which could easily have gone into Biblical because it’s a nativity subject.

These 13 categories remained essentially unchanged through most of the 1980s. However, a 1984 retailer ad for the newly introduced Rose ‘Love Song’ cites it as being in the Courtyard Collection. Because I have no price lists for 1983-1987, I’ve no idea whether there were any other sculptures in it; my 1988 list includes neither that collection nor that rose, whose edition was closed before completion.

Sometime in the mid-1980s the studio revamped their retail price lists into what they called an Alphabetical Guide by Collection. This list is from February 1988 and displays several major changes, which I suspect were prompted by recent major changes in the ‘front office’. For one thing, all the design numbers were converted into five digits from their original 3- or 4-digit form. All limited-editions now have their issues shown in a mysterious xxx/xx format; the real story behind this is revealed in my post discussing Artist Proofs. We also see a population explosion of Collections: there are 21 of them on this list! Interestingly, the small color brochures that Cybis published in the early 1980s rarely mentioned what Collection the new piece was in, until 1987; I suspect that year may be when this new-format price list debuted as well. On the 1988 list the separate Collections are Animal Kingdom & Woodland, Birds & Flowers, Carousel, Children to Cherish, Christmas/Easter/Biblical, Madonnas, Nativity Set, Circus, Classical Impressions, Constitutional, Cousteau Society (two items), Fantasia, Heritage (one item), Land of Chimeric, Midnight (three all-black items), Mother & Child (including three color versions of the Lullaby Baby in Moon), North American Indian, Portraits in Porcelain, Special Occasion Gifts, Sweetheart, and Wedding/Anniversary/Romance. Whew!

Oddly, there are almost no double-listed items in this new format except for the Mothers Day Plate which is in both Mother & Child and Special Occasion Gifts. But on the other hand, some assignments are very odd indeed! For example, someone looking for the Baby Owl would only find it in Animal Kingdom & Woodland; it is not in Birds. And the version of the Baby Owl with a sprig of holly (Owl ‘Snowy’) is not in either of those Collections but is under Christmas/Easter/Biblical instead! If I were looking for any kind of owl, I’d look in a Birds Collection; wouldn’t you?

Things got even worse, collection/category-wise, in 1990 after the studio re-opened, because their 1990s lists were further divided into ‘sub-collections’. This is where the entire Collections concept – which had been logical, barring a few pieces who were bounced from one to another for a while during the 1970s and early 1980s – went completely and entirely bonkers. Many of these so-called Collections never had more than one or two pieces in them; and to add insult to injury, the lists are rife with spelling errors. Let’s take the November 1993 list as a gruesome example.

The first named Collection is, as usual, Animal Kingdom and Woodland. Under this one Collection heading there are 19 – yes, nineteen – subsidiary collections! Bears Collection, Bunny Collection, Bunny Golfer Collection, Bunny Royal Couple (only two, obviously), Bunnies Special Edition Collection, Buffalo Collection (one item), Bull Collection (one item), Cat Collection (two cats), Chipmonks (misspelled just like that and containing one piece which is clearly a squirrel rather than a chipmunk!), Deer Collection, Dog Collection (one dog), Dolphin Whale and Seal Collection, Hippo and Rhino Collection (two items), Horse Collection (one horse), Musical Menagerie (five, with two name misspellings), Pig Collection (two items, one with name misspelled), Squirrel Collection (one single squirrel), Walrus Collection (only the one) and Woodchuck Collection (only the one, and with his name misspelled.)

As you can see from this snip, not every relevant piece was shown where one would expect to find it, based on its subject – for example, suppose one wanted to see the prices of all the available Cybis bunnies, for which there are four sub-Collections within the Animal & Woodland Collection itself. But there’s a parenthetical note advising that other bunnies exist in the Musical Menagerie Collection and in the Christmas Collection. Aren’t they ‘special bunnies’ also? The Hall of Fame Buffalo II  isn’t considered part of the Buffalo Collection (why not, since it’s a buffalo?), the Carousel Bull ‘Plutus’ doesn’t get to be in the Bull Collection (again: why not?), and so on. There are many instances like these. And yes, the word ‘Bonnett’ should contain only one t.

The 1990s Cybis price lists contain an astonishing total of 66 separate “Collections”, plus two pages containing only the New Jersey Collection and Hall of Fame Collection items. Of those sixty-six Collection headings, ten have only a single item in them. Fourteen of the Collections never contained more than two items. The eight PDF pages are among the most user-unfriendly retail price lists I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. If I were a potential new customer looking through any of these, I’d probably end up tossing it aside in frustration while wondering why a company asking so much money for their products wouldn’t even bother to have anyone proofread their price list for spelling errors (there are 22 of them on the 1993 list.)

Did the Cybis ‘Collections’ Really Matter?

Almost all porcelain studios utilized a collection/genre concept in some form, because it made sense. Boehm’s 1953 retail price list is divided into eight categories: Dogs, Horses, Cattle, Birds, Wildlife, Religious Items, Decorative Accessories, and their five-design Childhood of the Gods Series. A price list from Connoisseur of Malvern in 1987 is divided into Historical and Geographical Studies (a very awkward title for human figures), Mythical and Ballet Studies, Bird Studies, Flower and Butterfly Studies, Wild Life Studies, Equestrian Studies, the English Countryside and Garden Blossoms Series, and their Shakespeare’s Flowers series of plaques. The Burgues studio stuck to basics; their 1979 price list is divided into only five categories: Animals, Birds, Figurines (human figures), Fish, and Flowers. Each entry shows the sculpture name, edition size (all were limited), and price; that’s it. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity!

ESKIMO MOTHER by CybisThe Cybis studio’s use of Collections began in a sensible fashion, although there were already signs in the 1970s indicating that it could eventually get out of hand. A good example is the Eskimo Mother who at her 1973 introduction was put into the Portraits in Porcelain Collection. This was probably because Cybis was adding pieces to their North American Indians series at the time but, because the Eskimo Mother had no tribal designation/identification, they decided not to put her there – even though her design number (708) corresponds to the pieces in the North American Indians series! The only other adult-human Collection available was Portraits in Porcelain. She stayed there for two more years. In 1976, when the studio created the oddly-named North American Collection, she was moved to there. When that was eliminated in 1977, she and the American White Buffalo were tossed into the one-year-wonder Americana-Commemorative Collection. When that Collection disappeared in 1978, she was shunted back into Portraits in Porcelain (it’s enough to make a gal positively dizzy!), and stayed there until Spring 1980 when she was finally put into the North American Indians Collection where, according to her design number and good common sense, she should have resided from the start.

I’ve already mentioned how the Spring 1980 Theatre of Porcelain Collection was created by moving the Court Jester into it from Portraits in Porcelain. Why the studio did that then, rather than simply waiting to inaugurate it in Fall 1980 when they introduced the opera character Harlequin, is a mystery.

Although it’s impossible to know how many Cybis collectors actually ‘followed’ the various collections – e.g., wanting to acquire every piece in a specific Collection category – when the studio played musical chairs with their Collection assignments, it could have consequences. Someone who was determined to collect all of the North American Indians pieces might not have considered buying the Eskimo Mother until all of a sudden she appeared in that category on the Spring 1980 price list. At that point she was listed as nc (‘near closing’) which meant that anyone wanting to have a supposedly-complete North American Indians Collection had better get a move on.

For less-expensive sculptures (the Eskimo Mother closed at $2500) most Collection-hopping incidents were likely of little importance, especially for the bird, flower, and animal pieces. It was when the studio began creating multiple individual categories for human subjects that the slippery slope began. That said, it never occurred to me to base my Cybis-purchase decisions on the studio’s Collection designations and so I simply ignored them.

One could logically argue that after 1980 all adult human non-religious figures could have gone into Portraits in Porcelain, all child figures other than the busts into Children to Cherish, and all vases, boxes, bowls, plates and plaques, etc., into a Decorative Accessories Collection. Retain Children of the World for the child busts, keep Birds & Flowers, Animals, Biblical/Religious, North American Indians, Carousel, and Circus (there were always some in those two) and you’d have 10 named Collections in all – a nice round number that would eliminate any need for any sculpture to go Collection-hopping. One would need to add the regrettable Hall of Fame Collection in 1990, in order to distinguish those from their predecessors, which would then end the Collection Count at 11. The retail version of the Chess Set, being neither a strictly human figure nor what most people would think of as a ‘decorative accessory’, would probably need to stand alone for as long as it was available (which seems to have been a fairly short time.) I can’t think of any other Cybis release that could not fit into one of these 11 hypothetical ‘collection’ categories.

I promised to say something about the so-called Commemorative Collection. The word ‘commemorative’ first appears on the July 1971 price list, in the description of Tranquility Base, Apollo 11 Commemorative which is listed only under the New Releases/Limited Editions heading. However, when the Collections format appeared on 1972 lists, there was a Commemorative Collection of four sculptures: Columbia in which each of the 200 figures had a plaque on its base designating a specific event in US history; Conductor’s Hands ‘The Maestro’ which commemorated what would have been Arturo Toscanini’s 100th birthday; Tranquility Base which commemorated the first moon landing; and Cree ‘Magic Boy’ which was created for the Centennial of the Manitoba Province in Canada. In 1976 three more were added. It’s fair to say that the George Washington Bust commemorates our first president; the Eagle Atop the Palisades did indeed commemorate the State of New Jersey’s centennial, and the Colonial Flower Basket contains the official flower of each of the 13 original states. So there was logic at work there.

However, in the 1978/79 catalog Appendix, the studio threw a number of pieces into the Commemorative category that originally were simply OOAK (one of a kind) presentation items: the 1975 American Buffaloes; the 1964 Crown Crested Crane, Floral Bouquet of the United States, and Saint Peter (also OOAKs); and the original 1972 gift-of-state Chess Set and its artists proofs. They also assigned their new 1979 Holy Child of Prague Plaque to that Collection, the reasoning apparently being that the plaque ‘commemorated’ their 1956 figurine edition of the same name. Hardly a person or a historical event.

In 1980 they introduced The (Polish) Bride as a Commemorative denoting the founding of the studio in 1940 in New York, even though the painting that it is based on dates from the 1930s. It’s assumed, by the title of the Commemorative Chess Set also introduced that year, that this was yet another honoring-a-previous-Cybis-product edition. (Strangely, it does not appear on the Spring 1980 price list at all, nor in 1981 or any list thereafter!)  In 1981 Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks who, like the Eskimo Mother, should instead have been put into North American Indians, joined the throng. So did the Humpback Whale which was described as a ‘Cousteau Commemorative’ because a small part of the sale proceeds benefited the Cousteau Society. They did the same with Arion, the Dolphin Rider the following year. The entire Commemorative Collection thankfully disappeared in the mid-1980s when the Cousteau items were the only two pieces left in it; they got their own Cousteau Society Collection (which at least was accurate) until they were ultimately dumped into the Dolphins, Whales and Seals Collection in the 1990s. My point being that the only pieces that were ever actually conceived as honoring  a person or historical event were the original seven from the 1970s, plus The Bride in 1980. The Commemorative Collection should have died a natural and final death as soon as those eight editions were completed.

Nowadays, most people either don’t know or don’t care what Collection any given piece of Cybis once belonged to. I do have to smile a bit when I see the occasional eBay seller claiming that a piece belongs to the “Cybis Once Upon a Time Collection”, “Cybis Flights of Fantasy Collection”, “Cybis Shakespeare Collection”, or the like – because those are simply the titles of my Archive posts in which the information about that sculpture is located. I never had any desire to organize the information here in the same way that the Cybis studio used its Collections, primarily because they changed their names and contents so often. At least it shows that those eBay sellers found and used this Archive, which is a good thing. But as for the original Cybis ‘Collection’ assignments, the best thing to do is to forget about them entirely – especially those on the 1990s price lists from hell with their 68 named Collections. I’m all in favor of organization, but those were ridiculous!

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