Useful Tips for Buying Cybis Porcelain Online

After the closure of the studio, the so-called ‘secondary’ market became the only way to buy Cybis porcelains. Truth be told, the majority of pieces have been sold that way for the past two decades; even when the studio had a website, their prices were so much higher than anyone else’s that their percentage of the overall Cybis sales was probably in single digits.

Where to Buy

Most Cybis sales/purchases take place online these days, with eBay leading the pack as far as sheer volume; there are typically close to 1000 listings on any given day. For example, I just now did a search using these parameters within the All Categories field:

Cybis -cordey -photo -doll -book -catalog -retrospect -printing -ad -advertisement -litho -folio -jan -franklin

Normally I would simply do a search for just cybis and then sort the results via Newly Listed, but because I was curious about the total number of porcelains (not any of the printed matter, or Franklin Mint or Jan Cybis items, or any Cordey pieces where the seller has included the name Cybis in their title, text, or tags) I used the minus sign to eliminate all of the irrelevant items. The net result was 1101 listings for actual Cybis porcelains.  Of those, only 61 were auction-style listings. Of the remaining 1040 Buy It Now listings, 612 include an ‘Or Best Offer’ option. The fact that only 5% of the Cybis listings on eBay are auction-style shows that standard bidding strategies (including ‘sniping’) are actually less useful – in the grand scheme of things – than negotiating strategies!

For other auction-style venues, a quick check of the brick-and-mortar auction houses that offer online bidding shows only six pieces of Cybis in upcoming sales. Everything But the House has no Cybis at the moment.

Etsy comes in at a distant second to eBay overall, with only 118 Cybis offered for sale; a fair number of these are also being listed by the seller on eBay as Buy It Now listings at the same time. (More about ‘duplicated’ listings in a bit.) Etsy is not an auction venue, and neither are any of the others in this paragraph. Ruby Lane has 26 Cybis listings. Mercari has 80, but most of them are listed concurrently on eBay as well. There are 34 on Poshmark, but almost all of them are duplicated on eBay and on Mercari. OfferUp has 21 Cybis, with more than half of those appearing on at least two of the other sites as well.

Strategies and Helpful Hints

There are a few strategies that may help to avoid disappointment when buying a piece of Cybis online. Some are specific to one platform but others apply to all.

Look for a duplicate listing on other sites.

There’s nothing preventing a seller from listing the same item on more than one site at the same time. Even if they are asking the same price on each site (and they may not be), their stated – or calculated, if the site has one – shipping cost may be lower if you buy on one site versus the other. Don’t expect the seller’s username to be the same on both/all sites, by the way; however, the seller’s location should be consistent.  It is also possible that one listing may have a ‘make offer’ option while the other(s) may not. Or one site may be fixed-price whilst the seller may have put it on a different site as auction-style with automatic renewal if it gets no bids.

Checking for duplicate listings is easy if the item is a limited edition, because the seller will be including the sculpture number in the title, description, and/or tags no matter where they list it. Open editions, because they have no individual numbers, are trickier because you will need to compare the listing photos which in almost all cases will be the same regardless of listing venue. But the seller may not choose the same ‘first’ photo for every site, so pay attention to the background of the search-results images.

Watch out for ‘red flags’ in the listing description.

Some sellers (and auction houses) protect themselves against “not as described” claims by avoiding giving an actual statement of the piece’s condition, putting the onus on the buyer instead. This can mean that the seller/auction house knows that the piece has damage or has been repaired, but doesn’t want to come out and say so. Here are a few such ‘red flag’ phrases from actual Cybis listings:

see pics for details and condition (without saying anything about condition other than this)

sold as-is

good condition (or condition: good or simply good)

age-related wear or age-appropriate condition

as new  (trying to imply that an item is “as good as new” because they want to tag it as a New, rather than Used, item on eBay. No piece of Cybis is “new” according to eBay’s definition of it, which is “unused.”)

That said, there are sellers who will format their description something like this:

I did not see/find/notice any damage or repairs, but please closely examine all photographs because they are part of the description.

This kind of wording is not a red flag; it is the seller saying that they examined the item and didn’t notice anything that appeared to be amiss but they’re not claiming to be an expert on Cybis, so they are asking you to look very carefully at their photos and decide whether what you see is acceptable to you. Usually, this type of seller will have provided enough photos – and of decent quality – for you to do that.

Download all listing photographs and zoom them to at least 200%.

Do not rely solely on the larger images that appear when you click on a listing photo. Chances are, unless the seller has included close-up/detail photos, they are not going to allow you to inspect the piece as closely as if you were holding it in your hand. This is especially true for finding the ‘raw’ edge of a small broken-off element such as a tiny ribbon, bit of lace, or leaf. Sometimes what appears to be a small reflection or glare from lighting or a flash will turn out to be (after you have downloaded the 1200 x 1600-pixel listing photo and looked at every inch of the piece at 200% magnification if not higher) the white-porcelain interior where that broken-off bit used to be.

If you find something this way, use your image editor to circle or point out the magnified broken area and send that image to the seller, if the seller has claimed that the piece has no damage.  An honest seller will thank you and may offer to reduce the price to better reflect the piece’s condition. An ethical seller who truly missed seeing or recognizing the damage will edit their listing, even if it’s just the description if not the price. If they don’t…well, then I’d say that person is a seller to avoid buying from.

Don’t be afraid to ask for more photographs.

Sometimes the listing photos just aren’t that great, or there aren’t enough of them. Ideally, they should show the piece from all angles, and also the underside if the Cybis signature area is there rather than on the back of the sculpture. The best eBay sellers will also take close-up photos of areas that have a lot of breakage-prone detail, so that buyers can see for themselves that those areas are undamaged. But there are other sellers who will just snap one or two semi-blurry pics and call it a day. If you can’t see all sides of the piece, or if they are so blurry that you can’t quite see all the details, ask for more; if the seller doesn’t respond, or says no, there’s probably a reason. Maybe the piece has damage that they don’t want you to see, or maybe it’s indeed mint but they are too lazy to take more photos and upload them. Also, ask yourself this: If they can’t be bothered to provide additional or better photos, how much attention and effort do you think this person will give to packaging the item for shipment? Food for thought there…

Don’t judge a seller by their feedback number or percentage alone.

You may think that someone who has received multiple hundreds of positive feedbacks from buyers is not going to make you regret buying that piece of Cybis from them. And, while 100% positive feedback in a large number is a fine achievement, you need to also ask yourself: How much experience does this seller have in selling fragile items? because the last thing you want is to receive your purchase in shards as a result of improper packing.

Here’s a case in point. Suppose the seller has 100% (or very close to it) positive feedback, and more than 1000 of them. Looks pretty good on that eBay listing, doesn’t it? So, you click on the feedback number and then on the tab that says Received as Seller. Now that 1000+ has dropped to 686 which is still very respectable, don’t get me wrong! You should now look at what kind of items this seller has sold and shipped. Set the ‘Items Per Page’ display (in the lower right-hand corner) to 200, and scroll down along the sold-items titles to see what they were. How many of them were very fragile items, similar to what a piece of Cybis is? I’m not talking about a china mug or a collector’s plate that can be wrapped snugly in bubble wrap, stuck into a recycled Amazon box, and have a decent chance of arriving in one piece. Or some imported made-in-Asia resin or molded-porcelain Disney figurine. If that seller has mostly sold toys, or metal items, or books, or wood whatchamacallits, odds are that they will either underpack (box too small, not enough cushioning material or the wrong kind) or mummify the piece so tightly in bubble wrap and tape that several of the fragile decorations snapped off during the process without them even realizing it happened…damaging it even before the box is subjected to the abuses of the postal service or UPS.

In the case of a seller who rarely, if ever, sells/ships extremely fragile items, the phrase “You pays your money, you takes your chances” has never been more apt. You might, in this case, want to send them the link to my blog post about how to pack porcelain figurines either before or immediately after paying for that item.

Realize that auction houses are less likely to be helpful.

It is often more difficult to get additional photographs, information, or (sometimes) even any response from brick-and-mortar auction houses than from an individual seller. This is a fact of life. The Cybis pieces are merely part of a much larger auction sale, of hundreds of lots, that is taking place all on the same day on two different platforms (online and in-person) at once, and the whole thing is more or less a zoo. The employees are unlikely to have the time or inclination to do any extra pre-sale work regarding any item unless it is something that is expected to sell for big bucks – thousands, not hundreds – in which case they will practically bend over backwards to answer any questions that a potential bidder has. But for something like Cybis? Ain’t gonna happen, LOL.

However, it doesn’t hurt to ask; the worst-case scenario is that you don’t get a reply to your email or inquiry via the auction house’s website (you won’t be able to do it via the bidding portals such as LiveAuctioneers or Invaluable.)  Or you may get a promise that someone “will get back to you” that never materializes. If you do get a useful answer, or additional photos, that’s a plus.

Also don’t forget that when you buy via a brick-and-mortar auction house, you will be responsible for either picking it up or arranging and paying for shipping. It is not like eBay, Etsy, or any of the other online sites where the seller takes care of sending it to you. So, research that first and add that expense to how much you are thinking of bidding.

Make sure you know what the Buyer’s Premium percentage is.

This is another tip that applies only to brick-and-mortar auction houses. Almost all of them impose a percentage-based additional cost to the buyer, on top of the hammer price (highest bid.) This so-called Buyer’s Premium is typically in the 20%-25% range, and shown on whatever online bidding platform you are using. It will usually be the last (lowest) piece of information given in the listing, so make sure that you scroll down far enough! Thus, your $100 winning bid instantly becomes $125 if the Buyer’s Premium for that auction is 25%, and your applicable sales tax will be based on that $125 total.

There’s nothing wrong with making an offer, but please be reasonable.

Sellers utilize the ‘or best offer’ option for various reasons. Some may truly have no idea how much their item is worth, and basically want to punt that ball over to the shopper/buyer side in order to get some kind of clue as to what the market really is, without having to research it themselves.

Some (or their parents) may have paid multiple hundreds or thousands for the piece originally and are trying to recoup as much as they can of that cost – regardless of how the market has imploded since then.

And some are hoping that the proverbial Clueless But Rich Buyer will see their grossly overpriced listing and pay somewhat less than that, but still more than they (the seller) know the sculpture is worth nowadays, or has recently sold for.

None of this matters to you, the buyer. You are simply trying to get the Cybis piece that you want, at a price acceptable to you. So, by all means, make an offer. However, don’t lowball it so much that the seller is likely to interpret it as either “not serious” or downright insulting (“how stupid does this person think I am?!?”) It is never good to begin a negotiation – which is what any offer is – on that kind of footing.

Here’s an example. If you search for cybis on eBay and sort the results according to Highest Price first, you will see a Golden Thunder carousel horse for which the seller is asking $6499.99 or Best Offer (plus $11.70 for shipping, which really made me laugh.)  This seller has been on eBay for about two years and has only 22 feedbacks as a seller. They have never sold anything remotely like this Cybis piece. I have absolutely no idea how they came up with the price they are asking; when this was introduced, Cybis sold it for $2475, and the highest price the studio ever asked for it was $3675 during the 2000s. A reasonable offer for this piece nowadays might – and I heavily stress the word might – be somewhere within spitting distance of $1000 to the right buyer (probably a collector of carousel horse figures, and with deep pockets.) The seller would be lucky to get that kind of an offer, and the hypothetical buyer would – unless the seller ended up spending at least 10% of that selling price on proper packaging and shipping – be even more lucky if it arrived in one piece. This is the kind of reasonable, or even generous, offer that would probably not be accepted. However, it might well be a ‘teachable moment’ for the seller to receive it.

Looking at an example that is a bit less drastic, there is a Berengaria available for $895 or best offer (plus almost $100 for shipping). It looks to be in mint condition. However, another mint-condition Berengaria sold for $199.99 last month, also with $100 shipping.  It would be entirely reasonable for someone to offer $200 to the current seller who is asking almost $900, pointing out the recent sale for that amount as the rationale for their offer. The seller might not accept, but at least a dialogue would have a chance of being opened and perhaps an agreement reached for a different selling price. Even if not, the seller would not have any reason to be offended at the $200 offer and might even reconsider their current asking price. On the other hand, if someone were to offer only $100, the seller would likely completely ignore or quickly refuse it without a counter because it would not appear to be either serious or realistic.

Keeping these suggestions in mind can make online shopping for Cybis (which, let’s face it, is the only game in town nowadays!) a bit more rewarding and hopefully less stressful.

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