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In recent years we’ve began to notice the proliferation of the use of a misspelling, “Hertha Baller”, to describe items made by Walter Bosse and by Herta Baller. So I’d like to clear that up in this post, it’s “Herta Baller” and not “Hertha”.
Normally I’m not sure where things like this originate from, but I can very much remember this rumor/error starting a few years ago. I noticed the phrase “Walter Bosse for Hertha Baller” popping up on some listings on 1stDibs. At the time I didn’t think much of it, it seemed like one seller with some inaccurate info. But now, years later I’ve seen that “Hertha Baller” has taken over quite a number of Walter Bosse listings, and even made its way onto Wikipedia. So I think it’s time to clear some things up.
For reference, the above photos show a water decal that was used for a short period of time saying “Made in Austria H.Baller Vienna” and the cover letter page where Baller signs her name “Herta Baller” at the end of the letter in her catalog.
A Brief History:
As for the phrase “Walter Bosse for Hertha Baller/Herta Baller”, Walter Bosse did not ever work FOR Herta Baller. For a time, Herta Baller worked for him in the early 1940s. But they had a falling out after he fled debts in Austria for Germany in 1947. He handed over ownership of his Austrian company to Baller with an understanding that if she sold or used any of his designs, that she would pay him a royalty. Those royalties never came because the original shop catalog with all model drawings along with their artist attributions was changed to remove Bosse’s name from all items in production. Herta Baller said that all models that were now on offer in her catalog were solely her designs and therefore she did not owe Bosse any royalties. Their relationship soured after this point.
Walter Bosse had to start over entirely from scratch in Germany, creating a whole new catalog of items. This is why Bosse’s German items look different than items from Herta Baller’s ownership of the Austrian company.
Another common misconception: Herta Baller never owned the rights to nor produced any of Boss’s iconic hedgehog ashtrays. These were developed solely by Bosse in Germany. This is why you never see a hedgehog set with any “Baller Austria” marks on it. No hedgehog ashtrays were ever made by Baller, and certainly not “Walter Bosse for Herta Baller”.
After turning the Herta Baller owned “Bosse” company around and settling all debts, Baller died at 36 years old on December 1957 of the Asian flu. Hans Waldstätten, who was working as an employee and (according to the commercial register) had the power of attorney, ended up with ownership of the company, running it until the 1980s.
Lately I’ve noticed some confusion when it comes to authenticating Walter Bosse hedgehog ashtrays. Whether you own a set already and want to check them or are looking to possibly buy a set of your own and want to make sure it’s real and not fake, I thought it would be good to clarify some points. I’ve decided to put together a list of all the hedgehogs I’ve come across in the wild that are authentic.
What I want everyone to keep an eye out for when looking at all these sets is the diverse variation. All of them are different and unique in some way or another. As they were all made by hand, some have funny drilled eyes, some have shorter legs, some babies don’t have X legs at all. The old sand casting method that was used to make these was not a very precise way of casting and would result in all kinds of shape variations with each set.
One thing to note, I’ve very rarely come across a set that is brass and is fake. Most often, the fake sets are made of another metal entirely and that makes them very easy to spot. The only fake brass set I have seen is a very funny looking French set that I have listed here. I am also starting to come around on the very sharply cast and polished sets that often have a green coloration in the patina and a mottled texture. It looks somewhat like it has been sponge painted on. I think these sets were not done directly by Bosse, but by the foundries he contracted with in the 1960s when he was in Germany. They were most likely using his original molds, but cast them without his knowledge because he left them with unpaid debts (and this was their way of recouping them). But that is a post for another day (keep an eye out on the Blog for that if you are interested)!
So lets jump in to some Walter Bosse hedgehog goodness!
And here’s a gallery of authentic babies (or littlest hedgehogs in the ashtray set). Check out all the variations, especially the length of the legs and spines and the location and detail of the drilled eyes. Also, some spines are a lot more rounded than others.
I will update this page with any new hedgehogs I find, so keep checking back in the future to see the latest!
After a bit of research looking through our company catalog (which we lovingly refer to as the “Bible”), we came across a page of sketches that seemed to be called “Baroques”. We instantly recognized that the sketches matched animals we have in our museum collection. So we felt like we should put together a post about them because they tend to differ a bit from the overall catalog of Bosse offerings. So lets do a deep dive into the catalog page and some of the items below.
The characteristics the Baroque items all seem to share are:
- Simple short squat legs positioned in elegant poses.
- Plump (zaftig) bodies
- Fully polished (never with black patina)
- Slightly larger size than most Bosse figurines (3″ long/tall on average)
- Usually unmarked (or we have one marked with an early “Bosse Austria” mark)
- Slightly more stylized features (realistic detailed hair, eyes with eyelids, etc.)
Here are all of the Walter Bosse Baroque animals in our collection:
We also really see some similarities to an early Walter Bosse pottery horse we have in the collection as well. See our Instagram comparison post here.
So our conclusion is, these were probably early models of Bosse’s work when he was experimenting with brass and transitioning over from Pottery work to brass work in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They represent a quality of casting and workmanship that is consistent with his early work and thus, they are sketched quite early in the pages of the “Bible” catalog. See more detailed photos of the catalog pages below:
So you have what you think is a Walter Bosse design, but it is all-gold and doesn’t have an applied black patina. Does that mean it is fake? Not necessarily! Generally there were two factors that led to an item receiving the all-gold “fully polished” treatment. We will outline those two methods below:
- The most common fully polished items are usually Walter Bosse’s larger and useful objects made later in his life while he was living in Germany. In the late 1950s until his death in the 70s Walter Bosse was living and working in Germany (leaving his original Austrian company to Herta Baller). He ended up fleeing to Germany because of debts he had in Austria and then started over (in Germany) with all new designs. Since he had no money, he contracted out to other companies to do all the casting for him if he provided the designs. Unfortunately, he ended up not paying some of those casting companies for their work and they started to produce and sell his designs on their own without his authorization (in order to recoup his debt owed to them). Consequently, the patina was a tricky process and the casting firms didn’t always know how to do it correctly. If you do it too long, the patina turns green or greyish. If you don’t do it long enough it turns brown. If you don’t fully clean the oils off, you can get spots that resist the etching process and looks blotchy. So in a lot of cases, these casting firms ended up just leaving the patina off entirely.
So how do you know if your item is from this era in Walter Bosse’s life? Items from this particular period usually have rougher looking surfaces. The sand casting process was a lot less precise and often resulted in larger casting flaws and a sandy texture. But it was great for producing larger objects at cheaper prices. Generally these types of items that were possibly cast without Bosse’s knowledge are thought of as Bosse designs because they are using the same masters and molds. It is really impossible to prove whether these were authorized or unauthorized pieces.
See some examples of his German fully-polished work:
- The less common fully-polished items are those that were selected to be polished because they were finely cast. It was somewhat rare but not uncommon for Bosse to fully polish items himself and not put a patina on if the casting quality of an item was pretty high. You will see very early models with an all-gold finish, often marked with the large “Bosse Austria” mark. Items had to be ground down and partially polished anyway before applying the patina. So sometimes if an if an item came out looking particularly nice, it was selected to be finely polished. The acid-etching patina process could hide small flaws in the casting process.
See some examples below of his early fully-polished work:
The story of this bell has more of a happy ending than some of the other miss-attributions we’ve seen. Thanks to our friends Sal Robinson and Wayne Meadows for finding a copy of an original sales catalog from Richard Rohac’s workshop. We are now able to confirm this bell is made by Richard Rohac! If you are interested in learning about Bosse, Rohac, Hagenauer and more in the context of their corkscrew designs, go pick up their book “AUSTRIAN FIGURAL CORKSCREW DESIGN: AUBÖCK · BOSSE · HAGENAUER · ROHAC” (ISBN 978-0-9689294-1-4).
Check out the original catalog page below!
And there it is, #64 on page 55 of his catalog! These bells are often unmarked and we’re not sure why except that there isn’t a lot of flat surface are to put a mark on and you’d probably only get a partial mark out of it if you tried to stamp it.
A little background about Richard Rohac. He worked at Werkstätte Hagenauer for a period of time, refining his technique. In the 1950s/60s he branched out and started his own company (see the front of his original catalog below). His works are rendered in a more realistic style and are extremely finely cast and finished. He worked in brass in the Modern Viennese Bronze style with acid-etched black patina with polished gold highlights. They are often marked with two R’s (RR) with their backs facing each other. He also used a secondary mark “Made in Austria” stacked and set in a slight oval shape.
We’ve seen this donkey holder with salt and pepper shakers all over the place! Generally, these donkeys are made of metal coated with paint, with wooden salt and pepper pots resting on brass wire rings. The brass wire rings are attached to a piece of metal that rests in the middle of the donkey’s back like a saddle and are riveted in place. We have also seen versions of these donkeys pulling wooden carts with matching wooden spoons/scoops. They look to be used as salt cellars. It has quite often been attributed to Bosse but it just so happens it is NOT made by him. We’ll outline the details why below!
- These donkeys seem to be made of a white/silver metal (which Bosse did not work in) and coated in a black paint or enamel. As a result, the black paint tends to chip off in little flakes, revealing the metal underneath. If you are not sure and want to test what the metal is, it’s a good idea to pick an inconspicuous place like the bottom of one of the feet and do a small test scratch. Generally, if the metal is silver, it is not Bosse!
- The donkey has no polishing points and is just solid black. Bosse liked to use the play between matte black and shiny polished brass to highlight areas of design on his animals. He either fully polished or acid etched a patina and highlighted with polishing, but he never left items with a full patina and no polishing. Often times, you will find vintage Bosse brass items that look all black, but if you look closely, you can see the original areas of polishing.
- The design of the donkey is similar to Bosse, but not the same. The design of the legs and tail are too thin.
This donkey is one of the items that walks a line between being a copy and being a similarly modernist styled item. A few of the things that make this donkey more of a copy are the ears, eyes, tail and mane: they are all very similar to Bosse’s. The salt and pepper pots have also been seen with authentic Bosse models. This could be because these salt and pepper pots were an off-the-shelf item you could get locally. We’ve seen these pop up mostly around Europe and Austria so it was most likely another Austrian maker working in the same period of the 60s. This donkey is always unmarked.
Real Bosse Salt & Pepper Holders:
See some of Bosse’s original salt and pepper holders below for comparison. The zebra is marked “Baller Austria” and has toothpick holder pots instead of salt and pepper pots. The first donkey is marked “Baller Austria” and has glass pots with brass screw on tops. The second donkey is a later model done while Bosse was in Germany. It has a rougher and flatter shape and has bent brass wire rings resting on its back for holding the salt and pepper pots. The camel has the same wooden shaped salt and pepper pots as the fake donkey above. It is marked “Baller Austria”. All the holders (with the exception of the German donkey) have the rings for holding the salt and pepper pots cast in place with the animal. They are not a separate piece.
Hi everyone! I’m sorry it has been such a long time since I last posted. First off, I want to thank everyone for taking the time to educate themselves on authentic Walter Bosse hedgehogs and fake ones. When I first started off doing this, the fake Russsian and Aeroflot hedgehog ashtrays were selling for more than Bosse’s originals because everyone was incorrectly attributing those logos to him. Since then, Walter Bosse’s originals have made a big comeback! I am super grateful to everyone who has read my articles. And so I thought I should post another update since it has been such a long time.
Since the last time I posted, I have kept my eye out for any other interesting hedgehogs that can help add to Walter Bosse’s story. Turns out, I have found quite a bit more hedgehogs that I would like to share with you! Get ready for the updates below!
Update #1 : Berg Lübeck
This hedgehog was not found in a set, but by itself. Fortunately it still had the original sticker on the bottom. The sticker is brown with gold foil. It looks to be a later hedgehog in somewhat rough shape (unfortunately a spine broke off). After a bit of research I wasn’t able to find much except that Lübeck is a city in Northern Germany. I wasn’t able to find out what Berg was referring to (possibly a shop somewhere in Lübeck). There are a few other photos of stickers out there on other products (one on a glass decanter and one on a fat-lava pottery vase).
Size : 4.75″ long x 3″ wide x 2″ tall
Update #2 : Handmade in Austria
This hedgehog set is a pretty rough one, but it is a full set of 6. The baby has the incised X legs. It looks to be probably from the 60s or 70s. You may recognize the “Handmade in Austria” sticker from other Bosse items. It’s is gold foil and yellow ink and is usually loosely attached to the base of the castings. It is often found on his larger useful objects, such as table bells, thermometers and keyracks. This sticker belongs to the casting company Kurt Jesch KG which did regular casting in Austria in the 1960s-current. They produced a large number of Bosse’s designs for him as well as their own designs (such as pendants, candlesticks, etc.). I have a feeling that these stickers could have originally been on more hedgehog sets but because they were never attached very well they often fell off.
Weight : 1 lb 11.3 oz / 774 grams
Size : 4.5″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Update #3 : Made in Germany Mark
I absolutely love this set, it’s one of my favorite versions. The casting is superb, with the nose is slightly turned up at the end, the eyes drilled proportionally and the polishing is subtle and feathered. The baby is detailed and has the elongated legs. All the trays with ears have them polished on the edges, which is also rare. The “Made in Germany” mark is very rare, I’ve only ever seen 2 other sets marked this way and they were of equal quality.
Weight : 1 lb 13 oz / 824 grams
Size : 5″ long x 3″ wide x 3″ tall
Update #4 : Unmarked
I’m a big fan of this set. It’s probably one of the nicest sets I’ve come across and it’s completely unmarked. I believe it’s probably a earlier or mid career set. The finishing and patina is really nice and untouched (mostly black with a bit of brown tint). The baby has the elongated legs and good casting detail. Some of the eyes are drilled a bit funny, but that’s just character!
Weight : 1 lb 10.3 oz / 746 grams
Size : 4.75″ long x 3″ wide x 3″ tall
Update #5 : Berndorf / Atelier Jesch
So you know Jesch already from my post above, but this is a completely new logo / sticker that I’ve never seen before. It seems like it was most likely created for Berndorf company, which is still in business and using the same bear logo and wordmark. The sticker is white paper and reads “Berndorf / Creation Atelier Jesch / Messing Handgegossen / Brass Hand-casted / Kunsthandwerk Made in Austria / Artistical Handicraft, made in Austria”. The sticker also has a faint gold hand-print in the background. This hedgehog set is super terrible quality and I’m not sure why this would have been put out there as a product. The sand casting is really rough and a patina was never put on it, a practice which was usually only reserved for better castings because the black patina could hide more defects. The set could have used a good grinding and polishing, but it looks like they only bothered polishing the noses. The baby is small and flat with incised X legs. My guess is that this set was created for sale at the Berndorf cutlery store in town in the 1970s. Highly polished sets are more rare because they took more time and effort to finish and polish to a high standard. This method of finishing the original raw brass (without patina) was much more time consuming and costly to produce. Patination could hide minor flaws but fine polishing had to be perfect.
Weight : 1 lb 9.3 oz / 716 grams
Size : 5″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Update #6 : Copper / Bronze
This set is very interesting and I’m not sure what to make of it. When I first saw it, I thought the color was a bit off. Upon further inspection it is very different from the usual brass alloy that Bosse uses. It looks to be made of copper or a very copper-heavy mixture of bronze because it has a very reddish-orange tint. The weight feels different and the sound the metal makes when it clinks together is completely different as well. The black patina didn’t take to it very well, which may be due to the high copper content. It is unmarked. It looks like maybe it was an experimental model because the finishing is done very well and there is good attention to detail. The baby is finished very well and has elongated legs of the earlier models.
Weight : 1 lb 9 oz / 706 grams
Size : 4.75″ long x 3″ wide x 3″ tall
Update #7 : Mega XL
I call this monster hedgehog because this set is insane and kind of ridiculous looking! I’ve only seen a few of these XL hedgehog ashtrays as they tend to be super rare. This one is definitely the biggest I’ve seen at around 21% bigger than normal. I’m not totally sure where they fit into the catalog but my guess is these larger sets might have been some of Bosse’s first models/prototypes as he refined the design over the years. Over time the hedgehogs got shorter spines and shorter noses as well as thinner walls overall. This guy is beefy and you can see how much bigger the baby is than a normal Bosse baby. You can differentiate these larger hedgehogs from their normal sized counterparts due to their extra long spines.
Weight : 2 lb 7 oz / 1106 grams
Size : 5.75″ long x 3.25″ wide x 3.25″ tall
Update #8 : Aluminum
I posted about this in the last update but I thought I’d share more details about it here. This guy is extremely lightweight and made of aluminum with a black paint applied and ground off. It’s not very highly polished and has quite a bit of wire brushing on it. The quality of the casting isn’t great and can be a bit sharp. The baby is flat and squat with just X incised legs. It’s quite rare, but most likely because it wasn’t a great idea.
Weight : 8.4 oz / 238 grams
Size : 5″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Update #9 : German Silver / Nickel
This is another one I posted in the previous update. It is made of “German Silver” or “Nickel Silver” which is a copper alloy with the usual formulation of 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. It is definitely from the same moulds as the originals and is the same size and consistency as the others. It is also very heavy (unlike the aluminum ones). This set is extremely rare, I’ve only seen 1 other one. It is unmarked and the quality is very high. It is highly finished and polished and the baby is good quality overall with X incised legs. My guess is this is an experiment in plating with nickel over brass. Hagenauer often plated his figurines in nickel and Bosse actually plated some of his pottery in his early years to make them heavier for use as bookends.
Weight : 1 lb 11.4 oz / 776 grams
Size : 4.75″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Update #10 : Cast Iron
This set is super heavy and very crude. But it is quite a bit harder to get detailed casting out of cast iron and it shows here. Cast iron is also more brittle and some spines are missing as well as some chunks of overcasting. These were not ground down or polished in any way. They come out of the mould looking very much like they do now. I have seen 2 or 3 of these sets lately but they are still quite rare. If you look in Bosse’s catalog you can find a mention of the use of cast iron but I have not ever seen any other examples of his use of cast iron in any other context. The baby in this set has the X-incised legs. As you can see, Bosse liked to experiment with other materials and finishing methods and I suspect this is another one if his experiments with different casting materials. Not many were made because they were difficult to control with the sand casting method they were using. It is consistent with Bosse’s other hedgehogs because it has the same exact size and proportions as his classic hedgehogs in brass, indicating the same master mould was used to cast it. That is why I believe it is authentic and not fake.
Weight : 1 lb 8.4 oz / 694 grams
Size : 4.75″ long x 3″ wide x 3″ tall
Update #11 : French Hedgehog from Galerie d’art Bourmes
This hedgehog is worth an honorable mention for its creativity. More inspired by Bosse than a direct copy, this hedgehog set is very large and extremely heavy. The eyes are painted on and not drilled out. The quality is very good in terms of casting. Although it only has 5 pieces in the set, it weighs almost twice as much as a Bosse set because the side walls are extremely thick. The smallest of the set has a hollowed out top like a regular ashtray. With the side walls being so thick, there was no room for a 6th baby. The patina on this is also painted on, with a bit of artistic flair. There are water decal labels on almost all of the hedgehogs from a French souvenir shop that is still in existence today. The decals read “Galerie d’art Bourmes” which is an art gallery frequented by tourists and carrying the work of Georges Gouzy and Robert Chiazzo who were contemporaries of Pablo Picasso. We are not sure who made these hedgehogs, but it is most likely the work of a local artist. This set is super rare, I’ve only ever seen this one.
Weight : 2 lb 11.2 oz / 1224 grams
Size : 5.25″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Update #12 : SDL
This mark is something I’ve seen a few times and this set has the clearest iteration. It seems to have a very faint “SDL” mark on the bottom, similar to a number of Bosse’s later German cast objects. I’ve included a photo of a Scottie egg cup with the a similar incised mark. Sometimes, only just a hint of 3 areas of indent can be seen on the bottom of certain hedgehogs, but I believe it is from the same SDL mould. The SDL most likely refers to the master’s catalog name/number for internal use only and not really meant to make it into production. The mark looks like it was originally incised into the master used, and therefore made its way into the mould. In each subsequent casting, the mark gets more and more faint, and also varies with the quality of the sand casting and mould. This set has good quality casting and “baby” with X-incised legs.
Weight : 1 lb 11.3 oz / 774 grams
Size : 4.5″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Last but not least, I discovered in an old Bosse catalog page that your could purchase each hedgehog dish separately if you desired. So although the majority of hedgehog ashtrays out there were sold together as sets, sometimes people purchased only the individual pieces they wanted. So if you have an incomplete set or just one piece, don’t feel bad… it may have been purchased that way! I’ve also heard a number of stories from people whose grandparents had a set of hedgehogs and each family member took a dish from the set to keep as a memento. I don’t think Bosse would have minded his sets being split up for that reason. After all, the hedgehogs were meant to be shared with friends and guests at parties.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope this info is helpful to everyone. Keep in mind, these are the more rare models so don’t get discouraged if your hedgehog set doesn’t look like these. If there’s any info I’ve left out or if I have made an error please email me. Keep on collecting!
We’re not sure where this little dachshund figurine came from but it sure is cute! These are often attributed to Bosse but are NOT made by him. Though he did work with un-patinated polished brass it was mostly early in his career. It took quite a bit more finishing work to get a high-shine finish. Working with black patina over brass and picking your highlights was actually an easier process and would hide casting issues much more easily.
This is another item we wouldn’t necessarily deem a fake but more of a similarly modernist styled item. We’ve seen this dachshund pop up mostly around Europe and Austria so it was most likely another Austrian maker working in the same period of the 60s. This little guy works as a bottle opener and knife/spoon rest and is always unmarked. It’s also pretty common and would bring about $35-$45 depending on condition.
We’re not sure who started the rumor that this big ol’ fish ashtray was by Walter Bosse. This guys is not as much a fake, but is more of an original by another artist working with blackening brass. They are most often found in Europe so we’re thinking they might be from another artist working in Austria around the same time. The style is definitely more realistic and heavily detailed, unlike Bosse’s work (Bosse mostly worked in a simple modernist style, with simple holes or dots for eyes). These fish ashtrays often seem to have a grey or greenish tint to the patina, which was the result of not sealing the patina properly or letting the object sit in the acid bath too long. These fish are never marked.
Don’t let all the listings out there fool you! This is NOT a Bosse. We’ve even seen these listed for $500 on 1stDibs as designed by “Walter Bosse for Hagenauer”. Bosse never worked for Hagenauer, they were competitors! Sellers often want to make the item their selling to seem the most valuable or rare so they’ll attach as many famous names to it as possible. These ashtrays are fairly common and would carry a value of around $40-$60 depending on condition.
Some of the most common Walter Bosse fakes out on the market right now are a collection of items from England. Almost always unmarked, the most common items are giraffes, horses, firehorses, dachshunds, donkeys, cats, gazelles, kangaroo, ducks, geese, and elephants. Sometime in the 1960s–’70s, a company in England started making copies of a few select Bosse models, and even went so far as to try and copyright them. We’ve seen a few marked items, and they are most often hand ashtrays and corkscrews. You can even find a patent number on the bottom of some of the items. After doing a bit of research on one of these patent numbers, we found it was associated with a generic casting company in England in the ’60s. They were most likely making these items on the side to make some extra money.
Is my item an authentic Walter Bosse or a copy from England?
Though some of the items are direct copies of Bosse’s work (like the firehorse, elephant, and donkey) many are not Bosse’s work at all. In the case of the firehorse, the English fakes just have the tips of the mane and tail polished, and not the whole mane or tail. These are also slightly smaller as they were most likely cast from a Bosse casting, not the original master. Similar to the Taxco fakes out there, these items were most likely imagined by an artist working for the casting company in the style of the items taken directly from Bosse. These English castings can be identified by their shiny black painted surface, which chips easily. They were not familiar with Bosse’s patina process, so they used black paint instead.
Check out all the fakes below: