- Walter Bosse Fakes – A History of the Greek Hedgehog Ashtrays
- Walter Bosse Fakes – A History of 1МПЗ Russian Hedgehog Ashtrays
- Common Walter Bosse Fakes – “M.I. Germany” Solingen
- Authenticating Your Walter Bosse Hedgehog Ashtrays: All the Fakes
- Authenticating Your Walter Bosse Hedgehog Ashtrays: Curious Cases – Steel & Ferrous Metal
- Authenticating Your Walter Bosse Hedgehog Ashtrays: Part 3 – All the Hedgehogs! on
- Authenticating Your Walter Bosse Hedgehog Ashtrays: Part 3 – All the Hedgehogs! on
- UPDATE Authenticating Your Walter Bosse Hedgehog Ashtrays: How to Spot the Differences on
- UPDATE Authenticating Your Walter Bosse Hedgehog Ashtrays: How to Spot the Differences on
- UPDATE Authenticating Your Walter Bosse Hedgehog Ashtrays: How to Spot the Differences on
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After finding of one of these “Made in Greece” stamped hedgehog ashtrays with a photo of a box, I figured it was time to do an updated post. Let’s start with the basics. This hedgehog ashtray is made of a white metal, probably a zinc based metal alloy with an applied antiqued patina in a bronze or copper color. It is not aluminum as previously thought as it is too heavy. This type of production would get you a much more detailed casting and richer color for much cheaper than casting with actual brass/bronze. You can tell it is a white metal casting because wherever the copper color is rubbing off, you see the silver colored metal underneath. They have textured fur and ears as well as eyes that stick out from the surface of the sets.
The baby has elongated legs looks almost exactly like the Russian sets (but with no incised ears). The casting seams from the mold are seen clearly running down the front of the face of the largest set and the bases all have holes where the sprues were attached just like the base of the baby.
As far as markings go, all sets are stamped on the inside bowls with “Made in Greece” and a Deer (possibly Ibex/goat) logo. The two letters inside the logo read “N” & “A”, possibly the initials of casting firm? The date inside the logo reads “1947”. We know Walter Bosse did not develop his hedgehog designs until somewhere around 1952. The date in the logo may just be referencing the founding of the company and not the date of manufacture. If you look at other items cast by this company the same date shows up, hence it’s just a part of their logo.
It would make the most sense for the animal in the logo to be a Fallow deer, know locally as Platoni or Dama dama, and were considered the symbol of Rhodes in Greece. Two bronze statues of the deer face the entrance to the old harbor (see the images above), it was a symbol used throughout ancient times (as seen on the Amphora), and through modern times (as on this souvenir enamel ashtray). As the 50s and 60s came modernism grew and artistic depictions of the deer got more stylized. I believe this Fallow Deer is what is depicted in the logo.
From the box, we can gather a bit more information than just the markings inside the hedgehogs. I traced the logo so we can see a bit more of the detail. The box reads “Athens, Greece”, possibly where it was manufactured. The telephone number on the box reads “TEL: 2815747”, possibly an old style of telephone number that turned up no results.
I imagine this was the company manufacturing the hedgehogs, as well as manufacturing and casting other souvenirs for sale at shops in Greece.
A quick Google search for metal ashtrays made in Greece started turning up other items from the same company with the same logo in the back. Here are a few examples of other items cast by this company above, including souvenir ashtrays of the Greek God Pan with goat horns on his head, and one of the Parthenon. The logo is a little better so you can get a lot more detail. These also have model numbers on them: curious enough they both are marked #29825, possibly for the shape of the ashtray instead of the design?
Finally, I actually found the two Russian and Greek sets so similar I decide to try a “Difference” operation in Photoshop and was kind of astonished. I didn’t even try to take the photos in the exact same position and they almost match up perfectly, especially the overall shape of the sets. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at in the photo above, images of the two sets (1 Russian and 1 Greek) were overlayed on top of each other. The black of the image shows where the two sets are not overlapping. The lighter parts of the image show where the sets overlap (the Greek in the brown color and the Russian in the bluish color). As you can see, I also ran the same operation on the two baby hedgehogs and found similar results. I think these were cast directly from a Russian set, making a mold out of a Russian hedghehog, using it as their master. You would lose a lot of the original detail, which is exactly what happened here with the Greek sets. We know Russia was making these for export to Greece because 1МПЗ mentioned it on their site.
So that’s it! These were definitely not made by Walter Bosse, but by a company with the initials “N A” and founded in 1947, possibly in Athens, Greece. They were direct copies of the Russian sets and are made of a zinc alloy with copper or bronze plating. The same company made other souvenir Grecian ashtrays. I hope all this ended up being helpful!
It has taken me almost 8 years of research until I finally made a break in this case 3 days ago. I have focused mainly on authenticating the Walter Bosse hedgehog ashtrays, but I thought I should turn my attention to researching the origins of this forgery. It all started with someone mentioned that they thought the set of hedgehogs were made by famous Russian casting firm “Kaslinsky foundry” (spelled Каслинском / Каслинское / or Касли (Kasli) литейном заводе). I began digging into their history to see what I could find. Here’s a snippet from their Wikipedia page:
“Founded in 1747 in Kasli, Chelyabinsk region. They made high quality art casting out of cast iron with sand casting method. Kaslino workers used German castings brought by Grigory Zotov from Berlin as their first samples. The cast iron alloy, has lightness and delicacy. And at the same time, the casting objects have a feeling of steel hardness and durability. In 1934 a special shop for artistic and architectural casting (completely renovated, expanded and modernized at the end of the 1980s) was established, which was tasked with updating the themes of artistic products in order to reflect modernity.”
Sounds promising? After a bit of digging but I ended up finding that although the dates worked out and they did do artistic-casting, they really only worked in a very specific type of cast iron. I was actually able to find a Russian set that looks like it was made with the same Kasli-metal but it is quite crude. You can see that it is solid black and has a sandy cast iron texture with a lot less detail. There is also definitely no silver polishing like all the other Russian sets (this is not done with cast iron). See photo below (courtesy of Kaslinskoe-Litye.com).
Considering the fantastic detail Kaslinsky they were getting out of their art casting I kind of still doubt this one was even manufactured by them (but cast iron is notoriously difficult to work with). Also, as a fine art casting foundry they were not set up to pump out thousands of these sets that now flood the market (and did back then as well). There was also no record of them using anything similar to the logo on the bottom of all the hedgehogs. It felt like a bit of a dead end.
So I decided to turn my attention to deciphering the Russian logo instead. I found a few other people mention that the logo reads МПЗ (which means MPZ), but I made a break in the case after my type designer partner suggested that there might be an implied “1” in front of the МПЗ. That brought us to 1МПЗ, or the 1st Moscow Instrument Making Plant, which has been around as far back at 1914 manufacturing parts for the aircraft industry and located in the Dorogomilovo district. It was initially called in 1917 Aviapribor (Авиаприбор), in 1935 it was named after Sergo Ordzhonikidze (Серго Орджоникидзе), in 1942 it becomes 1МПЗ (1MPZ), and in 1981 after Vasily Alexandrovich Kazakov (Василия Александровича Казакова). Their website can be found at https://www.1mpz.ru/ and a translation with google at https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ru&tl=en&u=https://www.1mpz.ru/. The history/about page on the website states:
“By 1940, the plant was the main enterprise for the production of aviation instruments, producing 80-100% of aviation devices in Russia. The plant glorified its name not only by rapid development and implementation of the most complex aviation control systems, but also by the production of consumer goods in 1945. Beds with a metal mesh, pharmaceutical scales, children’s toys, vacuum cleaners, high strength magnets, etc. were produced. In 1963, a specialized workshop for consumer goods was created from scattered areas. In the late 80s it grew into an Industrial Complex for the production of consumer goods for radio, household and souvenir products. Consumer goods produced by our plant were exported to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Syria, Germany, France and other countries. In 1988, in order to improve quality of manufactured products and increase the volume of production of civilian products and profit, a specialized design bureau was created at the plant, engaged in the development and introduction of serial production of products for export all over the world, with high serialability as the main focus.”
Now that’s getting a lot closer! All the boxes the the Russian hedgehogs come in say “пепельница ёж сувенир” or “Souvenir Hedgehog Ashtrays” and the website mentions a history of specifically manufacturing souvenirs. Also Bosse mentioned in an essay he wrote that the Russian hedgehogs had to be manufactured in large quantities to make them profitable:
“The hedgehogs made in Russia seem to run in particularly large batches, because zinc injection molding requires expensive molds that are only really worthwhile for very large productions.”
So I guess these are now made out of zinc! I then turned my attention to finding as many boxes as I could to see if there was any detail I could decipher. Here are all the boxes and the logos on the bottoms of the hedgehogs:
The boxes all had similar specific manufacturing data on the sides and one set even had a manufacturing date. Two of the boxes even had old price stickers from the retail stores they were sold in. One sticker reads: “Beriozka” (Берёзка, “little birch tree” ) and the other “Березка”. Beriozka is a state run retail store that sold luxury items in exchange for foreign currency. Opened 1969, closed 1990s. Networks of Beriozka stores were called “birches”. Both had a cost of 1.80 (1 Ruble and 80 Kopecks). Here is what the boxes read:
ту 1-508-0005-80 / ту 1-508-0005-77 TU1-508-0005-80 / TU1-508-0005-77
Цена з PУБ. Aрт. c-мг-434 Price Per Rubles Article S-MG-434
Дата выпуска OTK штамп Date of Issue Quality control department Stamp
Нояжь 1985 K-86 November 1985 K-86
So now all I had to do was find this logo in use on some of the other products manufactured by 1МПЗ (1MPZ). Luckily, that’s exactly what I was able to find! Items include a zinc souvenir medal from the war of 1812, a magnetic cabinet latch (magnets manufacturing was mentioned on their site), an enamel medal from the 1980 Russian Olympic Games, a metal lighter, and a zinc souvenir bottle stopper from the war of 1812. Here’s a collection of the images below:
So all these items seem to use the same logo. The bottle stopper and the medal both use the same type of zinc metal that the hedgehog ashtrays use (blackened with silver polishing). If and if you look at 2 packages that have information on the backs, they all use the same kind of model numbering system and are from the 1980s. For example, the Olympic medal reads:
Сувенир – вымпел Souvenir – pennant
ОЛИМПИАДА 1980 OLYMPIAD 1980
АРТ. С-МГ-34Д-78 Article S-MG-34D-78
ЦЕНА 1 ру6. 90 коп. PRICE 1 ruble 90 kopecks
Клеймо ОТК OTK Stamp (Quality Control Department)
Дата вылука Manufacture date
январь 1980 K-80 January 1980 K-80
This is the exact same format used on the stickers on the sides of the hedgehogs. The last clue in the case came at the end of the packaging for the 1812 souvenir pennant. The bottom of the package has the 1МПЗ (1MPZ) logo as well as reading “Первый московский приборостроительный 3-д / 121170, Москва, Г-170” or “The First Moscow Instrument-Making 3-d / 121170, Moscow, G-170″ which is located within the Dorogomilovo district where 1МПЗ (1MPZ) still stands today.
Last but not least, I want to turn my attention to the winged sets previously attributed to Aeroflot. I have not seen them using the 1МПЗ (1MPZ) branding anywhere but they are definitely made by the same manufacturer. Below are two models with the winged logos: one earlier (from the 70s) and one later (from the 80s). The earlier one is bare light silver metal and the later one has dark applied patina and polishing. Other than that they look exactly the same and are made with the same metal and same casting techniques at the 1МПЗ (1MPZ).
So now let’s turn our attention to the winged logo and the possible Aeroflot attribution. The fact that 1МПЗ (1MPZ) was making aviation equipment for Aeroflot probably led to the attribution of this being an “Aeroflot” branded set. While it is possible that these hedgehogs were purchased and sold by Aeroflot when the plant expanded to making housewares and souvenirs, I don’t think they are Aeroflot branded. Here is a photo of the winged logo and a photo of all the Aeroflot logos ever used by the airline for comparison:
Upon closer examination of the two logos side by side shows significant differences between the two. The winged hedgehog logo only ever has two wings with 3 feathers surrounding a central design of interconnected circles with a dot in the center. The Aeroflot logo always involves a hammer and sickle in the center with two wings on either side. The wings always have 4 or more feathers with the two handles of the hammer and sickle extending below the circle.
Although it could be argued that the winged logo was a simplified Aeroflot design for use at a small size, we know the casting from the hedgehogs could capture detail well. Also, the Aeroflot logo was used in small applications, as seen on this small souvenir enamel pin. So with all that, I believe the winged logo is actually the earlier logo of “Авиаприбор” or “Aviapribor” before the name was changed to 1МПЗ (1MPZ) in the 1980s. There is no record of the “Aviapribor” logo, but similar logos show up on aviation equipment from the period (2 wings around a central design).
Now on to the box. The only box I have ever seen in existence that is associated with winged set is this orange and blue box with an illustration of a hedgehog on the front and reads “Hedgehog Ashtray” and “Souvenir” in a logo up in the right-hand corner. Here are photos:
If you look closely at the side of this box, it also seems to have some dating info on the side as well. This reads:
АРТИКУЛ С-1 ARTICLE C-1
ЦЕНА 3 руб. PRICE 3 Rubles
ту 1-508-0005-77 tu 1-508-0005-77
Дата выпука И – 78 Date of issue June/July – 78
Штамп ОТК OTK Stamp (Quality Control Department)
ТИЗ. зак № 10751-15000 TIZ. order № 10751-15000
This is the exact same numbering system used by 1МПЗ in the above hedgehog boxes and other product packaging so I believe it is made by the same company. The date of this set is earlier, made around June/July of 1978. Interestingly this set originally cost more money, 3 Rubles, even though it was manufactured earlier. It is possible that the increased price because they were made for Aeroflot as souvenirs for tourists, thus they could charge a higher markup. The other sets were sold domestically in stores to locals. It’s also possible that the expansion of the plant’s capabilities allowed for them to manufacture these even cheaper after the 80s.
Final conclusions (TLDR): The fake Russian hedgehog ashtrays are made by 1МПЗ (1MPZ), or the “1st Moscow Instrument Making Plant” and NOT by Walter Bossse. They are made of zinc with injection molding, which required large scale manufacturing. One set was made in November of 1985. The original price in the 1980s was 1 Ruble and 80 Kopecks and were sold at networks of Beriozka stores. The Aeroflot set was made by the same manufacturer and the original box has an earlier date of June/July 1978. It cost 3 Rubles.
I’m not sure how exactly I began this long strange journey, but I know it all started with this green hedgehog. I have seen these on the market for years, but something about them always bothered me. I think I have finally been able to get some proof that not only are the fish ashtrays made by “M.I. Germany” and NOT Bosse, but that these hedgehogs that use the same green patina/verdigris are most likely cast by the same company. If you look at the relatively small amount of “M.I. Germany” marked items out there, you will see they had a fondness for this green patina and a proficiency in casting brass as well as other metals.
I recently got a tip that there was a fish ashtray out there (that is often attributed to Bosse) that actually had a marking on the bottom. I finally found one and snapped it up so I could post it here. I think we finally have an attribution/artist for these! Surprise, it’s not Bosse! The marking on the bottom of this ashtray says “M.I.Germany”. I imagine the “M.I.” might stand for “Made in” as in “Made in Germany” but it’s kind of a strange way to typeset it. It could also be the artist’s initials, so I don’t want to throw out that theory. So for now, I’d say we can attribute these fish ashtrays to “M.I.Germany”, whether that be an artist’s name or workshop. My hunch is that these fish ashtrays started be attributed to Walter Bosse because of all the green patina/verdigris hedgehog ashtrays like the one posted above. As I have stated previously, I generally view those hedgehogs as fake and not authorized by Walter Bosse.
Next up is a ashtray with the same mark “M.I.Germany” on the underside. It is an abstract leaf shaped bowl with little tripod legs on the base. It has the same brown/black and green patina over brass. As we get to see more pieces of their work, it’s helpful to start to get an idea of the workshop behind the “M.I. Germany” mark and gain some insight into their aesthetic. I think it is highly likely that they are the originators of all the German (and possibly Austrian occupied) brass and bronze castings out there with green patina/verdigris. I’m not an expert in WWII trade between countries so I can’t say if this mark was used in Austria during the war when it was essentially considered German territory. I know you can also find a similar marking on vintage straight razors, knives, and sewing scissors. They often have the “i” in lower case and are accompanied by a stamp from their US importers.
I have a theory that all of these may have been made in Solingen, Germany. Above is a pocket knife that uses the same mark in conjunction with “Solingen”. It has a stainless steel knife and a body made of deer horn. The “M.I. Germany” mark looks almost identical to the marks on the other items above.
I found the above key corkscrew with the same “M.I. Germany” marking on it. It is similar in style to ones made by Carl Auböck where the shank unscrews to reveal the corkscrew and has a bottle opener component on the top. This one has a greek-key design on the bottom. I then found the same key with the telltale black and green patina of “M.I. Germany”. The next thing I found was a similar German key corkscrew with this “Solinger” (which means “from “Solingen”) golden paper tag. I doubt this is the ONLY company making items with the “M.I. Germany” marking but it is the only workshop I have been able to find using this mark at this point. Let me know if you have anything that can fill in the knowledge gaps!
As the years go by I am astounded at the number of different fake sets I’ve been finding. The two main ones you will often find are of course the Greek and Russian sets but there are SO many others out there that I didn’t expect. Some of them seem pretty small batch or handmade, but others seem to be mass produced. So I thought I’d get a post together of all the fake sets I have found over the years and hopefully it will be informative to you. I will continually update this post with new sets I find out there in the wild.
Russian Hedgehog Ashtrays
These zinc sets (not aluminum as previously thought) of hedgehog ashtrays were produced as souvenirs as well as possibly promotional giveaways for the airline Aeroflot. One set of dishes is marked with what looks almost like “MB” or upside down “ELW” and is by 1МПЗ (1MPZ) or the 1st Moscow Instrument Making Plant. The other set with the winged logo belongs to “Авиаприбор” or “Aviapribor”, or the previous name of 1МПЗ (1MPZ) before it was renamed in the 1980s. So the winged Aviapribor hedgehogs are earlier in date (1970s) and the 1МПЗ set from them 1980s. Earlier sets also tend not to have the darker grey applied patina/polishing and are just raw silver metal. Both dishes are considerably lighter weight than the authentic solid brass sets, but lighter weight that Bosse’s solid aluminum set, which makes me sure they are some kind of zinc composite of “white metal” or “pot metal”. They have polished silver noses and spines and incised fur, eyes and ears. “Babies” for both trays usually have elongated legs. They came in a box reading “пепельница ёж сувенир” which translates literally to “souvenir ashtray hedgehog.”
SEE MY IN DEPTH POST ABOUT THESE RUSSIAN 1МПЗ (1MPZ) SETS HERE
Weight : 1 lb 3.3 oz / 548 grams
Size : 4.5″ long x 2.75″ wide x 2.5″ tall
Greek Hedgehog Ashtrays
Next up is another set of white metal trays. This set is usually plated with a copper or bronze colored metal and can also be plated in a shiny golden metal. These are usually marked “Made in Greece” on the inside of each bowl but can also be unmarked. These are the lowest quality I’ve seen, with most having seams from casting that were not ground off. Casting seams from the mold are often running down the sides of the face. They look very similar to the Russian and Aeroflot aluminum ones, having the same incised fur and body shape, but there are usually no polished parts. The “baby” has the incised cross for legs but can also have elongated legs. I have a feeling these may have been cast from a Russian master, so it’s essentially a fake of a fake, hence the low quality. They were sold in a bright blue box.
Weight : 1 lb 2.6 oz / 530 grams
Size : 4.25″ long x 2.75″ wide x 2.5″ tall
Green Patina / Verdigris Hedgehog Ashtrays
This set of trays is the typical set you see with green patina or “verdigris”. These sets are made with sharp edges, golden eyes, polished ears on the first 3 sets. I’m inclined to say the green patina is an error in the patination process because there is no existing black patina underneath and the green penetrates down to the brass. I really do not like the verdigris finish on these, it’s just a little strange and not at all in keeping with Bosse’s aesthetic. I’m pretty sure the green arose from the manufacturer not having the chemical composition of the acid bath just right, or leaving it in there too long, or not knowing how to seal the surface properly. I have seen these with the X-legs baby and the full-legged baby. They are never marked. These sets are the furthest from Bosse’s original aesthetic ideal for the hedgehogs, even though they were possibly made with his original molds and masters (see the original “Authentication” post here). For whatever reason, Bosse was not able to pay off some of his debts to casting firms he was working with and they began casting and selling his designs without his knowledge to repay those debts. Since there were no copyright laws on the books for artists at the time, Bosse went to court to try and fight. In the end, he did not live to see the benefits of his court cases. In the meantime, these casting firms proliferated his designs. So these sets were made with Bosse’s original molds and masters, but possibly without his knowledge. I’m inclined to categorize them as fake because they are about as different in intent as the Russian sets are from Bosse’s originals. The only other items I have seen on the market with a similar green patina on them are NOT Bosse designs, but are often attributed to him because of these green hedgehogs.
SEE MY IN DEPTH POST ABOUT GREEN PATINA AND M.I.GERMANY HERE
Weight : 1 lb 10.7 oz / 756 grams
Size : 4.75″ long x 3″ wide x 2.5″ tall
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.
Weight : 2 lb 11.2 oz / 1224 grams
Size : 5.25″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Very similar to the above hedgehog, this set seems more like a final product than the initial draft of the one above. It is very likely they have even been made by the same person/shop, and since it was also purchased from France that seems likely. This set has thinner walls and very similar hedgehog shapes to the original Bosse hedgehogs, so I’m inclined to say they may have just used his originals to cast this one. Unlike the above set, this one does have a baby. It is very detailed, with the three central dot spikes being very rounded and having fully formed legs. This set also has 3 dimensional ears on the three largest hedgehogs, with extra details painted on. Each hedgehog also has golden faces with dots painted on for eyes. This set weighs in at a little over half the weight of the set above, even though it has all 6. It is also a bit smaller in length.
Weight : 1 lb 12 oz / 794 grams
Size : 4.5″ long x 3″ wide x 3″ tall
Made in Italy Hedgehog Ashtrays
This set actually reads “Made Italy” and is a fully gold polished set of brass hedgehogs. Each is stamped on the bottom with the exception of the baby, which is stamped on its side. The baby has the simplified X-legs. The whole set looks like they took one of Bosse’s originals and made a new mold from it to cast their fakes. Each hedgehog has the same characteristics as Bosse’s authentic hedgehogs. It’s actually a really nicely made set and is excellently cast and finished… actually it’s nicer than a lot of Bosse’s later polished gold sets coming out of Germany. It might be tempting to try and put this in the “real” category because it is actually done really well, but Bosse never authorized casting in Italy. Everything authentic comes out of either Austria or Germany. If it wasn’t marked, I probably would have been fooled too.
Weight : 1 lb 10.5 oz / 752 grams
Size : 4.5″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Silver Hedgehog Ashtrays
This set is notable for its intense texture as well as its bright silver coloring and red plastic gems inset in the eyes. The outside texture has incised lines scraped in the outside and the inside texture is hammered with round indentations. The three largest hedgehogs have ears, but only the largest hedgehog has eyes, which are drilled and inset with the red crystals. They do have a baby usually, but mine is missing the baby. Again, the size and shape make me think this used one of Bosse’s originals and reworked it heavily. I’m not sure what the base metal is: some bright green rust spots reveal a brassy color so it could be silver metal over brass. I’ve seen a few of these over the years, mostly in the USA. If I had to guess, I’d say these were made for export to the US, probably being made somewhere like Japan. They are decently weighted and are also a bit on the smaller side, about 1/2″ smaller in all directions. Certainly one of the craziest looking sets I’ve seen out there!
Weight : 1 lb 3 oz / 556 grams
Size : 4″ long x 2.75″ wide x 2.75″ tall
Painted Aluminum Hedgehogs
This set seems like it is meant to mimic the coloring of the original brass hedgehogs, but with cheaper casting and paint. This set looks to have been spray painted or airbrushed with a dark brown base layer and a bright yellowish-gold highlight. Where the spray paint missed and is peeling, you can see silver colored metal underneath. That combined with the weight makes me pretty sure this is made of aluminum and looks to be die cast. It has some mold lines running down the front of the nose and the inside of each bowl has 2 indented circles from casting. The baby has funny cones for legs and the 3 central spines are super rounded and also cone shaped. In fact, all the legs on each hedgehog seems to be replaced with a sort of exact cone shape. It is likely they used one of Bosse’s originals to cast from, as each hedgehog in the set corresponds to the shapes of the original Bosse sets. This set is from Europe, but it’s exact origins are unknown.
Weight : 8.3 oz / 236 grams
Size : 4.5″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
I would consider all these sets to be more inspired by Bosse then direct rip offs. You can definitely see Walter Bosse’s influences on each set though. Some of them are vintage, but some are actually currently being made and sold today. Crazy that his work is still being copied and sold, but I guess it speaks to the timelessness of his designs.
Ceramic Hedgehog Measuring Cups
These sets of measuring cups are super inspired by Bosse. They come in a set of 4 sizes and nest inside each other. They even went as far as adding gold tips on the spines on one version. Each set has a nose and eyes painted on as well as little dashes for fur. They are currently being sold at number of places online and are probably being white-labeled from China.
Anthropologie Ceramic Hedgehog Measuring Cups
Similar to the above set, these come in a set of 4 sizes and nest inside each other. Gold has been added around the ears, eyes and feet. They don’t nest quite as nicely inside each other, but still make for a cute set. They also have textured spines and fur on the outside of each cup. They are not being sold at Anthropologie any more, but they can still be found on the the secondhand market.
Black Glazed Pottery Hedgehog Ashtrays
This set of hedgehog ashtrays is made in pottery with a black glaze with gold speckles and painted red eyes and nose. They were manufactured in Japan sometime in the last 30 years and are about the same size as Bosse’s hedgehogs. The walls are thicker to reinforce the set for slip-casting in pottery. They come in a set of 4 and are relatively difficult to find on the vintage market.
Este Italy Ceramic Hedgehog Bowls
These porcelain/ceramic hedgehog bowls are quite a bit larger than Walter Bosse’s hedgehog ashtrays, coming in at 7.5″ long. Because of their size I would categorize them more as bowls/trays than ashtrays but they could be used as such. They came in 3 different color combinations: white, yellow and gold plated. The full set is 6 pieces with the smallest/baby of the set being a full bowl as well. The set has a completely smooth surface and high-gloss glaze over a white ceramic base. Each hedgehog has eyes which are raised from the surface (no ears) and spines surrounding the edges like Bosse’s original designs. Only the largest of the set will have the marking on the bottom, which has a castle in the clouds surrounded by a circle and reads “ESTE, Made in Italy, A 44A, 51”. They are definitely vintage and probably from the 1960s or 70s. The sets are quite fragile and lightweight so the spines have often been chipped over the years.
Funky Hedgehog Ashtrays
This set of hedgehog ashtrays is super funky and is definitely inspired by the idea of Bosse’s hedgehog ashtrays. But they took the idea and ran with it! The trays look to be more flat on the bottom and have more cartoonish looking features. They are actually a stack of 7 instead of Bosse’s 6 so you get one more hedgehog to share with friends. The design reminds me more of something pre-Columbian like Mayan or Aztec.. I’m not sure what the metal composition looks like but it could be bronze or brass. My guess is these were cast somewhere in Asia, India or the Middle East and are most likely vintage.
I recently came across a few strange metal hedgehog sets and was surprised to find that they were all highly magnetic! That is a trait shared only by ferrous metals, or metal with iron in them. So I figured I should put a post together and talk about all their curious traits and how I think they fit into the catalog (if at all).
This is the first set I came across. I thought it might be another solid copper set like the one I already have in the collection. But like I found out with all the other sets, it is magnetic, and copper certainly isn’t magnetic! The further I looked at it, I could see some of the steel underneath (showing through the copper plating). Here is a closeup photo of it on the spines:
It seems like this set was cast in steel in some steel alloy and then plated afterward with copper to give it that golden coloration. The whole thing was then put through a patination process afterwards, possibly to give the patina something to adhere to. The spines and ears all have the copper highlighting, while the body retains most of the patina. The color of the patina ended up more of a grayish color than the rich black you get from a traditional solid brass hedgehog set. Here is an authentic brass hedgehog set next to this copper plated steel set:
The coloration is very different. As you can see, they are very close in size and look as if they came from the same mold or pattern. Even the baby of the sets look almost identical, though the steel one is more crude (see below):
Steel Set #2:
This second steel set is identical to the first copper plated steel set, and they were purchased together so that’s not a surprise. They were most likely from the same experimental batch. Where these sets differ is in the execution. This set seems to be cast in the same metal, and the same copper plating was applied. But that copper patina seems to have been too thin or failed as it was then polished off to reveal more of the steel. The results led to a somewhat two-tone effect, fading from black to copper to silver, that can be seen especially on the front legs of the largest bowl.
The patina is also the same grayish tone as the above set, but has some oil-slick rainbow coloration on parts of the patina (see photos below).
From my research, this rainbow coloration may be due to the fact that the patina was put on at too hot of a temperature or had a chemical reaction to the steel. Here is a photo of an authentic solid brass set next to this steel set:
The baby of this set is also identical to an authentic solid brass baby from a hedgehog set .And the babies of the above copper plated steel set are exactly the same as well (see photos).
Another curious thing about this set of steel hedgehogs is the fact that all of the eyes have polishing around them. This is something I have never seen done on any Walter Bosse hedgehog ashtray sets in all my time and research. I have to say, I kind of dig it! I possibly like it just because it is different… I would definitely not trade the classic polishing on an authentic solid brass set of hedgehogs. But this is super fun to look at and (I think) certainly suits this set well!
As I mentioned with the above set, I believe this set to be some kind of experimental model, not made for production.
Steel Set #3:
This set of hedgehogs is also highly magnetic and (I believe) made of steel as well. This set differs in that is seems to have black paint applied instead of a patina, or at least a glossy coat of lacquer applied over the black patina. This model seems to be an attempt to try and get the rich-black patina of a solid brass set of hedgehog ashtrays. It looks to have not had any plating process like the above sets, just a light polishing on the tips of the spines and nose. In some spots, orange rust from the steel shows through the black (see photos).
And here is the steel set of hedgehog ashtrays next to an authentic solid brass set of hedgehog ashtrays. They look almost identical to me as well.
The baby of this set is also identical to an authentic solid brass baby from a hedgehog set. Also, the babies of all three of these sets look identical as well (see photos).
As I mentioned with the previous sets, I believe this set to be some kind of experimental model, not made for production.
Cast Iron Set:
I’ve shown this set in previous posts but thought I’d bring it back in because it is also ferrous and super magnetic. As I stated before, this cast iron set is super heavy and very crude because it is quite a bit harder to get detailed casting out of cast iron. 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 mold looking very much like they do now. The base metal on the cast iron set has a warmer tone to it, as opposed to the steel (which has more carbon in it) and usually has a cooler or more neutral grey tone (see photos).
Right off the bat, all 3 of the “steel” sets seem to have been made with the same mold even though they were purchased from different places. The cast iron set seems like it may have been made with a different mold, at least the baby in the set it indicative of being from a different mold (as it has the X leg configuration). See below a comparison between all the steel babies (with the cast iron one in the 1st position on the left) and a comparison between a solid brass baby and the cast iron baby.
And here is a comparison between the full set of cast iron hedgehogs and an authentic set of brass hedgehog ashtrays.
And last but not least is a random little steel baby I came across. It didn’t come with a full set, just a lone baby. It looks like it is just raw straight out of the mold and never had a patina applied (nor was it polished in any way). Here it is next to the authentic brass baby. Looks like the exact same mold was used again.
All the sets match up almost exactly with a known authentic brass set made by Walter Bosse. I’m inclined to say they were all experiments by Bosse or one of the foundries he was working with. At the time, a few of the foundries he worked with also had the capability of producing iron and steel products. One of those is Kurt Jesch KG, who was later sued by Bosse for selling his works without permission or proper royalties paid. If I had to guess, I bet these came from the Jesch foundry during Bosse’s time in Germany in the 1960s. Whether Bosse oversaw the making of these or not is a mystery that will probably never be able to be answered. But if I had to guess, because of the attention to detail of the castings and similarities to authentic brass models, I would say someone with an artistic eye worked on these… maybe that was Bosse himself!
Let’s dive into a little bit about the handmade casting process to understand a little more about what makes Walter Bosse and Vienna Bronze items special. The casting process used is “lost wax casting” or “investment casting.” Here all the steps and love that go into the creation of a Walter Bosse model:
1. Starting with a “master”
The process begins with the artist’s “master” pattern. There are several ways to make a master: A. directly from wax to mold; B. from wax to cast metal to mold; and C. from mold to master to secondary mold.
A. If we create a master out of wax and form a mold from it directly, the wax master could be melted down or damaged in the process. With this method, the master may be lost, along with the ability to create future molds from it. But at least we have one mold for the catalog.
B. Walter Bosse’s most common method of making a master was to sculpt the wax model by hand, create a metal cast from it, refine the metal model into a finished master, and then create a new mold. This way, the metal master is saved in order to continue making future molds. This is especially useful if the original molds get damaged or need to be replaced due to use over time.
C. If the master has been lost, but the mold is still available, we can cast from the existing mold, finish the model and save it for future mold making. The only downside is that there is about 1.5–2% shrinkage. (The general shrinkage allowance of brass is 3/16″ per foot.) We would not want to keep doing this over and over again, or the model’s size will continue to shrink with each new iteration. It’s good to keep a master with each mold if possible.
2. Making a mold
Rubber molds are preferred due to their longer shelf life. The creation of a rubber mold requires a vulcanizing press, which solidifies the shape using heat and pressure. Since quite a few of the original masters were lost, today remastering is often done with vintage Bosse pieces. In these cases, the vulcanizing process is less suitable, as the heat and pressure can be rough on vintage originals. Silicone molds are therefore used to preserve the quality of the vintage original (though the silicone molds do not tend to last as long). The vulcanized rubber molds end up lasting 10–20 years with regular use, while silicone can last only 2–5 years.
It is necessary to cut a sprue hole in the mold, preferably somewhere inconspicuous on the model, running from the widest or thickest part to the thinnest part. This will be the path the wax/metal flows most easily into the mold. The master must then be cut from the mold, either by prying the mold open enough to remove the master, or cutting it in half entirely to make a two-part mold. It is best to cut the mold with a very sharp blade, such as a scalpel.
Molten wax is injected into the mold through the sprue hole. The wax model is then removed from the mold. An extended sprue is attached, which is then connected to a sprue base/post which makes up the center of the wax tree. We add as many wax models to the tree as possible to fill up all the available casting space.
4. Adding investment
Once the wax tree is full of models and ready to cast, it’s time to add the investment. The investment is what’s left when all the wax is burned out, leaving space for molten brass to be poured in. The flask/cuvette is placed around the tree. The investment medium, usually a type of plaster material, is mixed and added around the wax tree inside the flask. All of the bubbles must be sucked out, best performed with a vacuum or vibration method. Once the investment is cured, we are ready to burn out the wax.
The molten brass is poured, and begins to cure. Once the metal has cooled, the tree and investment material are removed from the flask. The investment is slowly and carefully broken away from the brass models. Once the models are fully cleaned of investment, they can now be snipped off the tree, ready for finishing.
The models get a thorough grinding and polishing to ensure there are no flaws. They are then stamped on the bottom with “Bosse Austria,” and undergo the patented patina process. The model then goes through a second polishing in selected areas to highlight the gleaming beauty of the natural brass.
With finishing complete, a beautiful new Walter Bosse work of art emerges, ready to find a home!
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: