A bit of history on Walter Bosse’s hedgehog ashtrays:
At the end of 1952, Walter Bosse moved from Austria, where he lived since his birth in 1904, to Western Germany. He settled in the area of Iserlohn, because creditors were chasing him and his friends and business partners were cheating him. He wanted to concentrate on his job of being an artist. This time was very productive for Bosse, and he created an entire collection of new designs in the late 1950s. During that period, the hedgehog ashtray set was born. It was a revolutionary design, and quickly became popular worldwide. By 1962 it was his most popular design and he couldn’t keep up with demand. so he looked for partners to perform the casting on his behalf. Because he was not able to pay off some of his debts after they produced for him, some foundries used his molds and masters without discretion and sold models illicitly without his knowledge to make up for those debts. Meanwhile, many thousands of copies based on Bosse’s design were being produced and sold throughout the world. The Russians proliferated sets made out of zinc in the thousands. Copies were made in Italy, Spain, Greece, England, Austria and Germany. Bosse knew about this, but he kept on selling his hedgehogs at the Frankfurt International Fair for many years. Interestingly enough, Bosse’s hedgehogs could have made him a millionaire: Woolworth offered Bosse a several million dollar contract for the copyright of the ashtray set but Bosse would not agree. He feared that with mass-production, the hedgehogs would lose the charm and quality of his originals.
Bosse spent most of his later years fighting copyright cases for his items, mostly over this set of hedgehog trays and hand-shaped ashtrays. They were among his most prolifically stolen designs. Unfortunately, he was not able to benefit from the court’s decision. Bosse died soon after the courts decision to award him copyright of his items. His was the first decision of its kind and a landmark case that would live on and benefit all arts and crafts makers and designers from that point forward.
And now, here’s a list on spotting the differences between all the stacking hedgehog ashtrays out there.
A FEW THINGS TO NOTE FOR AUTHENTICATION:
Bosse only really produced these ashtrays in brass, never in zinc/pewter or ceramic or silver colored metal. German foundries tried out aluminum later and there are a few plated German-Silver hedgehogs but these sets are extremely rare and hard to find. Be suspicious of all non-brass sets of hedgehogs!
Bosse did not let largely flawed castings out of his shop and onto the sales floor. If an item was flawed it was remelted and cast again. The bronze fakes are often chipped and pitted and the zinc fakes often have casting seams and sprue holes.
Bosse’s Hedgehogs were almost NEVER marked. With the exception of a few sets I’ve found with the mark “Made in Germany” stamped underneath, his sets only rarely come with markings or stickers identifying the maker. 99% of the time they were unmarked. Finding a mark is rare.
Referring to the smallest hedgehog or “baby” of the set. It can be used to authenticate your ashtrays. Bosse’s molds differed slightly from one to the next so both “babies” with elongated legs and incised cross legs are authentic. It is thought that maybe he cut costs such as making the “baby’s” legs an incised cross instead of 4 raised legs. But it seems the two may have even been used at the same time. The “baby” was used as a tamper / or snuffer to put out cigarettes and the one with the incised legs has a flat bottom (which makes it more effective).
Bosse’s trays never had texture to them. They are always smooth bronze with a black patina. Fakes have raised fur, eyes and incised ears. He also made a rarer authentic version of hedgehogs in just polished golden brass with no black patina.
First off, the only image out there of a real Walter Bosse set of hedgehog ashtrays is a picture of a Bosse catalog page from the book Walter Bosse: Leben Kunst und Handwerk 1904 – 1979. Though it’s almost 100% in German, even if you can’t read German it is an amazing resource on Bosse’s work.
REAL – I will be presenting 2 authentic hedgehog ashtrays for reference below to show the wide variations that are present in Bosse’s original works. Because Bosse contracted casting of hedgehogs out to different firms for some of his production, you see a lot of variation in technique even though some of the same masters were used. It’s useful to remember too that these were all handmade in small batches and each worker doing the finishing gave unique character in the way the polishing was done and even where the eyes were drilled.
REAL #1 – The above hedgehog, I believe, is the gold standard when looking at Walter Bosse’s hedgehog ashtrays and trying to authenticate them. I only say this, not to play favorites between hedgehogs, but because when comparing this to the catalog picture it is the most similar. Note the length of the nose and shape of the spines: they are all rounded and polished to a slight fade as opposed to a sharp polished line. The quality of the castings is very high, the ears are slightly polished on the largest 3 sets and the eyes are drilled up higher on the face. The height of the overall stack is also very tall, giving a rounded appearance as opposed to a more squashed oval appearance. The baby has fully molded legs (not the X legs).
REAL #2 – This set is one of the later versions of Walter Bosse’s hedgehog ashtrays. The nose is a bit shorter than the catalog picture. Both long and short nosed sets of trays are authentic, but made with different molds: the short nosed trays being later molds and having a “baby” with incised feet and the longer nosed trays being the earlier molds with elongated feet. This set has polishing going much further down the spines and the nose and is less subtle than the above set. It gives a bit more pop of that golden shine for a bolder set with a bit more contrast. The eyes are drilled further down on the face, the ears are not polished and the baby has X legs. The height of the overall stack is a bit shorter, because all of the legs on each hedgehog are a bit shorter, lending the stack to have more of a oval shaped appearance.
For reference, see the gallery below of all the authentic hedgehogs I have found over the years and all the unique variations. Which is your favorite?
REAL – This set is quite a mystery and is one of only a few sets I have seen in this metal. 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 molds 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.
REAL – This hedgehog is extremely lightweight (282 grams) 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. Bosse experimented with aluminum when working with Alexander Jost (who sold the business to Kühn KG Fröndenberg). A quote from the book states “Many models were also already available in cast aluminum, with which Bosse experimented a lot for cost reasons, but which was difficult to ship, there was a lot of breakage, and the material was not very appealing.”
Weight : 8.4 oz / 238 grams
Size : 5″ long x 3″ wide x 2.75″ tall
REAL – This set of hedgehogs courtesy of Pigeon Tree Crafting has a super interesting “Made in Germany Mark that I have never seen before. Thank you to them for allowing me to use their images in this post! The marking is stacked instead of straight across. It looks like the set has some really interesting characteristics and my theory is that the set is probably older, from the 1960s or even 70s. The spines are a little bit sharper and the polishing is similarly sharp. The baby has the X legs.
? – [UPDATE] This set somewhat confounds me and I feel like it falls in somewhat of a grey area. But I will outline my thinking below and let you decide. My thoughts on this type of set are ever evolving. I would characterize this type of set as being made much later in Bosse’s career, possibly without his knowledge and possibly even made after his death. This is a whole spectrum and it is impossible to tell which of these sets is authorized and which isn’t. 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.
This “sharper” version and is not consistent with the catalog pictures. It is often lower quality with pitting and chips on the spines. The shape of nose and spines are very sharp and not rounded. They are often ground off at the top and look squared off. The smallest hedgehogs can have either the elongated legs that Bosse’s earlier molds had or the X legs. Also, the interior of the eyes are drilled out and polished inside, which was not done by Bosse. The polish inside the eyes means the patina process was done before they drilled the eyes. The overall feeling I come away with is that these were often made with a bit of a heavy hand. They feel like they were not necessarily made with the artist’s eye. But some sets can still be really beautiful and I have seen some that are nice quality and are done with great care. My conclusion with these is mixed, you have to be really careful buying these sets and make sure you get a lot of pictures to check quality.
FAKE? – This set of trays is the typical set you see with green patina or “verdigris”. These sets are made similarly to the set above: sharp edges, golden eyes, polished ears. I can’t tell if the green was intentionally applied later or if it is an error in the patination process. I’m inclined to say it is an error 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. 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. 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
FAKE – This zinc set (not aluminum as previously thought) was produced by 1МПЗ (1MPZ) or 1st Moscow Instrument Making Plant. They were manufactured as souvenirs for sale locally and for export. One set, possibly manufactured as a promotional giveaway the airline Aeroflot, has a winged logo and was manufactured earlier. The 1МПЗ hedgehog ashtrays were marked with their logo and were manufactured later in the 80s. Both dishes are considerably lighter weight (being made of zinc) with silver polished nose and spines and incised fur, eyes and ears. “Babies” for both trays usually have elongated legs. The Russian 1МПЗ and Aeroflot branded hedgehogs 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
FAKE – Next up is another set of white/pot metal trays. These are usually marked “Made in Greece”. These are the lowest quality I’ve seen, with most having seams from casting that were not ground off. I think they were copies of the Russian sets, so essentially copies of copies. A bronze/copper plated patina was usually applied over the white metal to give it a darker and less silver color. They look very similar to the Russian ones, having the same incised fur and body shape, but there are usually no polishing. The “baby” has the longer fully formed legs.
AS AN END NOTE: I know a lot of people out there say “who cares about ‘fake and real'” or “the real sets are so expensive so I prefer to buy a fake”. I’d just like to remind those people of the importance of the original artist’s vision. If not for Bosse there would be no hedgehog ashtrays, fake or otherwise. The proliferation of fakes by people only interested in stealing intellectual property for profit harmed Bosse in his lifetime, so much that he died in poverty with nothing to his name. I think that is important to take that into account when buying a fake. These fakes are not without their impact. To those who have a fake set, please enjoy them! But also please take the time to educate yourself about Bosse’s work and may it bring you closer to understanding his artistic ethos: “to make as many people as possibly happy”.
LEARN MORE ABOUT WALTER BOSSE’S HEDGEHOGS:
PART 4 – Authenticating Your Walter Bosse Hedeghog Ashtrays: Curious Cases – Steel and Ferrous Metal