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. He was not able to even keep up with all the international orders and looked for partners to perform the casting on his behalf. Some foundries used his moulds and masters without discretion and sold models illicitly without his knowledge. Meanwhile, many thousands of copies based on Bosse’s design were being produced and sold throughout the world. The Russian airline Aeroflot even produced a set as a gift given to their frequent flyers. Copies were made in 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 produced these ashtrays in brass, never in aluminum/pewter or ceramic. Foundries in Germany did work with aluminum later without his permission and sometimes German Silver items as well but these sets are much rarer and harder to find.
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 aluminum fakes often have casting seams.
Bosse’s Hedgehogs were almost NEVER marked. With the exception of 1 set I found with the mark “Made in Germany” stamped underneath, his sets did not come with markings or stickers identifying the maker. 99% of the time they were unmarked.
Referring to the smallest hedgehog or “baby” of the set. It can be used to authenticate your ashtrays. Bosse’s moulds 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 trays in just polished bronze 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 – In the catalog picture, 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. This version’s nose seems to be shorter than the one in the picture. Both long and short nosed sets of trays were made by Bosse but with different moulds. The short nosed trays being later moulds and having a “baby” with incised feet. The longer nosed trays being the earlier moulds with elongated feet. Bosse’s work tends to differ greatly from mold to mold even within the same model as everything was handmade.
REAL – During Bosse’s time in Germany, he entrusted his casting and selling to local foundries and only asked for a licensing fee (as he did not have the money to set up his own workshop). He gave his originals and moulds to these foundries and found that they were casting and selling his items out from under him without giving him these fees. One such foundry, to save costs, started experimenting with aluminum. That is where this set came from. It is extremely rare but made with the same moulds and masters as the bronze items.
REAL – This set is quite a mystery and is the only set I have ever seen of its kind. 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.
FAKE– This set of trays is the “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. The smallest hedgehog also has the elongated legs that Bosse’s earlier moulds had. 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. Bosse’s moulds had the eyes pre-drilled and put the patina on after.
FAKE – This aluminum set was produced as a promotional giveaway for an airline (possibly Aeroflot) as well as Russian Souvenirs. The Aeroflot ones are marked with a winged logo and the Russian dishes with another mark. Both dishes are considerably lighter weight with polished nose and spines and incised fur, eyes and ears. “Babies” for both trays usually have elongated legs. The Russian ones came in a box reading “пепельница ёж сувенир” which translates literally to “souvenir ashtray hedgehog.”
FAKE – Next up is another set of aluminum 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. A bronze colored patina was usually applied over the aluminum to give it a darker and less silver color. 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.AS AN END NOTE: Remember, there is always an exception to the rule! No-one’s perfect and Bosse wasn’t either. So if you have any info I’ve left out or made an error please email. Thanks and hope this helps! Keep collecting!