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Timeless Designs

Five Things You Need to Know about those Silly, Smiley, Springy Danish Toys Known as The Hoptimist

By Helen Russell

1. The Hoptimist originated in 1968 when furniture designer Gustav Ehrenreich decided that the world needed cheering up mid Vietnam War and The Troubles in Ireland. He wanted to put the smile back on people’s faces so created the must-have happy-maker for every Danish home. He carried on producing Hoptimists until 1974.

2. The smiley, springy characters were given a new lease on life in 2009 when Danish fashion designer Lotte Steffensen decided that the recession-hit country was in need of another dose of Hoptimism. She contacted Gustav’s son and asked for the rights to start producing the Hoptimist again. He gave his blessing and today, nearly every Danish home and office desk has its own Hoptimist.

3. “Hoptimists are a little reminder to smile, every time you see them,” says Lotte: “I think they fit with the idea of Danes as the happiest nation.” Denmark is regularly voted the happiest country in the world and has topped the UN poll for the past two years. “Happiness is important in Denmark,” says Lotte, “we prioritize it.” She’s not wrong: even the plug sockets in Denmark look like smiley faces. It’s no wonder Danes are so happy…

4. Famous fans of the Hoptimist including Kylie Minogue, the Danish royal family – Queen Margrethe gets a new one each year – and Ripley from Alien (really). Hoptimists can be seen on the flight deck of the space ship in Ridley Scott's 1979 science fiction horror film and they also appear in Alien Isolation, the October 2014 Playstation spin off where Ripley’s daughter is investigating the disappearance of her mother.

5. No two faces on vintage Hoptimists from the 1960s and ‘70s are exactly the same – each was customized by a team of women who painted individual expressions on each wooden head.

Helen Russell, is a journalist and author of The Year of Living Danishly published by Icon Books, January 2015