By Steve Evans
The Tiffany buckles shown in this article are not what they appear to be. They are not 100 to 150 years old and were not even made by Tiffany & Company. They are fakes!
Several flamboyant “myths” go along with these belt buckles. Most stories come from a history book about antique buckles, but the book is just as fraudulent as the buckles. It’s entitled “Tiffany & Gaylord Express & Exhibition Belt Plates” by Percy Seibert, with a false copyright date of 1950 (it actually came out in 1969 or 1970).
Scam at Center of Tiffany Buckles
The release of these buckles into the antique marketplace and then backing up the authenticity with a book telling their history, was a really big scam. The ‘Tiffany’ buckles were selling for more than $100 each, that is until word came out: “The buckles are not legit.”
They currently sell to collectors for $10 to $20 each, which is pretty cheap for a 50-year-old buckle. Sure, they have a bad reputation, but it’s hard to ignore that they are beautifully made of solid brass and are originals, not copies. They were made to look as if they were produced from circa 1860s to the early 1900s, but none had been made previous to the buckles shown in this article, which are circa late 1960s/early 1970s.
There have been more than 100 different Tiffany models produced. They are usually pretty large, averaging 3 1/2 inches by 2 1/4 inches in size, and are substantial in weight. The best examples come with old-fashioned looking belt attachments.
More ‘Hogwash’ Than History
The stories that go along with the buckles are a combination of 30% actual history and 70% hogwash. Markings on the back of many Tiffany buckles do make some historical sense. On the back of the Abraham Lincoln buckle it says “made by W. H. Horstmann.” W. H. Horstmann actually was a military manufacturer back in 1865.
The backs of other Tiffany buckles are sometimes stamped with the name A.J. Nash alongside a beautiful Tiffany logo. Arthur J. Nash actually did manage Tiffany’s glass factory in Queens, New York. This factory did not make belt buckles, but did make the famous Tiffany blown-glass lamps, with early examples shown at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
All of the buckles shown in this article are stamped with the Tiffany brand name except for one – the Titanic Bon Voyage buckle – but it certainly has the same styling. Its brand is shown as “Deane & Adams Mint, London, England,” a name found on several buckles that most likely come from the maker of the Tiffany fakes. Collectors generally agree that the fraudulent Tiffany buckles were made in England.
Black Sheep Buckles Prevalent
Buckles marked “TIFFANY STUDIO NEW YORK” are the black sheep of the Tiffany buckle line-up.
Some look like regular Tiffany buckles, but the odd ducks are the models with 1970s themes such as the CB radio craze, Fonzie (of the “Happy Days” TV show), and Star Trek. These are smaller in size and crudely made when compared to normal Tiffany buckles.
No manufacturer has stepped forward to claim responsibility for making the fraudulent Tiffany buckles, probably because of possible legal implications. Realizing this, some companies started making copies of the fake Tiffany buckles, and simply left the Tiffany brand name off.
The original makers of the Tiffany versions were in hiding, and weren’t about to blow their cover by giving trouble to anyone infringing on their original designs.
Some of the companies who produced copies of the fakes included Bergamot Brass Works, Darien, Wisconsin; Lewis Buckles, Chicago, Illinois; Synek Studio, New York, New York, and others. These copies are less valuable to collectors, but do have belt attachments to fit modern belts.
Books About Buckles Fail to Fight Fakery
In addition to the Seibert book, there’s another fraudulent book, entitled “Accoutrement Belt Plates,” which came out in 1976 and shows more than 80 different Tiffany buckles with descriptions and a bit more fake history.
The book that blew the lid off the Tiffany buckle scam was “New Belt Buckles of the Old West,” by J. Duncan Campbell, copyright date 1973. It should be considered essential reading for any belt buckle collector. There is also a website: Bogus Buckles [www.bogusbuckles.com], which is devoted to exposing Tiffany fakes.