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Figural Buckles: Impressive 3-D models at home on a belt

In a special Collector Feature, Antique Trader contributor Steve Evans discusses collectible belt buckles. This lesser-known collecting interest offers quite a few options for starting and forming a collection, and they are definitely on the more affordable end of the collecting spectrum.

Steve Evans

Here’s a fun hobby: Collecting belt buckles that look like real-life objects. These buckles are quite affordable (often $10 or so) and are available in many different styles.

The best example of a “3-D” (also called “cut-out” or “theme”) buckle, not only has a fantastic design, but has a brand name, copyright date, and country of origin.

Log truck buckle

Intricate detail makes this Log Truck design very realistic. Note the driver giving a thumbs-up. On back: © 1980 THE GREAT AMERICAN BUCKLE CO, CHICAGO, SERIAL 236, MADE IN USA. Size 4 1/4” x 2 1/4”; value $15. All photos courtesy Steve Evans

Brand names include Bergamot, established in Fox River Grove, Illinois and then relocated to Delavan, Wisconsin; The Great American Buckle Co., Chicago; Baron Buckles; Indiana Metal Craft, Bloomington, Indiana, among others. These buckles are usually made of pewter or brass, and are fairly heavy for their size.

Buckles Feature Intricate Design On Small 'Canvas'

They typically have fine detail and sometimes the intricacy is astonishing. Take a look at the Log Truck buckle by The Great American Buckle Company. It’s only 4 1/4 inches wide by 2 1/4 inches tall, but looks very realistic. The headlight lenses, the radiator grill, the exposed bolts just under the front bumper, the holes in the muffler’s heat shield, the links in the log chains, the driver in the cab giving a thumps-up: Fantastic! Bravo!

The information on the backside of the Log Truck buckle shows the brand, a 1980 copyright date, made in the USA, and serial number 236. Is it possible this buckle was individually numbered as part of a limited edition? No such luck. Buckles of this model all appear to be serial #236. But all is forgiven when buying it for only $12.47, including shipping (as per the author’s eBay purchase in August 2016).

Many of the best 3-D buckle designs were made in the late 1970s, as shown by the buckles’ copyright dates. The manufacture of a particular model began in its year of copyright and if it was a good seller, may have continued to be made for several years.

Key Elements Reveal Age Indicators

Moon woman buckle

Art deco, whimsical, risque and beautiful Moon Woman buckle. On back: © 1979 BERGAMOT BRASS WORKS ®, W-49, MADE IN USA. Size 3 3/8” x 3 3/8”; value $25-$30.

When comparing two buckles of the same model, it is sometimes possible to tell which is older. Take a look at the two Derringer Pistol buckles, they show the same provenance: made by Bergamot, 1978 copyright, and model #F-156, but the newer buckle shows “Made in USA” outlined by the shape of the United States, a feature only found on later buckles made by Bergamot.

A good place to find 3-D buckles is on eBay and values shown in this article were taken from recent completed sales.

A buckle’s design is what grabs your attention, but scrutiny needs to be given to the backside too. If an eBay listing doesn’t include a rear-view picture, the seller may be hiding something that lessens the value, such as no wording on the back, or that the buckle is not American-made.

U.S. Boasts Belt Buckle History

Older buckles by The Great American Buckle Company were manufactured with “MADE IN USA” molded into the back of the buckle, but a newer version may not have that feature and instead come with a removable sticker that says “DESIGNED IN USA MADE IN MEXICO.” For example, you can find The Great American Buckle Company’s Fighter Jet #381 made in either country. Collectors prefer American-made, but the Mexico version looks good too.

It should be noted that several terrific 3-D buckle designs were made by Baron Buckles and none of them were made in America. They were proudly made in Taiwan, and are equal in value to the American-made competitors.

There are plenty of 3-D buckles out there. Take your time, look for the right buckle and the right price. While searching on eBay be prepared for a phenomenon to occur, a feeling of euphoria, much like a child at Christmas hoping for a great toy and getting it. Ya-hoo!

3-D buckles are sort of like really cool toys, and much like art objects too, but let’s not forget their utilitarian purpose – wear one if you dare.

More Examples of Brilliant Belt Buckles...