Are Old Belt Buckles Worth Anything?
Updated: May 18
Summary: Yes, old belt buckles can be worth upwards of $500 if they're made by a famous artist or manufacturer. In this article I'll walk through the basics of belt buckle valuation and what collectors are looking for in a rare design.
About the Author:
Brock Lane is an ecommerce entrepreneur and M.S. Economist. He operates multiple shops on Etsy, eBay, and Shopify and maintains an inventory of over 5,000 rare and unique belt buckles, leather belts, and other goods. He leverages his sales history and professional background as an to write about trends in online retail marketplaces.
You can learn more about belt buckles at: www.beltbucklehistory.com
And you can shop for vintage belt buckles at: www.etsy.com/shop/alaskashinythings
Vintage is Back
Vintage clothing and accessories, especially belt buckles, are seeing a big resurgence. Just like the popularity of 1970s muscle cars and hippie art, vintage belt buckles from the 1970s are coming back into style. Baby boomers are getting nostalgic about the clothing and styles they remember from childhood, and young people are helping bring back the 70s and the 80s. I've found that roughly half my online sales are people buying gifts for someone else, and the other half are collectors. The fact is, vintage belt buckles are hot right now and the trinkets that you inherited or picked up at a garage sale could be worth big bucks! Not every belt buckle is a thrifting home-run, though, and there are plenty of worthless buckles out there. So, what makes a belt buckle valuable?
Who Made it?
One of the most important factors in figuring out if your belt buckle is valuable knowing who made it. Many now-famous artists and designers started their careers using belt buckles as a medium for artwork, and that can increase the value of your belt buckle a lot.
Many commercially manufactured buckles will have markings on the back to indicate who made it. This is a great starting place for estimating the value of your piece. Learning who made your buckle can also help you to figure out when and where it was made, what material was used, and who designed the artwork. If you can tie the buckle to an artist or company, you make it easier for potential buyers to find it. I've created an index of manufacturers and artists to aid in identification of belt buckles, including photographs of hallmarks and maker's marks. To access the index, click here.
Artisan or handmade buckles will often have a signature and date, but these can be hard to read. Most handmade buckles were cast using the lost-wax or sandcasting method so the details of a signature can be illegible or worn away with use over time. This buckle (photograph to the left) was made by jewelry designer David Yurman. The signature didn't come out very clear in the casting process, but identifying it made a difference of about $600 in value on this buckle. You might have to do some research by trying to find buckles of similar style to ID the maker. Even if it takes some time, it may be worth your effort to figure out who made it. If you learn that your buckle was made by a famous artist, it will pay for the effort you've put into researching.
How Old is it?
Determining the age of your belt buckle is important for establishing its value. As you might guess, older belt buckles tend to be more valuable. The modern belt buckles we're accustomed to gained popularity in the early 1970s, and the industry was most active in the late 70s and early 80s. Prior to that time, most people were wearing friction fit buckles like those made by Hickock and other companies. For more information on the history and origin of belt buckles, visit my history-by-decade articles here.
I recommend that you start by figuring out the manufacturer or artist of your belt buckle before trying to determine age. In many cases, this will narrow down the time frame considerably if you know when the manufacturer was in business and most active.
Here are a few other considerations when trying to determine age:
Copyright dates are not a good indication of age. Remember, a copyright is valid for 70 years -- if a belt buckle design was copyrighted in 1975, it will be valid until 2045! There are several buckle manufacturers that were founded in the 1970s that are still around today and using their original designs. So, a buckle made in 2021 might still have a copyright date from the 70s. Indiana Metal Craft, Bergamot Brass Works, and Great American Products (Great American Buckle Co.) are a few examples of this.
Some metals will change in color over time. Metals like brass and sterling silver will darken over time and that helps to indicate whether a belt buckle is vintage or modern. You might see or hear terms such as patina or verdigris (fancy words for tarnishing). This simply refers to the natural process of oxidation over time. You might be tempted to clean or remove the tarnish from your buckle -- don't!! the natural aged color is usually desirable on all variety of collectibles and antiques, including belt buckles. Cleaning your buckle can reduce the value significantly.
The "Sally" buckle on the left has more vivid and richer color caused by the aging of brass. The "Rudy" buckle on the right has been polished with steel wool which removes the patina. Buyers usually prefer the richer aged color.
What's it Made of?
Belt buckles were made from a wide variety of materials, and you'll want to try and identify what your belt buckle is made from. There are obvious reasons for doing your homework—like avoiding accidentally selling a silver or gold buckle really cheap—but you'll also benefit from just providing more information on your item to a potential buyer. Examples of common belt buckle materials include:
Brass or pewter plating over a cheaper base metal
Natural materials like bone, animal antler/horn, and ivory
Precious metals like gold and silver
A lot of folk art-type buckles were made by amateur craftsmen using ordinary materials. I've seen old buckles made with repurposed silverware (see photo), pine cones, irrigation pipes, etc... the sky is the limit in terms of creativity. There are advantages and disadvantages to each material, and some are more valuable than others. In my online shops, I've found that solid brass (or bronze) belt buckles tend to be the most popular and respected, among both gift-givers and high-end collectors. They're simply the most durable and retain the artwork better over time.
Some other concerns include:
Legality of wildlife parts- Be cautious when trying to sell a belt buckle that's made with bits of bone, antler, or other materials derived from wildlife. Depending on the country or state you live in, it might be illegal to sell belt buckles that contain: ivory, fossilized ivory, anything from endangered or protected species, etc. And even if it's not illegal, you might not be allowed to sell it on Etsy, eBay, or even with Google shopping. Review the policies of the marketplace you're using to figure out what you can and can't do.
Condition- Your buckle needs to be in good condition if you're trying to get top dollar for it. If your belt buckle is made from a nice material and by a famous artist, but it has severe scratches and heavy tarnish—don't expect to get a big payday. As with any vintage goods, the condition of a belt buckle matters a lot.
This belt buckle (photo left) was originally plated with brass over pewter, but after years of daily wear the plating is heavily tarnished and wearing off. It took a couple of years to sell this buckle for $12 with free shipping.
Setting a Price
The value of your belt buckle is going to be influenced by who made it, the age, and the condition. My experience is that most belt buckles can bring $25 if they have good artwork and no heavy scratches or tarnishing. Remember to think about who might be interested in buying your belt buckle. If your belt buckle is commemorating a triathlon from the summer of 1982... there probably aren't that many people wanting to buy it, and the demand will be relatively weak. On the other hand, if your belt buckle features the leaf of a certain aromatic hippie-era plant **cough cough** you will have a reasonably large pool of interested buyers.
Here are some factors that will create a premium or bonus on your belt buckle:
It comes with original manufacturer packaging like boxes or bags
It has cool artwork or subject matter
It has a high level of craftsman ship (i.e. a handcrafted buckle is usually more valuable than a mass-produced one)
It's made with precious metals or semi-precious materials like polished stones, bone and antler, etc.
One last consideration before you set a price for your belt buckle is... how will you be selling it. If you're looking to get your money fast, don't expect top dollar. Selling vintage goods online can be like going to a pawn shop. If you want to sell something fast—like in a 7-day eBay auction—you probably won't get "retail" prices.
The best place to start out when trying to figure out value is by looking at what other people are doing. If you follow the steps I've outlined in this article, you should be able to find a similar belt buckle available for sale somewhere online. That will give you an idea of the retail value and give you a an idea of what your belt buckle might be worth.
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Here are some other articles you might enjoy:
Index of Belt Buckle Manufacturers and Artists: Link
Belt Buckle History-by-decade Articles: Link
Photo Gallery of my personal collection: Link
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