New Belt Buckle Maker Profile: Award Design Medals
Updated: May 18
Manufacturer/Artist: Award Design Medals
Location: Noble, Oklahoma
Related companies: None
Style and Themes: The company produced a huge variety of Commemorative and Limited Edition belt buckle series in addition to retail and some corporate designs. They produced multiple series of US State commemorative buckles and were also involved in the design and distribution of the Hesston NFR annual belt buckle release for several years.
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Award Design Medals was founded by owner Wendell Hamilton and artist Bob Henderson in 1972. The company used the lost wax casting method to produce intricate and high quality solid brass belt buckles. They also offered limited production of buckles in solid sterling silver or brass plated in silver or gold. Many of the company's designs were inspired by the
American frontier and featured figures and events from the wild west including cowboys, outlaws, historical firearms, and cattle and horse breeds. The company found success in creating limited edition series of belt buckles that were marketed to collectors in the 1980s through the Buckle Buddies magazine. Award Design Medals produced the Tony Lama commemorative series of belt buckles for each US State which gained notoriety after the State of North Dakota prevented them from using their state seal on the belt buckle. They were also actively involved in the production and release of buckles in the Hesston NFR annual belt buckle release for several years.
Award Design Medals (ADM) was founded by owner Wendell Hamilton and artist Bob Henderson in 1972. The company grew quickly and had 40 employees by 1975, but was then tragically struck by a fire that destroyed its administrative and production facilities. The company managed to rebuild and was most active during the 1980s when it sold belt buckles for both wholesale and retail customers. Freelance artists and shop owners would commission orders from ADM to distribute independently, but the company also advertised and sold its original designs to buyers through mail order advertisements. The found success in creating limited edition and commemorative designs when belt buckle collecting gained traction in the 80s and helped fuel the popularity of belt buckle collecting clubs, swap meets, and publications like the Buckle Buddies magazine.
The buckles were worn by many, but because many were sold into the collector market they had more intricate packaging that showed off the craftsmanship. The buckles were sealed with shrink wrapping and packaged in a velvet-textured plastic case like the one in the picture below.
Wendell Hamilton's interest in the American Frontier led the company to produce belt buckles that featured historical people, places and events, especially those from the days of the wild west. They produced series of buckles featuring outlaws like Billy The Kid and the Dalton Gang, as well as adaptations of famous artwork including paintings from Frederick Remington.
The casting methods used by ADM allowed them to produce intricate designs with high relief and impressive detail compared to their competitors.
The buckles are nearly always marked on the reverse in fine lettering and with the company's logo. A small banner on the reverse will provide important details on the buckle including the material or a serial number if the buckle was part of a limited edition series. The number of buckles in a limited edition series varied between designs and who commissioned the order, but runs of 500, 1,000, or 2,000 were quite common. ADM also marked buckles as "first edition" during the initial production run of a new design. If the design was reused the first edition marking was removed from subsequent castings.
Award Design Medals became involved with the annual Hesston National Finals Rodeo (NFR) belt buckle in 1982. They began by creating dies and finishing the buckles, but ultimately purchased the equipment from Hesston and took over full production in 1984.
U.S. State Series
Award Design Medals is well known for producing several collectible series of belt buckles commemorating each US State. The original limited edition series produced for Tony Lama in the early 1980s became highly collectible and publicized after the State of North Dakota prevented the company from using its state seal on the North Dakota belt buckle. A small, unknown quantity were completed and sold before North Dakota intervened, which caused prices to rise for the buckles that had been released. Even today, North Dakota 1st edition buckles will bring $300 to $450.
They later created the Eagle State Seal Collection which commemorated each of the U.S. States, and also produced belt buckles for each U.S. state with original artwork and state's name represented in a large flowing banner across the front of the buckle.
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About the Author:
Brock Lane is an entrepreneur with ecommerce experience and an M.S. in Applied Economics. 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 to write about trends in online retail marketplaces.
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