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  • Writer's pictureBrock Lane

Pacifica: Prismatic Belt Buckles That Rocked the 70s.

What are Pacifica belt buckles?

There's a great deal of mystery around Pacifica belt buckles... especially among their passionate collectors...

Pacifica Belt Buckles History & Collecting Blog

But for those who don’t know, these flashy buckles first popped up in record stores around the country in the mid-70s. Disco was at its peak, Jerry Garcia was still alive, and belt buckles took the nation by storm. The holographic stickers on Pacifica belt buckles really stood out- with the flashy look that rivaled disco balls and sequined clothing- plus it was a new technology.


Today, holograms are commonplace and uninteresting. They’re associated with Pokémon and sports cards, and get used on all kinds of things from kids toys to cereal boxes . They’re so common in consumer products that you really don’t even notice them. But in 1976, they were novel – and people wanted them.


The 70s were a time before personal computers, cds, dvds, and all the streaming services we know today. Record shops were community spaces and high schoolers hanging out there noticed the prismatic Pacifica belt buckles, which mostly featured the names and logos of popular rock bands and musicians.

KISS not-pacifica prismatic belt buckle collecting

The eye-catching buckles adorned countertop and window displays in

places like Camelot Music and Radio Shack…"Pacifica-Crystal Enamel-Rock Star Belt Buckles"… even the blister-pack cards for the buckles were cool! And the first ones to hit stores sold out fast, especially the most popular bands like KISS and Grateful Dead. But just as quickly as they arrived, Pacifica buckles soon disappeared. They were only made for a few short years (1974-1979), and nobody knew where they went….




The 70s Music Industry

Product merchandising, particularly for the music industry and pop culture, saw significant growth and innovation in the 1970s. The Beatles were pioneers in both the artistic sense and in business.

In the early 60s fans could buy Beatles-related items like lunchboxes, dolls, and clothing, and it marked the beginning of what is now called “promotional apparel”.

It’s a marketing strategy where you create products that have your brand’s name prominently featured on them. Fans buy and wear your merch, which causes other people to see the brand, spreads awareness, and leads to more merchandise sales. Today, it might be harder to find a t-shirt that doesn’t have a product brand name on it: Nike, Supreme, etc.


But promotional apparel was a novel idea in the 60s… and it spread like wildfire through the music industry. Prior to this, most money in the music business was based on concert ticket and record sales—we’re talking about butts-in-seats & actual vinyl’s. When executives and business managers discovered how much money could be made in merchandising, it gave birth to the modern rock star. The money that came in from t-shirts, posters, photo buttons, hats, and stickers propelled musicians into stardom. With their faces and names all over clothing and consumer products, it was the 1970s equivalent of going “viral”.


Record store merch display, 1977

Record store owners saw the success of these products and wanted a slice of the action. The profit margins on merch could be as high as 100% compared to 10% on sales of vinyls. So sales of T-shirts, posters, belt buckles, mirrors, rock magazines, and other related items were a major boost to record store profits. In 1978, these “plus-profit goods” made up 15 to 20% of the volume at many record stores. Young people (age 17-23) were the target demographic and musicians gained all the free marketing from the youth wearing their album artwork.

Pacific belt buckles were still affordable though, retailing for $5 or $6 because they were cheaper and easier to manufacture than buckles cast from brass or pewter (a labor intensive process).


Pacifica (Rock Star) Belt Buckles

Pacifica Co. was always a belt buckle company, but it wasn't always a rock star belt buckle company...


Two students, John Shedaker and Gary McCall, met at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) while studying neurophysiology. Together, they got the idea to start making belt buckles and formed the Pacifica Company in 1974. Their first designs were less colorful than the later rock star buckles, and they featured cartoon & comic book characters, antique oil paintings, sports photographs, and horoscopes. Other early designs from Pacifica Co. featured artwork by cartoonist Gary Patterson. Interestingly, Gary Patterson also attended UCLA before dropping out after he ran out of money...


Photos: Early Pacifica belt buckles from 1975 and '76, before music industry licensing



One of their first licensing deals had no connection to the music industry. It was a series of belt buckles featuring comic book artwork from Tarzan (based on the characters created by Author Edgar Rice Burroughs) with illustrations by cartoonists Russel "Russ" Manning and Harold "Hal" Foster.


Tarzan Belt Buckles made by Pacifica in 1975


Pacifica founders John Shedaker and Gary McCall focused on developing their trademarked "crystal enamel" process of laminating printed images to the front of the buckles. Selling belt buckles out of the back of their station wagon, the two men found early success, and the company grew. Their big break came when record companies approached them about making belt buckles for DJs. Pacifica made its first true rock star belt buckles for the record labels, who sent them as free promotional items to DJs. Fans saw the DJs wearing the flashy buckles and wanted their own, and contacted the record labels to try to buy them.


The rest is history....


Full page magazine ad for Pacifica Belt Buckles, 1978
Full page magazine ad for Pacifica Belt Buckles, 1978



Within four years, Pacifica Co. grew from a two-man team to a bustling corporation with 90 sales reps, headquarter offices in Los Angeles, and a second sales office in Philadelphia. In 1978, they were selling 42 different licensed belt

history of KISS pacifica belt buckles collector's guide & values

buckles (12 of which were for KISS), representing around 24 different artists, to record stores and other retailers across America. One of the selling points that helped Pacifica to excel is that their designs emphasized the artist and band members rather than specific albums. This meant that their buckles maintained relevancy and didn't go out of style as soon as the musician released a new record or tour (like what happened with concert Tshirts). Retailers also earned a 100% markup on Pacifica belt buckles, as opposed to 10% or less for an album. It was an opportunity retailers couldn't turn down, and competitors wanted to mimic...

 

If you're enjoying this article & you're thinking about starting your own Pacifica collection

& want to support BeltBuckleHistory.com (we earn a small commission from this affiliate link)

There are some great Pacifica Belt Buckles available on ebay right now

 

How it ended

The rapid rise of music industry merchandising led to the formation of many new businesses and manufacturers- some legitimate and some not…

Bootleggers could quickly and easily turn a profit by making unauthorized shirts, buckles, and posters. A series of lawsuits followed the rapid rise of music merchandising, and it changed the landscape forever.


In the 70s, copyright laws were less strict than they are today and were not well defined in the courts. Record labels & individual artists began filing lawsuits against bootleggers to

New York County Courthouse

stop the manufacture and distribution of unlicensed merch. In March 1977, a significant legal development occurred in New York State when a major t-shirt manufacturer, Our Front Inc., based in Brooklyn, was issued an injunction by the New York Supreme Court. This injunction prevented them from selling unauthorized t-shirts featuring the likenesses of several prominent rock stars including Bruce Springsteen, Yes, Rick Wakeman, Jeff Beck, and Roger Daltrey. This legal action marked a noteworthy moment in a series of efforts to combat the lucrative trade in illegal "personality merchandise," valued at many millions of dollars.

Peter Frampton Pacifica Belt Buckles

Peter Frampton's merchandising representative, Bandana Productions, followed step and filed suit against Wild Side Inc., a manufacturer of decals and shirts. It led to a state supreme court ruling (later in 1977) that banned them from making and selling merch bearing Frampton’s name and likeness. It also allowed a $2 million dollar damages claim to go to trial.


Bandana Productions also filed suit against Tandy Inc. (now known as a leather company, but back then it ran the successful retail chain Radio Shack) for distributing unauthorized Peter Frampton Belt Buckles… made by Pacifica.


Tandy agreed voluntarily to stop distributing the Pacifica belt buckles in December of 1977, claiming it wasn’t aware they were unauthorized. It later came out that Pacifica had tried to

obtain a licensing agreement from Banadana Productions, but had never finalized it… It was just a couple of short years later that Pacifica belt buckles were gone entirely.


Belt buckles in general faded as young people came of working age. In the 80s, many of the rebellious flower children retired their youthful clothes and traded them for professional work attire. The belt buckle fad died down, and the music industry matured and became stricter. By now the market was also saturated with an abundance of promotional products. Many belt buckle manufacturers were left in the dust, and only the largest commercial companies like Bergamot Brass Works and Great American Products survived.


Pacifica Belt Buckle Collecting

Today, Pacifica buckles are prized among collectors of music memorabilia. They’re often the centerpiece of man-caves, they have custom display shelves and rotating cases… and it's no laughing matter. You’ll occasionally see a full set pop on eBay for $10,000 or more. The most valuable Pacifica buckles are usually KISS designs, and the rarer ones like Rock-and-Roll-Over or Galaxy Blue, can easily go for $500 a piece.



Even the marketing material related to Pacifica belt buckles can be valuable. This wholesaler booklet showing off the new designs recently sold on eBay with a list price of $1,500!

Pacifica belt buckles wholesale catalog/brochure


When it comes to value, condition matters a lot with Pacifica buckles. Even the condition of brand new buckles varied significantly due to the manufacturing process. The buckles weren't necessarily high quality... they were meant to be affordable, mass-produced products. So you'll notice some factory defects like printing issues on the stickers & graphics or bubbles in the lacquer finish—that's all in addition to any scratches & wear from being used.


Some of the most popular designs among collectors include Kiss, Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, David Bowie, ZZ Top, and many others.

 

If you're enjoying this article & you're thinking about starting your own Pacifica collection

& want to support BeltBuckleHistory.com (we earn a small commission from this affiliate link)

There are some great Pacifica Belt Buckles available on ebay right now

 
Pacifica belt buckle collector's guide




The success of Pacifica as a company did not go unnoticed and you’ll also see a variety of other music memorabilia belt buckles (“not-Pacifica”) that also feature holographic stickers. Concert Posters Inc (CPI) was a notable competitor, plus there were many bootleg designs

Kansas CPI Prismatic Belt Buckle
Kansas CPI Prismatic Belt Buckle

coming in from Mexico and elsewhere. Not to mention modern fakes... you’ll occasionally find eBay sellers taking old Pacifica belt buckles and lacquering a new sticker or print onto them. These can be really hard to spot, so shop carefully!


The value of these "not-Pacifica" pieces varies significantly, and there’s disagreement in the collector community as to the rarity and value of them. Some Pacifica purists won’t touch them, and others feel that Pacifica’s competitors & bootleggers (respectively) have earned a place in the story of commercial music industry merchandising…


Let us know your thoughts and drop a comment below on this post. Did we miss anything?


 

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About the Author:

Brock Lane has an MS in Applied economics and operates multiple shops on Etsy, eBay, and Shopify. He maintains an inventory of over 10,000 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. Brock is an eBay affiliate and earns commission from linked products & shops.


Shop for vintage belt buckles on Brock's Etsy Shop


Other articles you might enjoy:

Tiffany Belt Buckles - The Complete Story: Link

Index of Belt Buckle Manufacturers and Artists: Link

Belt Buckle History-by-decade Articles: Link


 

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