Discover Vintage America - AUGUST 2017
Bogus belt buckles created as a massive fraud
Q: Recently I went to a flea market and found this antique brass Coca Cola belt buckle. The back is marked indicating that it was made by Tiffany & Co. I only paid $10 for it and want your professional opinion on the value of this Tiffany belt buckle. Thank you.
A: Thank you so much for your question about brass belt buckles with a Tiffany & Co. mark. I am often asked about these belt buckles and this is the perfect opportunity to address this issue.
These brass belt buckles started appearing at antique shows and flea markets in the mid-1960s. They ran the gamut from Coca-Cola, American Express, Wells Fargo, Civil War insignia, Western Union, railroads and more. Wells Fargo and Civil War buckles were by far the most popular when these buckles and box plates started showing up. Despite warnings from experts that these items had not been seen before nor listed in any reference books, people were paying upwards of $400 or $500 for a single brass belt buckle or box plate.
These were not even reproduction pieces. They were made to intentionally defraud the public. Even today these buckles can be found selling for as much as $1,500 through online venues. They are well made and the outward appearance show appropriate signs of wear and aging. A great deal of effort was put in to pulling off this caper.
Tiffany is not the only name found on the buckles. Anson Mills, E. Gaylord and A. J. Nash are other names found stamped on the back of the fantasy brass or bronze belt buckles.
The question of who really made the brass Civil War belt buckles was a mystery until information came to light that an Englishman, John Fairchild, was crafting the buckles with the intent of preying on loyal Americans and their pride in their country's history. When sales dropped off Fairchild focused on the "Wild West". To further perpetrate the scam, in the early 1970s a book was released that appeared to answer all the questions about these brass belt buckles, "Tiffany & Gaylord Express & Exhibition Belt Plates" the publication date listed in the book is 1950 and the author was one Percy Seibert. This book was very detailed containing manufacturers, quantity made and dates of manufacture.
Not long after the release of the book, Duncan Campbell, a consultant for the Smithsonian and an expert on box plates and belt buckles, noticed that most of the information contained in the book was word for word copied from a book he had written in 1963. Mr. Campbell took matters into his own hands and exposed the entire belt buckle scam through a book titled New Buckles of the Old West.
It is important to have some basic knowledge when looking at these brass belt buckles. Tiffany & Co. is a U.S. company that expanded to London in 1986. Since Fairchild's scam was such a success there are other companies and individuals who have jumped on the fake brass belt buckle bandwagon. It is very easy to "age" metal so you need to look at the fine details and educate yourself on what the backside of a real antique brass belt buckle looks like.
As for the resale value of your "fantasy" belt buckle $10 is about the most one could get in a retail environment.
To learn a bit more about these buckles please visit these websites:
Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.
Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to email@example.com. Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to www.michelleknowsantiques.com for a one-on-one appraisal.