by Dan Allen
Of the many different hoaxes involving fake express or railroadiana items,
one of the most elaborate involved brass belt buckles. Fake brass belt buckles
were made in the late 50's and and early 60's by a man in England who set up
at gun shows and ran big ads in gun collector publications detailing the fabulous
hoard of "authentic" belt buckles that he had discovered. This man
is long deceased, but his sad legacy of deception lives on.
Some buckles were originally sold with a letter of "authenticity".
The counterfeiter even went so far as to have a 90 page book printed by
a "Percy Siebert" copyright "1950", detailing each
buckle, its scarcity, how many manufactured, quoting Tiffany Company records,
the different manufacturers, how they were used, when they were issued,
etc! So when he came out with his phony belt buckles, he would already
have a "reference" to quote from, and to back up their authenticity.
These buckles were sold as for as much as $150 each when they first hit
the market, and I have even heard of higher prices. Recently, a couple
authors of Old West and Civil War collectors guides have mistakenly listed
these buckles in their contents, detailing rarity and prices.
As far as anyone knows, there were never ANY buckles produced for use
by express company or railroad employees. Just the quantity of buckles
that are on the market would tell you that they are mass produced fakes.
Authentic Wells Fargo items are very rare and are in big demand, with the
prices to match. But any search of internet auction sites will turn up
several dozen Wells Fargo and other company buckles. Some are sold as authentic
originals, still bringing several hundred dollars, even to this day. They
are of very heavy construction, of well cast solid brass with the belt
loop soldered on the back. Most people associate reproductions with items
of recent and cheap construction. The fact that these buckles were so well
made and 40 + years old add to their authentic look. The fact that many
of these buckles have been in collections for 40+ years only adds to the
aura of authenticity when they reappear on the market.
Wells Fargo is the most common name found on these buckles, with a 10
to 20 variations being made, but they are also found marked American Express,
Butterfield Overland Stage, Adams Express, Western Union, Central and Union
Pacific Rail Road Co (mistakenly thinking that 2 separate companies would
have issued a joint buckle!)
Backmarks found on these buckles are:
- Tiffany New York;
- E. Gaylord Mass.;
- Tiffany Studio, Rare Stones, Tiffany, Broadway, New York ;
- "Reward if returned with belt and attachments C.O.D. to ant
W F & Co. Banking House in CAL."
The bottom line is that these buckles are fine as collectibles, or fantasy
items. They look good and are well made. But they are NOT express or railroad
company issue, and only date to the 1950's at the earliest. As far as any
of the experts know, there were NO authentic belt buckles ever issued to
any express or railroad employees.
Update: There is a great new website that discusses fake
buckles. See http://www.bogusbuckles.com
Note that recently several railroad companies have issued buckles as safety
rewards, retirement gifts, etc. They are easily identified as such and
won't be mistaken as something supposedly issued over 100 years ago.