A belt buckle does way more than fasten your belt; it's also a great style statement and sometimes even a piece of history. Totally wearable and ultra collectible, vintage belt buckles can even be worth a lot of money. Some, especially those that are very old or have a unique provenance, can be worth thousands. When you're scouting thrift stores or shopping your own closet, it's nice to know how to spot a valuable buckle.
10 Most Valuable Vintage Belt Buckles
Wondering if that vintage belt buckle you scored might be worth something? The most valuable examples have a few things in common: they tend to be unique, made of precious materials, historically significant, or a combination of all these things. Even if you don't have a buckle dating back to the Civil War or worn by John Wayne, you still might have a treasure.
|Confederate General Wade Hampton solid gold buckle
|Lou Gehrig 1935 American League All-Star belt buckle
|Opal, gold, platinum, and diamond buckle
|26 Bar Ranch belt buckle
|Civil War Confederate Soldier belt buckle
|14k gold monogram belt buckle
|Gold and sterling silver Bohlin buckle
|Larry Hagman "Dallas" vintage belt buckle
|Sterling silver John Wayne "Go Texan" belt buckle
|"Brannigan" brass belt buckle
Confederate General Wade Hampton's Solid Gold Belt Buckle - $47,800
The most expensive belt buckle is made of solid gold. We're not even kidding. This antique belt buckle was specially commissioned by Confederate General Wade Hampton from a South Carolina jeweler on the eve of the Confederate secession from the Union. Hampton fought in the Battle of Bull Run and later served as Governor of South Carolina. The buckle was made from a wax casting and has a motif of a palm tree and leaves. It's completely unique, made of gold, and historically significant, and it sold in 2007 for $47,800.
Lou Gehrig's 1935 American League All-Star Team Belt Buckle - $28,800
Famous baseball player Lou Gehrig received this belt buckle to commemorate the American League All-Star game in 1935, which he played in front of 69,812 fans. The buckle has the All-Star logo on the front, along with a shield and laurel leaves. On the back, it's engraved with Gehrig's name. The decorations are made of gold and sterling silver. Highly valuable for its historical significance, it sold for $28,800 in 2018.
Opal, Gold, Diamond, and Platinum Vintage Western Belt Buckle - $25,000
Precious materials can have a major impact on the value of vintage belt buckles. One solid gold buckle with a 113-carat opal cabochon and diamond and platinum accents sold for $25,000 in 2019. This buckle has a Western motif of a horseshoe, and it can also be converted to a Western-style bolo tie. It dates to at least the 1980s, but it could be from earlier in the 20th century.
Sterling Silver "26 Bar Ranch" Vintage Belt Buckle - $19,120
John Wayne was the part owner of 26 Bar Ranch, a cattle operation in Arizona. As a legend of Western movies and Hollywood, Wayne's nickname was "The Duke," and the word "Duke" decorates this belt buckle. There's also a lovely piece of turquoise and a steer's head. On the reverse, it's engraved with the owner's name and the year 1974. Combining precious materials and historic appeal, this vintage buckle sold for $19,120 in 2011.
Did you know it's actually really easy to tell if a belt buckle is real silver? Flip it over and look on the back for a stamp or hallmark that reads "925," "sterling," or "925/1000." If the buckle was made in the last 150 years, it will almost definitely bear a mark like this if it's real silver.
Authentic Civil War Confederate Belt Buckle - $13,145
During the United States Civil War, many Confederate soldiers war belt buckles stamped with "CS" or "CSA." These can be super valuable, especially if they're in great condition. One example that looks almost perfect and even includes the original belt and a letter of authenticity sold for $13,145 in 2012.
14k Gold Monogram Belt Buckle - $11,950
Belt buckles have been kind of a big deal at various points in history, and finding vintage examples in good condition is the first step in getting one that's valuable. Add in precious materials, and you have a find that's...well, solid gold. This monogram belt buckle features the initials "JW" and dates back to the 1950s. It sold for $11,950 in 2011.
Gold and Sterling Silver Bohlin Belt Buckle - $10,755
The John Wayne movie "The Cowboys" was filmed in 1971 and came out in January of 1972. Famous Western jeweler and saddlemaker Edward H. Bohlin made this buckle to commemorate the filming. It's decorated with the words "Cow Boys," the year 1971, and the initials "JW" for John Wayne, "SF" for Santa Fe (where it was filmed), and "MR" for director Mark Rydell. It sold for $10,755 in 2011.
Larry Hagman "Dallas" Screen Worn "JR" Bohlin Belt Buckle - $9,375
The famous TV series Dallas was part of part of pop culture in the 1970s and 1980s, and a belt buckle worn on screen in the show is a pretty valuable treasure. This buckle engraved with "JR" and worn by actor Larry Hagman was made by Edward H. Bohlin. Add in some precious materials (ruby, gold, and sterling silver), and it's no surprise it sold for $9,375 in 2020.
Sterling Silver "Go Texan" Belt Buckle Belonging to John Wayne - $8,365
Another vintage Western belt buckle that's valuable because of its materials and popular significance, this buckle is made of sterling silver and belonged to John Wayne. It's hard to say if he actually wore it, but the silver does bear marks of heavy wear. It's engraved on the back that it was presented to his son in 1964 by the Houston Farm & Ranch Club. It sold for $8,365 in 2011.
Brass Belt Buckle From "Brannigan" - $5,676
Another John Wayne-related buckle, this example is featured in the opening credits of the movie Brannigan. Dating from 1975, it shows a picture of Tower Bridge in London and has an etched John Wayne signature on the reverse. It sold for about $5,676 in 2011.
How to Spot a Valuable Vintage Belt Buckle
You might not have one of these super valuable buckles, but that doesn't mean you don't have something worth money. Clearly, a connection to John Wayne or the Civil War is valuable, but what else should you look for? These are a few things to check if you have a buckle in your collection.
Look for Marks on the Back
Most metal belt buckles, vintage or otherwise, have stamps or marks on the back. Flip your buckle over to see if it's made of a precious metal or if it bears the stamp of a jeweler or designer that could add to the value. Makers like Bohlin, Matt Hackett, and others can bring real money.
Find Out if It Has a History
Do you know the story of your buckle? If you do, it could add to the value. Provenance is a story about an object that can be documented. If your great grandpa wore the buckle to a major historical event, look for photos of him wearing it there and write down everything you know.
Check for Iconic Images or Brands
Certain images, when they appear on a belt buckle, call up the time when it was made or worn. So do certain brands. Vintage Harley Davidson belt buckles, for instance, are super collectible and can sometimes be worth $100 or more.
Take a Look at the Condition
With all antiques and vintage items, condition can be a pretty major factor in the value. Belt buckles are no different. If the belt buckle shows a lot of wear, it will be worth less (unless it's worn by someone important or famous). The details should be crisp, and it should be attractive overall.
Vintage Buckles Are Fun to Collect
A lot of vintage belt buckles are interchangeable, which means that you can open the belt and switch the buckle any time you like. This is really cool for expressing your personal style, and it's also great for creating a buckle collection you actually get to wear. Buckles are definitely one of the most interesting things you can collect, so keep your eyes open for potential treasures on your next thrifting adventure.