First, let me tell you that I am currently employed at a Hesston dealership selling farm equipment and I have enjoyed collecting these buckles for over 5 years. I personally own one of the buckles that I am writing this guide about. The original buckles were never sold, they were given to Hesston employees and dealers in 1974. As far as I have been able to determine, the total amount made was only a few thousand. An authentic 1974 Hesston belt buckle is now worth between $800 and $1,000.
I have noticed that in the past there have been several 1974 Hesston buckles for sale on eBay at any one particular time. I have had the misfortune to purchase one of these, only to learn later that it was a reproduction that was worth $10 to $25 . This guide is meant to educate buyers that are looking to purchase an original 1974 Hesston belt buckle and how to identify a real one versus the reproductions.
I don't want to violate any copyrights, so I will not paste any photos from another sellers' auctions, but they are easy to find using eBay's search feature. The auctions that I have seen (primarily from 2 sellers) that in my opinion are selling reproductions commonly use one or more of the terms MINT CONDITION, VINTAGE, NEW, PERFECT UNWORN and COLLECTORS in the text of the title. They can also claim that they are part of a yearly series of buckles sponsoring the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) by Hesston. However, the NFR buckles did not start until 1975, the 74 buckle had nothing to do with the NFR.
Lately, some of these sellers are showing the back of the buckle (now we can see the fakes) and keeping their bidder's ID's hidden. Would anyone hazard a guess as to what they are protecting ??
You can see in the photo above that this buckle looks almost identical to the buckles currently for sale on eBay. Without measuring them side by side the casual collector cannot tell apart the original from the fake. The feature that will readily tell the authenticity is the back of the buckle. The original has no writing on the back and is painted black The fakes (reproductions) that I have seen have a flat back and are the same color that the front of the buckle displays. Below is a photo of an original 1974 Hesston buckle. Notice the 'orange peel' finish.
As a buyer, if the seller refuses to show or provide a photo/scan of the back of the buckle I would be very hesitant to pay a hefty sum for that particular buckle. If you have any doubts as to the authenticity, contact the seller and ask for a scan of the back. If it is not provided, then my advise to you: DON'T BUY IT !!! If it does NOT have the 'orange peel' finish on the back IT IS A FAKE - DON'T BUY IT!!!
You can also tell condition by inspecting the backside - the finish will can be rubbed to the metal on buckles that have been worn, therefore the value is undermined. I would estimate that the value for a used buckle is about half of an authentic an unworn buckle.
Most collectors will not be able to afford an authentic 1974 buckle, so to make their collection look complete a reproduction has it's place. But I hate for collectors to purchase something that they think is authentic when it is fact nothing but a fake. Personally, in my opinion, if it's a fake and you paid more than $10 for it, you've been had.
These buckles may be pretty, and look good on a belt, but they are not worth the price they usually get. If you want to bid on one, be aware that it could a fake, and not a collectible.