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a history of hesston nfr belt buckles


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Hesston buckles are probably the most successful and enduring series of belt buckles ever produced. Interest is still strong in Hesston buckles as we get inquiries almost daily from people visiting our web site We get old collectors wanting to fill in the odd buckle or two they are missing (usually the 74) and new collectors just starting out wanting to gain as much information as possible about all the Hesstons. For these reasons we decided to print all the information we could find on the subject. The following article is the most complete account of Hesston buckles available that we know of. It is reprinted from the May 1995 issue of The Voice, the official publication of The National Association of Belt Buckle Collectors Inc (for information about the NABBC, write to National Association of Belt Buckle Collectors, PO Box 48281, Wichita, KS 67201). We truly thank the club President and editor, Leon McCurry for granting us permission to do so. We hope you find this information useful and good luck in your buckle collecting! (PS Since this article was written in 1995, we have added a little at the end to keep things up to date).  BOE 2000


A few weeks ago, I had a request from apparently a new collector, asking if we could do an article on the history of the early Hesston's. My first reaction was that "everybody" knows about Hesston's. But as I began to research, I realized I knew a little, but there was a lot more I didn't know. A special thanks to Pat Bell of Award Design Metals, Kerry Gray, President of Associated Advertising Agency who did the design and promotion of the 1975-1982 Hesston buckles, and to Jan (Rath) Jewah, who gave permission to glean material from a series of articles in several 1983 Buckle Buddies Magazines and print it.

In the 1970’s, many farm implement companies used belt buckles bearing their companies names as a form of advertising. The Hesston Company also followed the trend and commissioned their Ist buckle in 1974. It was made by Ruebrow Manufacturing, Brooklyn, NY. Approximately 15,000 were made.

The 1974 Buckle promotion was unsuccessful, so Hesston decided to try another approach. They approached Rodeo Cowboy Association about the possibilities of televising the National Finals Rodeo. The plan was to target Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. So in order to test its effectiveness, they asked each dealer to supply a list of 150 customers and prospects in his area. Hesston then made a direct mailing to the customer asking them to complete a questionnaire stating whether they watched the NFR program and if they would watch it again. The customer then took the card to their dealer to be validated and the company mailed them a 1974 Hesston buckle. This allowed Hesston to disperse all of their Ist buckles.

Associated Advertising Agency, along with Gene Countryman. Director of Communications at Hesston (now with Wichita Tourism Bureau) decided to try another buckle, the 1975 and sell it. They had a design drawn by Bill Manley, in-house artist of Associated Advertising Agency and the PRC Rodeo Association approved it.The buckle was made by Lewis Buckle Co. of Chicago. It was made by being cast in a rubber type mold. It took a long time for the order to be filled. 50,000 buckles were made.The buckle became a successful collector's item because of an imprint on the back. Limited addition, collectors buckle. Bill Manley designed a total of 10 Hesston buckles. He is now deceased. 1975 was the only year that Hesston made a boot scraper.

The 1976 buckle was produced by A&E Die Casting, Gardenia, CA. This company was purchased by Mattel, (makers of Hot Wheels toys) and they completed the contract. The die was produced by an outside firm, by an old German engraver who retired after finishing the die. With the aid of a magnifying glass, you can see tiny stars in the background. Approximately 125,000 buckles were produced.

The 1977 was the Ist one to be oval shaped and was produced by Cast Products, Chicago, IL. Approximately 150,000 were made. Also in 1977, the Ist numbered silver buckle was made for Dealer incentives. Also, a Pro Rodeo belt was made. 1977 was the only year for a license plate promoting Professional Rodeo. It was made and available only to Territory Managers and Dealers.

1978-Fourth edition of Rodeo series again made by Cast Products of Chicago. From here on, there is no record of how many buckles were made. The silver dealer promotional buckle made again. Ist year for the pewter ash tray. Only year that they were available for sale to the public. After 1978, they were only available to Territory managers and dealers.

1979-Again produced by Cast Products of Chicago. Ist NFR stick pin was made. Also Ist set of 6 Leather Coasters were made, included the 1974 buckle design to have a set of six.

1980-Sixth edition of Rodeo Series. No record of who made them. 2nd set of Leather Coasters made. Rodeo Series. 197,75-1980 buckle design on them.

1981 7th Rodeo Series. No record of manufacturers 2nd stick pin. Ist hat pin made. Ist Bronze Sculpture "The Bul1 fighter" was made. Limited Edition of 480 were made. No record of who the, Sculpturer was.

1982- The 8th final cowboy Classic edition buckle. The 2nd Bronze sculpture 'The All Around Cowboy" was made. Limited to 500 pc. ADM made the Ist die for the Hesston buckle.

1983- First Edition of the anniversary series. 1983 is the 25th anniversary of the National Finals Rodeo. Last buckle designed by Bill Manley. In 1983 Award Design Metal made the Ist Sterling Silver and 24 karat gold plate buckle.

In 1983 and 1984, Hesston cast the buckles and Award Design Metals finished them. ADM also produced the dies.In late 1984, Award Design Metal bought the Hesston Buckle machine and has produced the buckles since.

1984-1989 Buckles were designed by Fred Fellow.

1989 Special Edition "Barrel Racing" buckle. This was the only year that 2 buckles were produced with different designs. Also, this closed the Anniversary Series.

1990-First Edition of the Hesston National Finals Commemorative Series. This buckle was designed and produced by ADM.

1991-Second buckle in the Commemorative Series. Designed and produced by ADM.

1992-3rd buckle in. series. Produced by ADM. Don’t know who designed it.

1993-4th buckle: in Series. Produced by ADM. Don it know who. designed it.

1994-5th buckle in Series. Designed by Carl Bascom and produced by ADM.

1995-No information available at this time. We hope that this is welcome information.

As we began, we wound up with about 4 times as much material as we used, Again, Thanks to all who helpedL.M 95


Additional information from Buckles of Estes, March 2000:

Currently, Hesston NFR buckles have been produced through 1999. In 1997, Hesston produced a NFR buckle, and also a buckle for the 50th anniversary of Hesston equipment. In 1998, there were 2 buckles produced as part of the NFR series - a bronc rider, and also a women’s barrel racer. In 1983, Hesston produced the first youth Hesston buckle, which came with a belt. Youth buckles have been produced every year since. 

As you have just read, the 74 Hesston buckle was a promotional give-a-way to advertise Hesston farm equipment and was available only to a select group of people. At that time little value was placed on the buckle and I would venture to guess that today, 26 years later, the majority of the 15000 buckles produced no longer exist. Who knew that this was the first buckle of perhaps the most collectable buckle series ever produced! As the Hesston NFR buckle series became more and more popular over the next several years, collectors discovered they did not have the first (74) buckle. As the laws of supply and demand dictates, the value of the 74 buckle has steadily risen over the years to approximately $1200 today.

Whenever there is “easy money” to be made some devious person will step in to screw things up. Hence the following article, also from the May 95 issue of The Voice. BOE 2000.



About the same time I received the request for an article about the History of Hesston buckles, I was talking with a gentleman by phone from out of State and he asked "do you know if there really are any fake Hesston's"? The answer is yes. A special thanks to Bob Brandley who wrote this article that appeared in the Buckle Buddies Magazine and to Jan Rath Jewah for permission to reprint it. I personally have knowingly seen 2 fake 1974 Hesston's. They probably were made by the same person/s using a mold from a genuine buckle. The 2 that I saw are slightly smaller and the color and texture were a little different. The fake 74's and 75's seemed to show up about the mid 80's. About 1 1/2 years ago, another fake 74 began to appear, but it is easy to spot. It is noticeably smaller, has a moveable belt loop and the word TAIWAN stamped on the back. L.M. 95


The Fake 1975 Hesston

by Bob Brandley Secretary, BBIA

Do you own a set of Hesston National Final Rodeo buckles? Have you seen the FAKE 1974 or 1975's? You might check out yours for the 'Real McCoy' as several fakes are out there looking for a home! The genuine 1975 Hesston measures 3 1/8" length without curve and 2 3/16" wide, weighs 7 ounces. There are clear colored ones but most have a little to several dark spots on them. The curve is more sharply indented than any fake I've seen. The FAKE 1975 Hesston’s are made from a mold of a genuine buckle so when removed they come out smaller. The fake 75 measures 2 15/16" without curve and 2 1/8" wide, weighs 6 1/2 ounces but could vary according to the metal used. The curve is near flat and detail not as sharp as the real 1975. So watch out for these and those who make them! Here's hoping they can’t sell their wares!

An update on the history of Hesston Belt Buckles
by Frank Miller, an Avid Hesston Buckle Collector:

As an avid collector of Hesston Belt Buckles, I relied on the article of the History of the Hesston Belt Buckle.  Until recently, it was thought that there was not a gold award Hesston belt buckle produced until 1983.  I have now owned 2- 1977 gold award Hesston belt buckles personalized, one to a Hesston engineer, and the other to a Hesston Sales Representative.  I have also owned 3 -1982 gold award Hesston belt buckles, one is personalized to the North American Sales Manager for Hesston, one is personalized to a Hesston sales representative, and one was not personalized.  I have a complete set from 1977-1982 Hesston Gold awards that are personalized to one of the Hesston Sales representatives. 

The 1979 Hesston Gold award belt buckle is made by Montana Silversmiths and is made from German Silver, with a gold overlay and a red enamel for the lettering of "National Finals Rodeo" and "Hesston".

It is unknown how many of the 1977-1982 gold award buckles were made, but probably not very many.  They were made for some of the Hesston employee's and sales representatives, so they were not available to the public.

It was known that the Hesston belt buckles produced a silver award belt buckle for their dealers from 1977-1982.  I have a silver award belt buckle from 1976 that is not marked, which is not very common, but I also have a 1977 silver award belt buckle that is not marked and was told that this happened due to Hesston sending them out to the dealer and letting them have the buckle engraved, so it saved Hesston money by doing this.  It is unknown how many of the 1976 silver award belt buckles were made, but probably not many.

From 1983-1999, Award Design Medals produced a limited edition of 1,500 Sterling Silver and Gold belt buckles, numbered on the back of the buckle beginning with a letter, followed by 3 numbers, of 1,500. Ex: C 001 of 1,500, D 090 of 1500, F 099 of 1,500, J 011 of 1,500, etc. 

From 2000 to present, Montana Silversmiths has produced the line of Hesston Belt Buckles with different grades of material used for each buckle, from the pewter tone to the brass tone, to the silver tone, and to the gold tone.

Buckle Sizes:  Buckles are 3 1/4" wide by 2 1/2" tall -- give or take a quarter inch or so -- unless otherwise stated on the buckle page.  This is considered a good "average sized" buckle for either men or women.
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