The Buckle Stops Here

“I always liked Western buckles,” says Robert Brandes, “and then one day it dawned on me to ask, ‘Hey—who makes these things?’” The Austin collector-investor set out to learn more about the silversmiths and engravers who made their mark on cowboy adornment in the form of weighty, elaborately decorated rodeo-style belt buckles. Today he owns hundreds, a sampling of which shine in this issue (see “ Buckle Up ,”). From pawnshops, antique shops, Western shows, and even passersby on the street, Brandes has amassed an unparalleled archive. Some of his buckles belonged to movie stars, rodeo champions, or wealthy ranchers, but most were prizes from small-town rodeos; Texas examples include belt-topping trophies from events in Alice, Uvalde, Happy, Seymour, Canadian, Rock Springs, Del Rio, and Dalhart. Except for one or two he currently favors for actual wear, Brandes’ buckles now reside in a bank vault. He hopes someday to find a corporate sponsor willing to purchase the entire collection and donate it to a Western museum. “That’s where it truly belongs,” he says. “These buckles are a unique and unsung form of American Western art.”

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