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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

TROPHY BUCKLES "The Award to Chamionship"
Just below the navel of nearly every cowboy and cowgirl today rest the prestigious award of accomplishment that is crafted in the Gold and Silver array known as the Trophy Buckle. It serves as a proof of merit worn with enormous pride for the hard work training and conducting their daily rituals of practice to compete in the many events with the hopes of bringing home the award. These fine pieces of art are given on nearly every level of equestrian events, when the event can afford to present such awards.

My son Austin and I were sitting in the grandstand of the Wild Card Rodeo held at Sinton, Texas when they announce for all children 12 and under to come down for the open Calf Scramble. Austin, just Ten years old then, was excited and ready to run down the steps to get into the arena. As he was leaving me seated at the grand stand, I told him, “Go win yourself a buckle son.” The Calf Scrabble is one of my favorite highlights at any Rodeo involving the kids to participate in events such as this. Nearly 50 kids lined up for the opportunity to chase the four steers around to try removing a ribbon tied to the steer’s tail. Each ribbon had its award and the rules are set to grab the ribbon, run back to the starting line and receive an award. Prizes range from cash to one fine buckle which every contestant desires to be first across the finish line to earn the BUCKLE.

Austin Edison, Wild Card Rodeo
Austin did fairly well earning some bucks but his hopes were on that buckle. As he came back walking up the steps to where I was seated with his cash award, he had a smile and a frown shown in his grin. “Dad, why do they give away just one buckle,” he asked me. I explained that it’s for the one Champion who was first across the line and further explained how he did well earning some cash. He was proud of that little victory but had hopes on receiving the buckle. I continue to coach him encouraging how well he did when his questions seem to continue. “Will the Champion Bull rider get a buckle,” Austin asked. “Yep, likely so,” I stated explaining the top candidates in each event would be awarded a championship buckle. I shared with him the knowledge I knew about buckles and then he left me with a question I didn’t know. “Son, I don’t know when they first gave a buckle as an Award” I said, but he had me thinking more about the history and the start of this prestigious award we come to know as Championship Trophy Buckles.

The word Trophy comes from the Greek word “tropaion” which means Defeat. The earliest of all trophies were once the weapons and shields taken in Battle by the Victorious warriors. The Greeks often displayed these weapons with engraved description of the battle honoring the Gods for their success. The swords and shields placed in the battle field left as heroic monument to the “tropaion” defeated. The American Wild West had its share of tropaion by notches craved on ones pistol grip or the scalps taken and tied to a lance.

The buckle dates to the 12th century and remain just a simple piece for securing belt straps even into today’s modern era. Although, Old West Cowboys usually wore suspenders to hold up their pants or sometimes sturdy cloth belts with a military-style friction buckle with metal flaps that grip the fabric when closed. Though today, the trophy buckle is a definitive emblem of American Western culture.

The first large buckles worn below our bellies came through the production of western movies. The movie cowboys had to look more glamorous as early Hollywood designers of the 1920’s were drawn to the ornate regalia of Mexican vaqueros and of the high-plains buckaroo style they inspired. About this time, a number of west coast companies started to produce in quantity fancy sterling and gold buckles. Edward H. Bohlin, Michael Srour, John McCabe, Keyston Brothers and R. Schaezlein were among those catering to the new demands not only of the Hollywood elite but of the public in general.

The Schaezlein business was destroyed during the San Francisco Earth quake and fire. Though like Champions who never give up, Schaezlien rescued what remain of his equipment moving their business from downtown into the shed house of their backyard. In the late 20’s Schaezlein started making several Levi Strauss award buckles including the annually awarded World Champion All-Around Cowboy buckles and the Six Time Winner Trophy Buckle. He also made some award buckles for the Grand National Rodeo, Horse, and Livestock Show at the San Francisco Cow Palace. Other companies from other parts of the country soon followed suit. Texas names such as Holland’s, Nelson Company, R.W. Driskell and Graves Malone among others started a little later in the 1930's. The popularity of these companies or their successors continues to this day.

These large, beautifully engraved and ornamented belt buckles of precious metal caught the eye of the audience and became the calling card of the Cowboy. By the 1940’s such buckles had replaced the loving cup trophy as the coveted prizes in rodeos and other western events, as well as hallmarks of Cowboy life style. Many of these works of art use just fine precious metals, gems and diamonds becoming costly as well prestigious receiving the award.

“The engraving of Silver came along to help hide future scratches,” states Molly Rush of Molly’s Custom Silver, official Trophy Buckle Sponsor of the ACTHA “American Competitive Trail Horse Association.” Recently the ACTHA awarded hundreds of buckles to participants for the Guinness World Record "Ride for the Rescues" in June of 2010.

I notice a superb quality and asked ACTHA director, Tom Scrima about his selection of Molly’s Custom Silver. Tom expressed the ACTHA selected Molly’s Custom Silver of Riverside, California as their Official Silversmith for ACTHA. “Her buckle designs and beautiful workmanship surpasses anything closely priced. She has been generous to a fault providing our members buckles and credits for their ACTHA awards. Molly is just the greatest,” stated Tom. I ventured my inspection since I was not familiar with this company becoming very impress with the quality. Tom also reported “She provides excellent customer service, plus the BUCKLES are handmade in the USA. They also used quality silver, gems or gold and can meet most organizations budgets.” Molly's Custom Silver will help with your custom designed buckles, saddle, bridle silver and accessories.

The trophy buckle today is uniquely an American style of the west. Awarded at almost every level of horsemanship, rodeo or stock show, worn as part of western attire until another of higher prestige is earned. The Trophy Buckle is the best representation of the hard work and pride of the modern competitive Cowboy and Cowgirls whose attire reflects a victorious competition.

Story by Roger Edison

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