Levi jeans from 1800s found in abandoned mine shaft sell for $87,000

Pair described as ‘holy grail of vintage denim collecting’

Aisha Rimi
Thursday 13 October 2022 14:22 BST
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Kyle Haupert, 23, a vintage clothing dealer from San Diego placed the winning bid
Kyle Haupert, 23, a vintage clothing dealer from San Diego placed the winning bid (liveauctioneers.com)

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A pair of Levi’s jeans from the 19th century has sold for $87,000 (£78,000) at auction in New Mexico, making them one of the most expensive pairs of vintage jeans ever sold.

The jeans were discovered by a “denim archaeologist” in an abandoned mine shaft.

They were auctioned at the Durango Vintage Festivus on 1 October, where they were listed as one of the oldest known Levis from the gold rush era and described as “the holy grail of vintage denim collecting”.

They were in a “good/wearable” condition, as described in the listing.

The pair of jeans were described as in ‘in amazing condition for the age’
The pair of jeans were described as in ‘in amazing condition for the age’ (liveauctioneers.com)

The winning bid was placed by Kyle Haupert, 23, a vintage clothing dealer from San Diego for $76,000 (£68,209), but after buyer’s premiums, the total price for the jeans came to $87,400.

“I’m still kind of bewildered, just surprised in myself for even purchasing them,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

He put up 90 per cent of the winning bid, while Zip Stevenson, a Los Angeles-based denim expert, paid the remaining 10 per cent.

The vintage jeans, which the listing said were in “amazing condition for the age”, were covered with bits of wax used in candles by miners to light the narrow tunnels in the gold mine and featured a buckle-back waist adjuster above the back pocket.

The inside label reads: ‘The only kind made by white labor’
The inside label reads: ‘The only kind made by white labor’ (liveauctioneers.com)

They are “most likely the oldest levis that have ever sold at a live auction”, as per the listing.

The inside label reads: “The only kind made by white labor,” which dates the pair to the late 1800s, in reference to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which forbid Chinese workers from the US. The slogan was dropped in the 1890s, said The Wall Street Journal.

According to The Times, Mr Haupert and Mr Stevenson have already received great interest in the jeans and believe they could be worth as much as $150,000 (£134,553).

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