The blue jeans, from the 1880s, were found by self-described “denim historian” Michael Harris in the mine, The Wall Street Journal reported. They may have been worn by a Gold Rush prospector, and are considered the “holy grail of vintage denim collecting.”
“I’m still kind of bewildered, just surprised in myself for even purchasing them,” said Kyle Haupert, who bought the pants at an October 1 Durango Vintage Festivus in Aztec, New Mexico.
“These speak for themselves,’ Haupert wrote on Instagram. “One of the oldest known pairs of Levi’s to exist.”
A pair of vintage Levi’s jeans from the 1880’s found in an abandoned New Mexico mine shaft have sold at auction for $87,000. pic.twitter.com/nF1OP0O5pc
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) October 12, 2022
Haupert, a 23-year-old vintage clothing dealer from San Diego, and colleague Zip Stevenson, paid a total of $87,400 including the buyer’s premium. Stevenson has run a Los Angeles store called Denim Doctors since 1994.
“He’s seen everything under the sun,” Haupert said of Stevenson. “I trust him to confirm that they are an authentic pair from the 1880s.”
The jeans have a waist measurement of 38 inches and a 32-inch inseam and have suspender buttons on the waist and a single back pocket. They still bear wax drippings from where their owner worked by candlelight but were listed at auction as being in “good, wearable condition.”
The lining of the jeans is printed with the phrase “The only kind made by white labor,” which the Journal reported is a slogan the San Francisco-based company used following the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented Chinese workers from getting jobs. The company ended the policy in the 1890s, and the act itself was repealed in 1943.
Levi Strauss, a German immigrant whose family moved its dry goods business to San Francisco amid the Gold Rush, founded the company that bears his name in 1853.
Seller and vintage clothing expert Brit Eaton, who hosts the auction, said he bought the jeans from Harris around 2017 for $23,000.
“I knew they’d be a big draw,” Eaton told the Journal.
The highest known price ever paid for a pair of jeans was $1.3 million for diamond-studded dungarees made by Secret Circus Clothing, the Daily Mail reported.