Pair of Levi Jeans From the 1880s Found in Mine Shaft, Sells for Ridiculous Amount

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images)

A pair of antique Levi jeans were found in a mine shaft years ago, but they just now went to auction on October 1, where they were purchased by a 23-year-old from San Diego, California.

The jeans are from the 1880s and apparently belonged to a miner from that time. They show immense signs of wear and use, even some repair on the right knee, most likely done by whoever used to own them. They feature suspender buttons and a single back pocket, and are stained with candle wax.

The auction took place in New Mexico, but San Diego resident and vintage clothing dealer Kyle Haupert made the winning bid with Zip Stevenson who owns Denim Doctors. Haupert paid 90% of the total $87,400, with Stevenson picking up the rest. 23-year-old Haupert is hoping Stevenson can help him find the next buyer. He also documented the auction on his Instagram page, Golden State Vintage.

According to the auction listing, these are “one of oldest known levis jeans from the mining/gold rush era.” The listing also states they are in “good/wearable condition.”

“You could wear them to a Starbucks,” Stevenson told the Wall Street Journal. You could, but, to be honest, you probably shouldn’t. Unless you want to have a pair of pants you’re never able to put in the wash. Just think: someone could have died in those pants.

Oldest Known Levi Jeans Bought At Auction; Meanwhile, First Known Levi Strauss Prototype Found on Sunken Ship

On August 1, treasures from the “Ship of Gold” went on display in Nevada. The treasures came from the USS Central America, which sank off the coast of North Carolina in a category 2 hurricane in September 1857. It was recovered in 1980 and launched years of gold smuggling and conspiracy.

But, among the gold coins, ingots, jewelry, and mysterious daguerreotypes of unknown women, there was a pair of sailcloth pants. What’s so special about a pair of pants, you ask? Well, they were most likely the first Levi Strauss prototype for denim jeans, lost to time and the sea. The first Levi blue jeans arrived on the scene in May 1873, and from then on they were staples for cowboys, miners, blacksmiths, and anyone doing manual labor, really. They were the first work pants to use rivets, and the pants that were recovered from the wreck also have a button fly and riveted pockets.

The ship held 9 tons of gold, estimated to be worth $100 million to $150 million. The collection, which was on display in Reno, Nevada, serves as a time capsule looking back to lives post-Gold Rush. The USS Central America’s demise actually contributed to the Panic of 1857, when the banks in New York were waiting on the shipment of gold. News spread of the missing gold and the wreck, and the economy self-destructed. The banks didn’t fully recover until after the Civil War.