A pair of jeans was retrieved from a sunken trunk in an 1857 shipwreck off North Carolina’s coast. That pair of pants, which officials describe as the oldest pair of jeans in the world, have now sold for $114,000.
A total of 270 Gold Rush-era artifacts sold for a total of nearly $1 million in Reno last weekend. Among them were the white, heavy-duty miner’s pants with a five-button fly, according to Holabird Western American Collections.
However, auction officials have disagreements about whether the expensive pair of pants are connected to Levi Strauss, known as the father of modern blue jeans. These jeans predate Strauss’ by 16 years, as his first pair was manufactured in San Francisco in 1873. Some say the pants are linked to Strauss since he was a wholesaler of dry goods at the time.
Many believe that this pair could’ve became Strauss’ precursor to modern jeans. However, the company’s historian and archive director, Tracey Panek, says claims about the origin of the jeans are “speculation.”
“The pants are not Levi’s nor do I believe they are miner’s work pants,” she wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Pair of Jeans Believed to Be Oldest Ever Found
However, whether they’re connected to Strauss or not, there’s no denying the pants were made before the S.S. Central America sank in a hurricane on Sept. 12, 1857. The ship was packed with passengers who started their journey in San Francisco and were voyaging to New York via Panama. There’s also no indication that similar work pants before the Gold Rush-era exist.
“Those miner’s jeans are like the first flag on the moon, a historic moment in history,” said Dwight Manley, who serves as managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group. This group owns the artifacts and put them up for auction.
Other auction items were sold over the weekend. Many of these items had been buried within the ship’s wreckage 7,200 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. One item sold was the purser’s keys to the treasure room where tons of Gold Rush coins were stored. It sold for $103,200.
Since 1988 when the shipwreck recovery began, tens of millions of dollars worth of gold has been sold. However, last Saturday marked the first time any artifacts hit the auction block. Another auction takes place in February.
“There has never been anything like the scope of these recovered artifacts, which represented a time capsule of daily life during the Gold Rush,” said Fred Holabird, who serves as president of the auction company.
The lid of a Wells Fargo & Co. treasure box went for $99,600. Then, an 1849 Colt pocket pistol sold for $30,000.
Most of the passengers aboard the S.S. Central America left San Francisco on another ship , the S.S. Sonora. They then sailed to Panama, where they crossed the isthmus by train before boarding the now-infamous ship. Of those on board when the S.S. Central America sank, 425 died and 153 were saved.