Historic Levi's sell for $87K

How much would it have cost to buy them new?
The Levi's logo is displayed on Levi's jeans on July 07, 2020 in San Francisco, California.
The Levi's logo is displayed on Levi's jeans on July 07, 2020 in San Francisco, California. Photo credit (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This month, a pair of Levi Strauss Co. jeans from the 1880s sold for a combined cost of around $87,000.

According to LiveAuctioneers, the pair is “one of oldest known Levi’s jeans from the mining/gold rush era,” and a “holy grail of vintage denim.”

A pocket bag stamp from “before the 1891 or 1892 California state fair award winner stamping was added,” indicating they are from the late 1880s. They could be the oldest pair of Levi’s to be sold at auction and they are still in good/wearable condition after being “pulled from a dusty abandoned mineshaft,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis obtained a U.S. patent on the process of putting rivets in men’s work pants for the very first time in 1873, ushering in “the birth of the blue jean,” according to the company. At first, the pants were favored by laborers for their durability.

While $87,000 ($76,000 with a 15% buyer’s premium) is a hefty price for a pair of jeans, these aren’t the most expensive pair ever sold. Per the Guinness Book of World Records, that title is held by a pair of Levi Strauss & Co. “XX” blue denim trousers dating from 1893 that in May 2018 sold for $100,000.

Back in 1995, a pair of Levi’s that sold for $25,000 made headlines. At that time, company historian Lynn Downey told The Washington Post that the pair – dated from 1886 to 1902 – would have cost $1.25 when they were new.

We plugged that amount into the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator and set it to the oldest possible year, 1913. Accounting for inflation over the past century-plus, $1.25 in 1913 would have been worth the equivalent of around $38 today.

While the pants are in good condition, their age can be seen in both wear and tear and a racist pocket stamping.

“The only kind made by white labor,” it reads.

NPR reported that the phrase was a reference to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that was passed by Congress. This legislation “provided an absolute 10-year ban on Chinese laborers immigrating to the United States,” according to the National Archives.

“Levi Strauss & Co. is a company with a long and mostly proud heritage. Across our history, we have strived to do good in and beyond our business and to be a positive force for equality and racial justice,” said a Levi Strauss & Co. spokesperson in an emailed statement to NPR. “But there have been times when we’ve fallen short.”

In the statement, the spokesperson explained that amid an economic crisis in the 1870s, high unemployment fueled anti-Chinese sentiment in the U.S. and Levi’s adopted an anti-Chinese labor policy.

Now, Levi’s is “wholly committed to using our platform and our voice to advocate for real equality and to fight against racism in all its forms as it persists today,” the company told NPR.

According to an Instagram post, two people identified by the outlet as Zip Stevenson and Kyle Haupert purchased the jeans this month. Vintage showroom Denim Doctors is showing the historic pants by appointment, per another Instagram post.

Featured Image Photo Credit: (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)