Pair of 140-year-old Levi's sell for $87,000 at auction

'Denim archaeologist' explores abandoned silver mine and turns 19th-century find into gold

The 1880s Levi's are still wearable and were bought by vintage clothing specialists. Photo: Denim Doctor / Instagram
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A pair of 140-year-old Levi's jeans have sold at auction in New Mexico for more than $87,000.

The jeans, which are heavily stained and torn, were discovered in an abandoned mine by “denim archaeologist” Michael Harris, who travels the US searching defunct silver mines for clothing left behind by miners.

Harris said the pair of 1880s jeans were among the best quality he’d discovered, and unlike others of the same age, which are usually for display purposes only, are durable enough to be worn.

They were bought by Kyle Hautner, 23, and Zip Stevenson, a specialist in vintage denim.

"We didn't have any plans to buy the jeans together until the auction started, which is kind of insane looking back on it," Stevenson told CNN.

The $87,400 price tag makes the pair one of the most expensive sold.

Stevenson has run a denim repair shop in Los Angeles for nearly three decades and said he had never found a pair like these.

"These jeans are extremely rare — especially in this fantastic worn condition and size," he told CNN.

Brit Eaton, the auction organiser, said finding a pair as valuable as these is “once in a lifetime".

"I've been doing this business for a quarter of a century and the average vintage jeans are worth about $100,” he said.

The jeans also tell a story of a dark episode in the history of the US. Printed on an inside pocket is the phrase: "The only kind made by White Labour."

A Levi's representative told the Wall Street Journal that the company used this slogan after the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which prevented Chinese labourers from entering the country. The company dropped the slogan and policy in the 1890s.

Stevenson said he would consider selling the jeans to a private buyer or museum, but for now, they will be available for appointment viewing at his Demin Doctors store in Los Angeles.

Updated: October 14, 2022, 10:26 AM