1800s Levi’s Jeans Sell at Auction for $87,000


Jonathan Buscher

After five years of waiting, a pair of denim jeans from the 1880s went up for auction at the Durango Vintage Festivus, outside Aztec, New Mexico. The Levi’s were found by self-proclaimed “denim archaeologist,” Michel Harris, who had searched over 50 different abandoned mine shafts, with similar finds being stored on display at museums. The pair of jeans is quite rare, even for its time, as the Levi’s are an ideal size and in decent condition, considering they were found in a mine. 

The Durango Vintage Festivus is a four-day festival hosted by Brit Easton for fellow vintage denim experts and collectors. Hoping for a headline that would rival the musicians he hosted for the event, Easton decided to put up the jeans for auction, although starting with an extremely high price given their value due to initial resistance to even selling the pair. Easton has said that “I’ve been doing this business for a quarter of a century and the average vintage jeans are worth about $100. So to find a pair this valuable is once in a lifetime,” in an interview with CNN. 

The Levi’s were eventually snatched up by Kyle Hautner and Zip Stevenson, who paid 90% and 10% respectively on the $87,000 jeans, one of the highest prices ever paid for this type of pants, although they did receive a 15% buyer’s premium on the pair. Although not initially planning to purchase the Levi’s, Stevenson knows how to work with denim, having owned a Los Angeles denim repair shop for nearly 30 years. Stevenson has said that, while there are a few soft spots in the jeans, they could be easily reinforced, and could be worn. 

However, there is a historical aspect to these jeans as well, and one much darker than typical wild-west lore, with the tag stating “The only kind made by white labor.” Having been made in the 1880s, the Levi’s were created right after the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, a policy that restricted Chinese immigration to the United States. While this is not something to celebrate, it could contribute to where the jeans head next. Stevenson said that he could potentially sell to an interested buyer, but would prefer it if they were sold to a museum. Right now though, the jeans are currently being stored in a safety deposit box near Stevenson’s store, called Stevenson’s Denim Doctors, although one can view them with an appointment.