Before there was the radio, telephone or electric power in most American homes, there were these jeans.
On Oct. 1, a pair of Levi’s jeans from the 1800s sold at an auction in New Mexico for over $120,000, making them one of the most expensive pairs of vintage jeans ever sold, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The buyer, 23-year-old San Diego resident Kyle Haupert, paid a whopping US$76,000 (nearly CAD$104,600) before an additional buyer’s premium, which brought the total to US$87,400 (nearly CAD$120,380). Haupert purchased the denim in part with Zip Stevenson, a seasoned vintage denim seller.
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The jeans were found in an abandoned mineshaft by a “denim archaeologist” several years ago, CNN reported. They were sold at the four-day Durango Vintage Festivus — an auction completely unlike the typical posh Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction houses.
Haupert shared a livestream of the auction to his Instagram account.
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In a remote RV park, sitting in their plastic folding chairs and surrounded by patrons in denim and camouflage, Haupert and Stevenson bid on the jeans. Still in shockingly good — albeit worn — condition, the wide-legged pair is splattered with wax from the candles workers used inside the mine shaft.
On the inside pocket there is an even more telling sign of the times, a racist slogan used by Levi’s after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act in the U.S. The act prohibited all Chinese labourers from immigrating to the U.S. for 10 years.
In faded but legible text, the slogan reads “made by white labor.”
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