150-year-old work pants auctioned for $87,400

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It’s hard for many to imagine, but searching for old work clothes in abandoned mines is a serious hobby for some people. A hobby where you can even earn a nice bit of extra cash. For example, a pair of work pants from 1880 sold for about $87,400. But it was a very special pair…

The pants are in remarkably good condition. When work pants are found in mines, they usually have large holes or are missing parts. But these jeans have only one hole, and it has been patched with a piece of cloth. If you click on the right arrow in the photo above, you can see more details of the pants.


150-year-old work pants auctioned for $87,400

The Levi’s work pants were found about 5 years ago by Michael Harris. This self-proclaimed ‘denim archaeologist’ visited around 50 abandoned mines in Western America over the course of 5 years. Of all his finds, this was the only pair of pants that still looked so good.

And people are willing to pay serious money for that, as an auction shows. The pants sold for $87,400. Kyle Hautner and Zip Stevenson are the new owners.

Stevenson has been running a denim repair shop in Los Angeles for almost three decades. According to him, the pants are good enough to wear. They just need to be reinforced in a few places.

Stevenson envisions famous men like Johnny Depp or Jason Momoa wearing these pants. But he prefers to eventually sell them to a museum. His preference is for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


The dark past of these 150-year-old work pants

As cool as it is to acquire such an old piece of clothing, there is a dark history attached to these pants. In the inside pocket of the pants, there is a label that reads ‘The only kind made by White Labour.’

A Levi’s employee explained in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that this label refers to the Chinese Exclusion Act. This law was enacted on May 6, 1882, by U.S. President Chester A. Arthur. It stated that for 10 years it was forbidden to admit Chinese workers. Prior to the law, various anti-Chinese policies were implemented, and violence against this population group increased.

Although the law was initially supposed to last ten years, it was renewed in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. Exceptions were made for diplomats, teachers, students, merchants, and travelers. It was not until 1943, when the law was replaced by the Magnuson Act, that Chinese immigrants were gradually admitted.

150-year-old work pants auctioned for $87,400
(clothing of) modern-day miners in Bolivia, 2019 | Photo:  Pedro Henrique Santos – Unsplash

Work pants in mines

The question remains why workers left their work pants in the mines. There were several reasons. For one, it was easier to take a pair of pants down than to bring one up. That was just extra work, and no one in the mines minded. Additionally, old pants were sometimes used during work. They were torn into pieces and then used to seal pipe joints.

In 1880, they probably never imagined that their pants would be worth so much today…

Best regards,


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