Mining for old denim

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Introversion

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Fascinating. Is this for real? I had no idea collectors were buying even scraps of denim from the 1800s!?

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/sep/25/experience-i-mine-for-denim

The Guardian said:
The first time I dug up some vintage denim, I had no idea what it was worth. It just looked like some old rags, so instead of carefully uncovering it, I pulled on it and tore it to pieces. I’d actually been digging for antique whisky bottles, and what I didn’t know then was that those “rags” were likely worth thousands.

Out in the desert in California, Nevada and Arizona, there are abandoned silver mines like buried time capsules, virtually untouched, and you can find vintage bottles down there that are worth a lot to collectors. But as I searched for them, I kept coming across these scraps of denim, because jeans, especially Levi’s, were worn by the silver miners in the late 1800s. When a miner got a new pair of work pants, he’d cut up the old ones and use them for lagging around pipes, so there were a lot of antique jeans buried out here.

I did a bit of research into the history of Levi’s, and realised collectors would pay a lot for them, even for scraps. I started going to the mines regularly with my father-in-law, a geologist, to look especially for denim. But the mines have been covered in rocks and trash, so it can take weeks and months to dig down, lifting big rocks one by one. We crawl around wearing hard hats and head lamps. We don’t tunnel underground, just dig through rocks inside the mine opening, but it can be dangerous: we’re crawling around on probably 100 tonnes of unstable rocks.

...

A couple of months ago we found just a pocket, which is definitely worth something, but I’ll keep that for my collection. Then last week we found a complete pair of jeans. When you find something like that, it’s an enormous thrill. It’s what we’d been working so hard for: 95% of the time you never find anything complete.

This pair were actually by Neustadter Brothers, who were as big as Levi’s back in the day. They’re from the early 1890s and in good enough condition to wear. We were so excited. We sold those immediately on eBay for $21,000. We could have got more, but my wife and I talked it over and decided to settle for that. The most I’ve sold a pair for is $30,000 to a guy in Osaka, Japan.

A few years ago, my father-in-law dug up the holy grail: the oldest pair of Levi’s from 1873, the first year they were manufactured. They’re in really good condition – they look like a normal modern pair of jeans, really, only back then, they had a crotch rivet and no belt loops. I wish we could keep them for our personal archives, but recently I had an offer of about $100,000. My father-in-law doesn’t want to sell them and neither do I, but I have two daughters to put through college, so they might have to go.
 

Maryn

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Wow. Fascinating! And pretty amazing the denim doesn't simply rot, like cotton does in other places. I assume the dryness of the air must be a factor.

Maryn, whose jeans dating back to the 1970s seem less interesting now
 

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Should I put them down a mineshaft, though, to increase the value?
 

Beccorban

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There is a guy on TikTok/Insta who bought an abandoned mining town and he hunts for vintage denim. It's worth a mint, but the game itself is dangerous as there is a lot of unexploded dynamite down there.Check him out: @brentwunderwood
 

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