Jeans pulled from a 19th century shipwreck cost a fortune

Pulled from a sunken trunk at an 1857 shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina, work trousers that auction authorities refer to as the earliest recognized set of denims worldwide have actually cost $114,000.

The white, durable miner’s trousers with a five-button fly were amongst 270 Gold Rush-period artifacts that cost an overall of almost $1 million in Reno last weekend, according to Holabird Western American Collections.

There’s dispute about whether the costly trousers have any ties to the daddy of modern-day blue denims, Levi Strauss, as they precede by 16 years the very first set formally made by his San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. in 1873. Some state historic proof recommends there are links to Strauss, who was a rich wholesaler of dry items at the time, and the trousers might be a really early variation of what would end up being the renowned denims.

But the business’s historian and archive director, Tracey Panek, states any claims about their origin are “speculation.”

“The pants are not Levi’s nor do I believe they are miner’s work pants,” she composed in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Regardless of their origin, there’s no rejecting the trousers were made prior to the S.S. Central America sank in a cyclone on Sept. 12, 1857, loaded with guests who started their journey in San Francisco and were on their method to New York by means of Panama. And there’s no indicator older work trousers dating to the Gold Rush-period exist.

“Those miner’s jeans are like the first flag on the moon, a historic moment in history,” stated Dwight Manley, handling partner of the California Gold Marketing Group, which owns the artifacts and put them up for auction.

Other auction products that had actually been entombed for more than a century in the ship’s wreckage 7,200 feet (2,195 meters) listed below the surface area of the Atlantic Ocean consisted of the purser’s secrets to the treasure space where lots of Gold Rush coins and assayers ingots were saved. It cost $103,200.

Tens of countless dollars worth of gold has actually been offered because shipwreck healing started in 1988. But last Saturday marked the very first time any artifacts struck the auction block. Another auction is prepared in February.

“There has never been anything like the scope of these recovered artifacts, which represented a time capsule of daily life during the Gold Rush,” stated Fred Holabird, president of the auction business.

The cover of a Wells Fargo & Co. treasure box thought to be the earliest of its kind opted for $99,600. An 1849 Colt pocket handgun cost $30,000. A $20 gold coin minted in San Francisco in 1856 and later on marked with a Sacramento drug shop advertisement brought $43,200.

Most of the guests aboard the S.S. Central America left San Francisco on another ship — the S.S. Sonora — and cruised to Panama, where they crossed the isthmus by train prior to boarding the doomed ship. Of those on board when the S.S. Central America decreased, 425 passed away and 153 were conserved.

The special mix of artifacts from upper class San Franciscans to blue-collar employees stimulated the interest of historians and collectors alike. The trousers originated from the trunk of an Oregon guy, John Dement, who served in the Mexican-American War.

“At the end of the day, nobody can say these are or are not Levi’s with 100% certainty,” Manley stated. But “these are the only known Gold Rush jean … not present in any collection in the world.”

Holabird, thought about a Gold Rush-period specialist in his over 50 years as a researcher and historian, concurred: “So far, no museum has come forward with another.”

Panek stated Levi Strauss & Co. and Jacob Davis, a Reno tailor, got a U.S. Patent in May 1873 for “An Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings.” Months later on, she stated, the business started producing the well-known riveted trousers — “Levi’s 501 jeans, the first modern blue jean.”

She stated prior to the auction that the shipwreck trousers have no business branding — no “patches, buttons or even rivets, the innovation patented in 1873.”

Panek included e-mails to AP today that the trousers “are not typical of miner’s work pants in our archives.” She mentioned the color, “unusual fly design with extra side buttonholes” and the non-denim material that’s lighter weight “than cloth used for its earliest riveted clothing.”

Holabird stated he informed Panek while she analyzed the trousers in Reno recently there was no chance to compare them traditionally or clinically to those made in 1873.

Everything had actually altered — the products, item schedule, producing methods and market circulation — in between 1857 and the time Strauss brought out a rivet-enforced pocket, Holabird stated. He stated Panek didn’t disagree with him.

Levi Strauss & Co. has actually long kept that up till 1873, the business was strictly a wholesaler and did no production of clothes.

Holabird thinks the trousers were made by a subcontractor for Strauss. He chose to “follow the money — follow the gold” and found Strauss’ had a market reach and sales “on a level never seen before.”

“Strauss was the largest single merchant to ship gold out of California in the 1857-1858 period,” Holabird stated.

The list of the $1.6 million freight that left San Francisco on the S.S. Sonora in August 1857 for Panama was topped by Wells Fargo’s $260,300 in gold. Five other huge banks were next, followed by Levi Strauss with $76,441. Levi Strauss had at least 14 comparable deliveries balancing $91,033 each from 1856-58, Holabird stated.

“Strauss is selling to every decent-sized dry goods store in the California gold regions, probably hundreds of them — from Shasta to Sonora and beyond,” Holabird stated. “This guy was an absolute marketing genius, unforeseen.”

“In short, his huge sales create a cause to be manufactured. He would have to contract with producers for an entire production run.”


News and digital media editor, writer, and communications specialist. Passionate about social justice, equity, and wellness. Covering the news, viewing it differently.

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