A historian’s latest find adds to Levi’s storied past.
Dedicated to restoring abandoned ghost towns, Brent Underwood recently discovered a 100-year-old pair of Levi’s jeans—among the oldest jeans to-date—in an abandoned mine in Cerro Gordo, Calif. He documented his journey in a video posted to his YouTube channel, Ghost Town Living, which has more than 1.22 million subscribers who tune in to watch him uncover signs of life in the desolate town he attempts to bring back to life.
The jeans were found after what he calls “hundreds of feet and rope and multiple days” of searching for underground treasures. And while the jeans will require intensive restoration, the “Levi Strauss” label on all of the buttons were a clear indication of something special.
“A dynamite box, an old glove, a pair of jeans—they’re all tangible evidence of history and they all tell a story about who was there last,” he said in the video.
Cerro Gordo, a California silver mine active in the 1870s, has deep connections to Levi’s, as the first pair of jeans was created as a workwear solution for miners. The reinforced pants pockets held their tools, and the durable denim material helped them withstand harsh working conditions.
Because of this historical significance, the jeans’ value could be worth upwards of $100,000—though that’s not why Underwood does what he does, he said.
“For me, it’s never about the $100,000—that’s not the point of these jeans,” he said. “I think the $100,000 shows the scarcity and the rarity of these Levi’s jeans, and that’s what keeps me going.”
It’s every denim collector’s dream to unearth such an historic pair, and it’s what drives some to go on extreme journeys through abandoned mines around the world. During a Carved in Blue webinar last year, denim historian Mike Harris detailed his discovery of a triple-pleated blouse dating back to 1874 while rummaging through a dump site at a silver factory in Nevada. After digging through a 100-foot-tall pile, the “Jeans of The Old West” author uncovered the piece, which is now included in the Levi’s archive.
The hunt for historic denim is even more relevant today, as vintage apparel becomes increasingly popular. And while many of these pieces aren’t worn, but rather end up in museums or in collectors’ displays, the appreciation for vintage gems continues on.