As It Happens

Century-old 'museum quality' pair of Levi's jeans sell for $130K

Daniel Buck Soules sold the jeans in Maine for a near record-setting price.

The original owner of the vintage pants was considered to be the 'John Wayne' of Tucson

The jeans were purchased in 1893 by a store keeper in the Arizona Territory and were in pristine condition because they were never worn. (Daniel Buck Soules/Daniel Buck Auctions via Associated Press)

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A mystery buyer has snagged a 121-year-old pair of Levi's jeans at a near-record price of $100,000 ($130,176 Cdn).

The last time the vintage pair of jeans was ever worn was during the 19th century. They were originally purchased in 1893 by Solomon Warner, who's described to be the "John Wayne" of Tucson, Ariz.

Auctioneer Daniel Buck Soules, who brokered the sale of the jeans in Maine, says the lucky owner is a an avid Levi's collector based in Southeast Asia who wishes to remain anonymous. 

Soules spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the history of the jeans. Here is part of their conversation. 

Daniel, describe what this old jeans look like?

Carol, if you were to see these Levi's blue jeans you would think they were absolutely brand spanking new Levi's. They are very similar to what we have today.

The other thing about this pair of jeans is that they're huge, right?

The way I like to describe them is that this man who ordered these was the John Wayne of Tucson. They were 44-inch waist and 36-inch inseam.

He was a big man, not only was he a big man like John Wayne, but he was truly a westerner.

He ran a dried goods store in Tucson and he would frequently go to Yuma to pick up dried goods.

He was actually shot three times and he still made it back to Tucson, Ariz., and survived and kept going.

Actor John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards in the 1956 film "The Searchers." (Associated Press)

Why did [Solomon Warner] custom order these blue jeans?

When it comes to Levi's in that time period, you couldn't' go to a J. C.  Penney and purchase them, you had to order them.

So he ordered them, got them in, but at the time he was ill. So they put them away in a trunk and he ended up, shortly after a year, passing away and he never wore them.

They literally are brand spanking new.  

They've been sitting in that trunk ever since?

They were never worn. They were kept it in the trunk.

We frequently, when we clean out houses, will find items from the 18th and 19th century that are like from the day they were made.

A pocket inside a pair of 121-year-old Levi Strauss & Co., denim blue jeans that sold for nearly $100,000 US recently in Maine. (Daniel Buck Soules/Daniel Buck Auctions Associated Press)

Do you think the family have any idea how much they were worth?

For a long time they did not.

At one time, somebody had offered them some money, but it was nowhere near this amount. And when they met with me and showed me the jeans, that's when I said to them: You've got something special here.  

The buyer did send somebody to the United States to inspect the jeans, right?

They sent two people over to inspect the jeans. They spent about half an hour looking at jeans and taking photographs of the jeans inside and out.

Carol, these are so rare, that they thought this was either fake or something somebody has made up.

Do you know what the buyer will do or could do with $100,000 pair of jeans?

Because he's a collector of Levi's, he plan is to just keep them in his collection.

According to auctioneer Daniel Buck Soules, the pair of jeans is in pristine condition. (Daniel Buck Soules/Daniel Buck Auctions via Associated Press)

So they stay in a trunk or a drawer for another 121 years?

Or possibly in a shadow box, displayed somehow in his home.

I'm not sure what he's going to do or how he's going to do it, but they are in a private collection that he will keep them for himself because he's got other Levi's as well.

Written by Earvin Solitario with files from Associated Press. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Correction: This story previously stated the jeans were sold at auction. In fact, it was a private sale. 


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