Pants recovered from shipwreck fetch $114,000 at auction

A pair of work pants that sold for $114,000 at auction this month after being pulled from a shipwreck in 1857 may be an early version of Levi Strauss jeans, experts have said. auction officials, although a company historian said it was “speculation”.

The December 3 Holabird Western Americana Collections auction featured 270 items salvaged from the SS Central America, which had traveled from Panama to New York in September 1857 when it sank in a hurricane with 425 people on board.

The wreck was discovered in 1988 off the coast of South Carolina, and the rights to its treasures, which included thousands of pounds of California gold, have since been the subject of a decades-long legal battle.

The pants were found in a trunk belonging to John Dement, a Mexican-American War veteran from Oregon. Mr. Dement was a buyer for his family’s trading shop and, on business trips to buy goods, survived many stormy voyages, including the sinking of the SS Central America, according to the catalog of the sale to the auction.

Mr. Dement’s trunk was recovered in 1991, and the items inside, which included socks, nightgowns and paperbacks, were salvageable because the trunk contained little or no oxygen inside. interior.

The condition of the trunk prevented its contents from exhibiting the bacterial degradation and biological consumption seen in more exposed objects during the wreckage, said Robert Evans, chief scientist and historian for the SS Central America project, in the auction catalog.

Inside the trunk, the scientists also found the work pants, which are made of an unknown thick material and covered in black and brown stains. It was unclear who made the winning bid for the pants.

Holabird Western Americana Collections said the work pants may be affiliated with Levi Strauss because he was a major seller of dry goods during the Gold Rush and lost treasure in the sinking. The tagless pants have a five-button fly pattern, and the buttons are “nearly identical in size and style of manufacture,” further convincing sellers that the pants could be made by or for Strauss, according to the company’s catalog. auction.

Mr. Strauss and his partner, Jacob Davis, patented the first modern bluejeans in 1873, 16 years after the sinking of the SS Central America.

Tracey Panek, historian and director of the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives, said in an email that the connection between the pants and Mr Strauss was speculative.

Ms Panek, who inspected the pants and other artifacts from the wreckage in person, said while she was excited by the find, she saw nothing that could link the pants to Mr Strauss.

“From the white color, the lack of suspender buttons, five fly buttons instead of four, and the unusual fly design with additional side buttonholes, to the non-denim fabric that is much lighter than the fabric used by LS & Co. for its first riveted garments, Dement boot pants are not typical miner work pants in our records,” Ms. Panek said.

No matter where the pants came from, at the time of the sinking they would not have approached the value of the SS Central America’s other loot.

Passengers boarded the ship with gold coins and nuggets, which had been collected from gold mining towns in northern California during the gold rush. California’s business center at the time was in San Francisco, where passengers boarded the SS Sonora before being transferred to the ill-fated SS Central America in Panama.

More than a century after the sinking of the ship, treasure hunter Thomas G. Thompson discovered the wreckage. He was later accused of failing to provide transportation proceeds to the 161 people who had invested in his research.

Some of the investors sued Mr Thompson in 2012, and he was ordered to appear in court and disclose the location of gold recovered from the sinking. He fled and became a fugitive until U.S. Marshals arrested him in 2015 at a hotel in Florida. He has been in federal prison since 2015.


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