Levi’s jeans from the 1880s auctioned for $76,000 has hidden reminder of America’s anti-Chinese past

  • A pair of Levi’s jeans that recently sold at an auction in New Mexico for $76,000 has the phrase "The only kind made by White Labor" printed in its inside pocket. 
  • According to a representative from Levi’s, the slogan was used after the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a federal law that banned Chinese laborers from entering the U.S.
  • While the act itself was not repealed until 1943, Levi's reportedly abandoned the racist slogan and its own anti-Chinese labor policy in the 1890s. 
  • The jeans’ buyers, 23-year-old Kyle Hautner and vintage denim store owner Zip Stevenson, paid a total of $87,400, which includes the 15% buyer's premium.
  • The new owners said that while they would consider selling the jeans to “an extremely interested private buyer," they would prefer for them to be bought and displayed in a museum "such as the Smithsonian or the Metropolitan Museum of Art."

A pair of Levi’s denim jeans unearthed from a dark period in American history was recently sold at an auction for nearly $76,000.

Discovered by “denim archaeologist” Michael Harris in an abandoned mine years ago, the jeans were reportedly in “fantastic condition” despite being around 140 years old.

Proof that it was a relic of the past is the phrase “The only kind made by White Labor” printed on the jeans’ inside pocket.

A representative from Levi Strauss & Co. told NPR that the slogan was used in 1882 following the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The company explained that while they have “strived to do good in and beyond our business and to be a positive force for equality and racial justice… there have been times when we’ve fallen short.”

The U.S. federal law, signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, effectively banned Chinese laborers from entering the country.

“An economic crisis in the United States in [the] 1870s led to high unemployment and fueled anti-Chinese sentiment and rampant discrimination,” the company said in a statement. “In 1882 when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, there was significant social pressure not to hire Chinese workers and LS&Co. adopted an anti-Chinese labor policy.”

While the act itself was not repealed until 1943, Levi’s reportedly abandoned the racist slogan and its own anti-Chinese labor policy in the 1890s.

Two men, 23-year-old Kyle Hautner and vintage denim store owner Zip Stevenson, purchased the jeans during an auction at the Durango Vintage Festivus in Aztec, New Mexico, on Oct 1.

Hautner paid 90 percent and Stevenson chipped in 10 percent of the total amount of $87,400, which includes the 15 percent buyer’s premium, making it one of the most expensive pairs of denim ever bought.

The jeans are currently being kept in a safety deposit box near Stevenson’s business and can be viewed by interested parties by appointment.

 

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Stevenson, who has operated his denim repair shop Denim Doctors in Los Angeles for nearly three decades, said the jeans were “extremely rare — especially in this fantastic worn condition and size.”

Stevenson noted that the pair is unlike similar pairs that are currently kept in museums, which have become too fragile to wear. He said that the jeans are “surprisingly durable, so they definitely can be worn.”

Although the new owners say they would consider selling the jeans to “an extremely interested private buyer,” they would prefer for them to be bought and displayed in a museum “such as the Smithsonian or the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

 

Featured Image via @goldenstatevtg

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