An abandoned gold mine in California’s Mojave Desert has produced an unusual treasure.

Bidding for a pair of Levi Strauss jeans dating from the 1890s — and said to have been found in a mine in what is known as the Rand Mining District — opened on eBay July 23. The starting bid of $9.99 quickly skyrocketed as a pool of 18 potential buyers placed more than 60 bids in an effort to grab a piece of history. When the auction ended on July 30, the winning bid, placed by someone using the screen name vintboy1, had reached $36,099.

This story first appeared in the August 7, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

According to the unidentified seller’s description, the jeans were found in a mine along with a paper bag bearing the name of a store in nearby Randsburg that operated between 1895 and 1898. The seller noted that the jeans were “covered in candlewax [sic] from the candle’s [sic] the miner was using to light the tunnel he was working in.” Rather than the traditional leather label, the jeans had a cloth label and had only one back pocket on the right side. Suspenders and a back-buckle design eliminated the need for belt loops.

The Rand mine area was discovered in April 1895, according to California’s Office of Historic Preservation. The gold discovery resulted in the founding of the town of Randsburg, as well as several smaller camps. In 1907, tungsten and silver, which was used in steel alloy during World War I, were discovered in the area.

Lynn Downey, the company historian for Levi Strauss & Co., said the jeans appeared to be a pair of Levi’s 201 jeans. The 201 style was created in 1873 as the “value” version of the 501 jeans. It featured less expensive denim, buttons and the linen patch. The company has only three pairs of 201 jeans in their archives in San Francisco, some of which were also found in old mines.

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