Hey, Mining for Old Jeans Seems Like a Fun Hobby

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Miners in Levi's. Photo: ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

In today's Guardian, West Coast beekeeper/commercial painter Michael Allen Harris tells of his experience as a person who casually digs in abandoned silver mines for vintage Levi's in his free time, and it's a much more interesting hobby than you might initially suspect. Harris got into vintage-jean mining when he was digging in the silver mines for antique whiskey bottles and discovered some "old rags." After doing some research on the Levi's miners wore in the 1800s, Harris discovered that these rags could actually bring him riches. From The Guardian:

I put a few of the denim items I’d dug up on eBay. A Japanese collector contacted me and came all the way out here to look at my collection in person. I sold him a jacket for $1,000. At the time, it seemed a good deal, but he told me not to talk to other people or tell them what I was doing; I realise now that he didn’t want me to find out how much these things were worth. I talked to other dealers and collectors, and found out he was selling the pieces back to Levi’s for its archives – he’d sell them a pair of jeans for upwards of $100,000.

Harris got into denim mining seriously with his father-in-law, and learned a whole lot about the history of denim, writing books about the subject along the way. He and his father-in-law have had some misses in their digs (useless pockets and scraps and the like), but have also turned up some great finds. Last week, the duo dug up a pair of Neustadter Brothers jeans from the 1890s that were in "good enough condition to wear." The price they got for that pair of dusty old earthy blue jeans that haven't been worn in over a hundred years? $21,000 on eBay. Maybe we all should be toiling away in the denim mines.