Jan 5, 2023

The 150+ Year Old Jeans Found In A Wrecked Ship

If you’re like me – or, I’d wager, most folks – you probably imagine that jeans are a fairly modern convention.

And while that’s true in the grand scheme of human history, this recent discovery aboard a pretty old ship is still a bit surprising.

The ship, the SS Central America, sank to the bottom of the Atlantic in 1857. The jeans are estimated to be around 165 years old.

The ship left port in Panama, headed to New York with hundreds of passengers and heaps of gold on board. It could not weather a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas, though, and sank on September 12, 1857.

425 passengers were lost, along with 30,000 pounds of gold.

The ship’s wreck was found in the 1980s, and Fred Holabird, President of the Holabird Western Americana Collections, says the relics aboard gave historians a super interesting look into the gold rush era.

“The S.S. Central America was carrying tons of Gold Rush treasure from San Francisco and the northern California area when she sank… Recovery from the shipwreck site occurred in several stages between 1988-1991 and again in 2014.”

The style of the jeans found on the so-called “Ship of Gold” are thought to be an early pair of Levi Strauss, manufactured in the 1850s. They sold at auction for $114k.

Experts believe they are possibly the oldest known Gold Rush-era heavy-duty work jeans, and were likely worn by first-class passenger John Dement of Oregon.


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They were far from the only amazing find onboard, though, says Dwight Manley, Managing Partner of the California Gold Marketing Group.

“These incredible artifacts give us a glimpse of daily life for the passengers and crew in the 1850s. They are a time capsule from the California Gold Rush.”

Some of the items include rings, stickpins, cufflinks, and a bunch fo pocket watch cases, along with gold coins, paper money, a trunk of maritime provisions, keys to the gold treasure room, and passenger luggage tags.

They might seem like ordinary items, but every historian knows that the mundane artifacts tell us more about the lives of regular people than anything else.

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