Old Jeans Are a Gold Mine; or Cowboy Fact #25

by cowboylands

A pair of one hundred-year-old blue jeans, found in an abandoned gold mine in California? $36,099. The chance to touch or even *gulp* wear these worn Levis? Priceless.

But such is the glamour of honest toil. Denim designers must have been salivating at the sight of the old, ripped, stained, and soiled pants, because while no one will buy a pair of newly minted jeans for that price, a pair of carefully ripped, faded, and designer-wrinkled jeans that emotes diligent hard work is still expensive.

The seller on eBay found the jeans in an gold mine while exploring the Mojave desert. That desert is a starkly beautiful place, and it’s easy to find nothing there beyond Joshua trees, stink bugs, and small mammals that run from your approach, so kudos to his or her eagle eyes. The jeans are speckled with candle wax (miners used to use candles affixed to their hats to illuminate the mine shafts),

Miners\' hats in the Silverton Museum, Silverton, CO  copyright es 2007Miners’ hats, Silverton Museum, Silverton, CO, copyright es 2007

faded on the seat, and worn along the front of the legs. Either they are part of Diesel’s new line or the real deal. But they appear to be authentic: the jeans have a Levi Strauss & Co. label, and they were found next to a paper bag that had the name of a shop in the area, a shop that had reportedly stopped trading in 1898.

And that is why the the seller was able to recoup years of striking out in abandoned mines in one fell swoop, thanks to the wonder of eBay. This leads me to my next Cowboy Fact.

Cowboy Fact # 25: Cowboys personify the stirring ethic of physical labor=honest labor.

From beefcake buckos to slick urban cowboys, there is something alluring about a man who smells like leather and just a touch of sweat.* The grime can’t go below the belt, but it is quite acceptable, and even preferred for a man to have calluses and muscles from labor. Gyms have sprouted up everywhere, not just because modern people do more sitting than walking: folks are willing to sign over their freedom to personal trainers to sculpt those same muscles. And there is even cosmetic surgery for washboard abs, if you want them enough.

There are the muscles, and there are the clothes. The ass-worn, faded, ripped look says more than “I’ve worn these jeans for several years in a gold mine” or “I have enough money to buy jeans that looks as if I have worn them for several years in a gold mine.” It says “I, the wearer of these worn jeans, have experienced the joy of physical labor. I have been transported by the intensity of the experience and am a moral, good-to-the-core person. I am honest, as a result. I am generous, as a result. I am independent, as a result. I could kick your ass but I will buy you a drink instead.”

There are few jobs that have the kind of sweat-haloed allure of a cowboy, and that is because there are few physical jobs that allow that illusion of freedom, personal responsibility, independence, and meaning. I say “illusion” because the life of a cowboy is quite grueling, subject to extreme stress thanks to looming foreclosures and the cost of keeping huge animals healthy, and I think most of modern cowboys are heartily pleased that the ass of their jeans can be worn by the seat of an ATV or comfortable and powerful pickup truck.

This illusion is what draws people’s eyes to the silver screen, to photos of actors and handsome models as cowboys. It’s why movies that subtly or outrageously undermine the epic, monumental quality of cowboys tend to be less popular than those that celebrate the mythos. It’s why we may never see that day when the following worn jeans will be sold on eBay for thousands of dollars:

The assembly-line worker’s jeans: Worn at the seat, stretched out at the waist because they never get a break to exercise and shed the calories from the cheapass food they are forced to eat because they can’t afford to feed themselves or their children on anything better.

The waste collector’s jeans: Despite having had an overlay of protective coveralls, these jeans have acid burns from improperly thrown away batteries, are slashed by shards of broken light bulbs, and punctured by hypodermic needles. And they smell. Boy, do they smell.

The UPS delivery person’s shorts: I think these could be auctioned off, actually. Is it a requisite that men who deliver UPS packages have great legs?

Happy trails, and keep your eyes peeled for a pair of buckskins worn by Gary Cooper. Will pay top dollar. Because I’m not going to wear out my own pair.

Mystery Ranch, by Max Brand

cover illus. Stanley Borack

Pocket Books, 1952

from the collection of ES

* There’s a glass ceiling for women in this area too. A woman who smells like leather is a dominatrix or a man-eater of some sort. But sweat is okay on a woman if she has been involved in a sport or sex, and then only as a slight sheen that smells like perfume.


Leave a Comment to “Old Jeans Are a Gold Mine; or Cowboy Fact #25”

  1. It’s common knowledge that UPS delivery drivers have well-developed legs due to incessant kicking of boxes in their keeping for delivery……

    $36,000 ?
    and not a sequin or diamond stud to be found.

  2. Funny, our UPS guy always uses kid gloves.

    No diamonds. No sequins. All quality. As long as the person never washes, mends, or wears them.

  3. My UPS boxes inevitably look like they were trampled by the Boraxo 20 Mule Team

    Question, do REAL Cowboys use Boraxo?

  4. Did he say “the old ranger”? That’s a find. Good radar.

    I’ve seen the roads those mule teams went on. Those mule drivers were the real cowboys.

    That’s where the phrase “with bells on” came about. *History/English lesson alert* The so-called roads were so narrow, and the loads so heavy, that the trains coming in one direction (forget which) would have bells on the harnesses so the teams going in the other direction would hear them and pull over in time.

    What you need for your van.

  5. You can lead a van to water but ya can’t make it drink…….

  6. Are UPS guys the new cowboys???? ’cause they’re hot!

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