Pants From 1857 North Carolina Shipwreck Sold For $114,00 At Auction

The pants, recovered from the wreckage of the legendary “Ship of Gold,” are being described as the oldest known pair of jeans in the world.

Shipwreck Pants

Holabird Western Americana Collections

How much money would you spend on unwearable pants? $114,000? Because that’s what one pair of exceptional trousers sold for at auction last week. 

The pants, heralded by officials as the oldest known pair of jeans in the world, were among 270 Gold Rush-era artifacts that sold for a total of nearly $1 million in Reno last weekend, according to Holabird Western Americana Collections. 

The white, heavy-duty work pants with a five-button fly were recovered from 7,200 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, where they spent well over a century entombed in the wreckage of the S.S. Central America, a passenger ship known as the “Ship of Gold.” The pants reportedly came from the trunk of an Oregon man, John Dement, who served in the Mexican-American War.

Shipwreck Jeans

Holabird Western Americana Collections

“Those miner’s jeans are like the first flag on the moon, a historic moment in history,” Dwight Manley, managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group and consignor of the recovered artifacts, said in a statement. “We can precisely date them because we know the Central America sank during a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean on September 12, 1857. There are no earlier five-button fly jeans in existence.”

The pants were originally credited to Levi Strauss, but he didn't manufacture his first pair of jeans until 16 years after the wreckage in 1873. Their story, like other artifacts recovered from the ship, remains a mystery. 

SS Central America Keys

Holabird Western Americana Collections

The S.S. Central America was en route to New York from California via Panama when disaster struck in the form of a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina.  More than 400 passengers and crew died and 30,000 pounds of gold were lost. Tens of millions of dollars worth of gold has been sold since shipwreck recovery began in 1988. Last weekend’s auction was the first time the ship’s artifacts have hit the auction block. 

Other auction items from the ship included the purser's keys to the treasure room, an 1849 Colt pocket pistol, four brown beer bottles (some with the remaining dregs of their original contents), two Brooks Brothers shirts, and more. 

Another auction is scheduled for February 25, 2023. Visit for more information. 

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