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True Piece Of Miner Waist Overalls

This pair of original Levi’s 501XX dates back to the early 1900s and is a true piece of miner waist overalls. The waist overall was found recently this year in a closed abandoned mine in Nevada, America. It’s now part of my private denim archive.

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Blue Gold

It’s fascinating to think about miners were going into mines in search of gold back in the days. Nowadays, some true denim hunters are going into those same mines in search of blue jeans (waist overalls), or better blue gold. It’s very dangerous to go into old closed mines as there’re many dangers as wild animals, toxic gases, low oxygen levels, unstable ground conditions, and unexploded dynamite.

Most of the time they don’t find anything, but sometimes they come out with something really interesting. This pair is one of those treasures that have been in the mines since the early 1900s. So, they have survived around hunderd years.

It’s only the left leg, the other leg is mostly used for saving (repairing) another pair of waist overalls, or to fasten a candle or something.

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Early 5-Pocket Jeans

This pair of Levi’s 501XX waist overalls is probably produced somewhere between 1901 and 1921. In 1901 the brand added their second back pocket, the left one as one this pair, which completed the 5-pockets jeans because they had now five pockets. On the waistband are only suspender buttons, so it’s produced before 1922 as the brand added belt loops that year. With these facts, we know it’s produced between those two years.

FYI: These pants were called waist overalls as they were worn over the clothes of a miner. Most of the time these pants belonged to the owner of a mine. So, when the work was done, these overalls were left at the mine before going home. The rumor goes that they had to leave their waist overall there so they couldn’t sneak gold or silver with them from the mine.

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The Two Horse Brand

Levi Strauss patent together with tailor Jacob Davis the rivet on the 20th of May of 1873 for $86,-. This means that this waist overall is produced around 30 – 40 years after they started the company.

The rivet was attached on waist overalls to strength them after complaints. Rivets were used at points of strain, like pocket corners and the base of the button fly. The riveted waist overalls were an instant hit.

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The rivet patent #139,121. On the patent you see the points where the rivets were attached.

The Two Horse Brand

First, the brand was known by most people as the ‘Two horse brand’. Levi’s developed their Two Horse design element in 1886 to express themselves and to show people that they were buying an original pair of Levi’s jeans. This element was introduced to show people the strength and quality of their jeans. The Two Horse design shows the image of two horses, each pulling in the opposite direction on the same pair of jeans, trying to tear them apart. This shows people how strong they are. Soon after it’s introduction Levi’s became also known by consumers as the Two Horse brand instead of Levi’s.

Another reason and the idea behind the design was the fact that not everyone spoke English so well in the American West. Some people couldn’t read English that good, so the design was a smart symbol for consumers to recognize the brand.

Main Features Of This Pair

This pair of early original 501’s has the following main features; waist suspender buttons, crotch rivet, cinch back, selvedge fabric, and five pockets (this example shows not all these features as it’s only the left leg). Thanks to the historian of Levi Strauss & Co, Tracey Panek, I know that this waist overall would have been manufactured in San Francisco at one of their two factories: 415 Market Street (in use from 1873 to 1906) or 250 Valencia Street (in use from 1906 and later).

The waist overall is most likely made with 9oz. XX  right-hand blue denim selvedge fabric, which comes from the Amoskeag Mill in Manchester, New Hampshire. So, it’s produced before Levi’s started to use Cone Denim fabric which they partnered with from 1915 and on.

Other details of this pair are that they have a lot or holes, dirt and different color tones. If you look closely you see horizontal lines which refer probably that they were folded for a long time in the mine and were damage by water or something. Also, there’s also a repair on the leg with other denim fabric.

The way the waist overall is torn suggests that it may been using for patching another waist overall.

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The 501 Numbers

Until 1890, Levi’s used to write on their invoice ‘Patented Blue Denim Overalls’ and as this took a long time to write out they changed their inventory system. By 1890 they changed it in simply three numbers, 501. This identifies the original 501. Anything in the 500 series was the best quality you could get.

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The Arcuate Stitching

They don’t know precisely the origin of the famous arcuate stitching on the back pockets. This because in 1906 the entire archive was destroyed due to an earthquake in San Francisco. But, they think that it is representing the wingspread of a bird. On this pair, you can see that the arcuate is the width and slightly pointed which is not quite centered. It reminds Tracey Panek to a pair from their archive which dates back to the early 1920s, but as this pair doesn’t have belt loops it must be older.

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Nevada

As said, this pair is found in the Nevada area. A state of the United States, and one of the largest sources of gold in the world. Although Nevada was known much more for silver in the 19th century, many of the early silver mining districts also produced considerable quantities of gold. Modern mining began in Nevada in 1849 with the discovery of placer gold in a stream flowing into the Carson River near the present town of Dayton. This discovery, made by Mormon ’49ers on their way to the California gold fields, led others upstream into what was later known as the Virginia Range to find the croppings of the Comstock Lode in 1859.

The Comstock Lode produced 8,600,000 troy ounces (270 t) of gold, and the Eureka district produced 1,200,000 troy ounces (37 t). The Robinson copper mine has produced well over 2,700,000 troy ounces (84 t) gold, along with over 4 billion pounds (1,500,000 tonnes) of copper.

Once the gold and silver weren’t found any more in the mines, people moved to other places in order to get a better life. Most of the town turned into so-called ghost towns. Today, there are more than 600 ghost towns throughout the state, which is more than the number of inhabited cities in Nevada. Many are located in the northern half of the state, and some even have a handful of residents, making these living ghost towns.

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Historical Denim Item

This original piece of Nevada Levi’s 501XX waist overalls is an important piece of American denim history. It’s now saved in my private denim archive as true blue gold.

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www.levi.com

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Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine I'm working as a freelance marketing specialist for brands and retail. Specialized in denim. Nominated as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50.