- The auction house says the pants may have been made by or for Levi-Strauss.
- They came from the S.S. Central America, a ship that went down during a hurricane in 1857.
- Hurricane forecasting was rudimentary at the time.
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A pair of miner’s work pants possibly made by legendary blue jeans company Levi-Strauss recently sold at auction for more than $100,000 after being salvaged from the wreckage of a ship loaded with gold that went down in an 1857 hurricane off the U.S. East Coast.
The steamship S.S. Central America was discovered in 1988, more than 7,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, millions of dollars have been made from the sale of the California Gold Rush bars and coins it carried.
Last week, though, other artifacts from the ship and its wealthy passengers came up for auction, including the pants, more clothes, jewelry, keys and the lid from a Wells Fargo treasure box.
“Some collectors have been waiting for these extraordinary items to come on the market since the legendary, submerged ship was located in 1988 and Life magazine proclaimed it America’s greatest treasure ever found,” Fred Holabird, president of Holabird Western Americana Collections auction house in Reno, told the Associated Press.
The S.S. Central America was en route from Panama to New York in September 1957 during a time modern weather forecasters now know is the peak of hurricane season.
“Forecasts in the 1850s were very rudimentary,” weather.com meteorologist Jonathan Belles said Wednesday. “More or less what we call persistence forecasts today: If a storm is going in a certain direction, it will continue to do so. And intensity forecasts were not a thing.”
Records from that era are spotty, Belles said, having relied mostly on ship reports, other countries and backyard weather observers.
The science of predicting hurricanes wasn’t in practice yet, either. That started in Havana toward the end of the century. The first well-known forecasting success was the 1900 Galveston hurricane.
“It wasn’t until the 1960s that satellites, buoys, robust weather observation stations, and later, specialized computational weather models ushered in the modern era of hurricane forecasting,” Belles said.
While all the specifics of the storm that took the S.S. Central America down aren’t known, the history of the ship itself is documented in at least three books as well as numerous articles and museum exhibitions. It is considered one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.
At the time, the gold on board was worth around $2 million, according to Professional Coin Grading Services, a company involved in valuing the coins.
A summary in the Library of Congress says the loss of the gold when the ship went down contributed to the financial Panic of 1857 and the economic depression that followed.
As for the passengers on the S.S. Central America, 425 died and about 150 were rescued. But everyone’s belongings went down with the ship and were preserved in the cold dark water for more than a century.
The auction house catalog says the miner’s pants were new at the time, and the button-fly design indicates they were likely a pair of Levi’s.
They were found inside a trunk that belonged to first-class passengers and were recovered in the early 1990s with the help of a robot submarine equipped with first-of-their-kind 3D cameras.
The pants are believed to have belonged to John Daniel Dement, an Oregon man who had served in the Mexican-American War.
Before the auction, Holabird told the AP that he’d never been involved with anything like it during his 50-year career as a geologist, mine owner, historian and expert on Americana.
“And I’ve worked on the best of the best,” Holabird said. “This is more special, because every piece has a story.”
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