By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"We get 'em anywhere," he reveals. "It could be an estate sale, a garage sale. My partner's found 'em in the trunks of old cars in junkyards. We've found 'em in Dumpsters."
Enloe has a friend who owns a pair of Levi's that has been documented as dating from 1937. The friend was staking out an old general store in Oklahoma one day when he overheard a conversation between the proprietor and a guy who had been a local rep for Levi's in the old days. The friend butted in and found that, sure enough, there was an old pair of jeans sitting on a shelf in the back room. Dusty, but unworn. The friend bought them for a few bucks, and recently turned down an offer from a Japanese collector for $25,000.
And then there are the "pickers." As the Wicked Witch of the West had flying monkeys to do her bidding, so do the Levi bosses have an army of pickers who do just that.
"They're kind of a weird subculture," offers Vise. "These people range from retired people to homeless--it's a real eclectic group--and that's what they do for a living. They hound the yard sales and estate sales and thrift stores, and a lot of them come in seven days a week. We recently bought a pair from a picker who found them in a thrift store. The pair was from the '50s, and we paid him about $150. It wasn't a particularly nice pair; in Japan it would only go for about $800."
Let's say you are holding a pair of Levi's. You are looking at them. Maybe you're smoking a cigarette, maybe the TV's on and it's a little overcast outside. I don't know. But let's say you're pondering those Levi's, asking yourself, "How can I tell if these are old and valuable?"
Well, if the "Levi's" patch on the back is made of leather, we're talking '50s. Or if the back pockets are attached with external rivets, you've got a pair that's pre-/early '60s. And if the little red label on the back pocket has a "big E" in the name Levi's, it's pre-/early '70s. There are also the red lines that appear on the white cloth on the inside stitching of the leg seam, which disappeared in 1982.
I found this out myself in a shop in Berkeley, California, a few months ago. I saw a ripped, faded, stained, evil-looking pair of jeans with a price tag of $50. I asked a kid who worked there why they were $50, and was shown the all-important red line. I asked him who would pay $50 for a trashed pair of Levi's that had only a faint red line on the inside leg seam to recommend it.
The kid looked at me like I was some kind of idiot and said, "The Japanese.