In the late 19th century, mining was a vital component of the economy of the American West and a key occupation for many working-class men who needed tough clothes to endure the work. Levi Strauss & Co.’s blue denim copper-riveted overalls and jackets fit the bill.
Levi’s® products ranged from denim riveted waist overalls and spring bottom pants to jumpers, jackets and even a four-pocket collared coat — all advertised in an 1899 flier. More than a century later, these early Levi’s® products continue to tell the tale of the West.
The most recent example is an 1890s copper-riveted denim sack coat found in Southern Nevada. It’s the same coat advertised on the 1899 flier and now ranks as the second-oldest jacket in the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives after our copper-riveted denim triple-pleat blouse.
In 2021, Utah rockhound Shane Tapp discovered the coat in an abandoned mining area. “It was found in a Nevada mining town in the mine’s ash from the assaying dump area,” Shane said. “I saw a circle of grey rocks about two feet in diameter. The rocks were like large gravel.”
Shane took his hand pick and swung. The pick caught hold of the coat buried under layers of earth. His pick ripped the coat near the left shoulder but pulled it out of the ground. He remembered how heavy it felt. “It must [have] been used to load up tarlike-coated rocks or to soak up oil,” Shane surmised. “I’m sure that’s what helped it survive.”
At home, Shane studied the coat’s details and identified LS&Co. buttons and rivets. That’s when he reached out to the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives.
The coat turned out to be a missing piece in the company’s collection of the world’s oldest riveted denim jackets, but it was encrusted with decades of dirt, covered in oil, torn by the pick and missing an arm.
The Archives engaged Costume and Textile Expert Margaret Geiss-Mooney to assist with conservation. Meg has 40 years of experience with garments ranging from a dress worn by someone in the British royal family to ancient Peruvian grave textiles.
For two weeks, Meg used a HEPA-filter vacuum, brushes and metal tools to remove debris and reveal key coat details like dirt-covered copper rivets.
A New Home
Once the coat was cleaned, Meg prepared it for long-term Archives storage. One concern about storing the coat was its unusual smell that had the potential of being absorbed by other garments. To address this concern, Meg lined an acid-free garment box with several polyethylene sheets that extended over the box sides and effectively sealed the box once covered.
With the sack coat tucked inside the box, it was time to place it in its new home — our fireproof safe in the Archives.
Today, the South Nevada Sack Coat sits in our blue safe in the Archives on the same shelf as our oldest jacket, the triple pleat blouse.
To see the condition of the coat before and after cleaning, and to watch Meg conserve the jacket, go to the Levi’s® YouTube channel and watch “From the Levi’s® Archives, Episode 8.”