Vintage Pat May 1873 LS & Co SF rivet from the early days of Levi's Strauss & Co.
Maker - Levi's Strauss & Co
Era - Late 19th century
Measurements - 9mm in diameter and 4mm high
Acquired - by Douglas Luhanko in 2009
This week we want to show you something that's not more than 9mm wide with a weight of less than 2g. But it sure has proven to have a major impact on the history of workwear and blue jeans!
Today this little detail is more or less taken for granted, and you can see it on most jeans. One could say that it might actually be one of the details that is necessary for a pair of pants to be perceived as jeans! We are talking about the rivet, originally an invention that was granted a patent to a tailor called Jacob Davis and his cloth supplier Levi Strauss. The patent states an “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings" using a copper rivet.
The legend says that Jacob was working as a tailor in the town Reno when he got a request to make a pair of work pants. The customer was a man with a labor intense job who was tired of wearing pants that ripped easily, so Jacob came up with the idea to strengthen the weak spots of the pants using copper rivets. He made the reinforced pants and moved on to the next project, but the legend says that the rumor of the long lasting workwear with riveted reinforcements spread around town and Jacob got more and more requests for the riveted work pants. He realized that he probably had come up with an unique idea that seemed to do the job! But without the financials that he needed to apply for the patent and to start up a business Jacob couldn't get very far. He reached out to his fabric supplier, a man named Levi Strauss located in San Francisco, and on 20th May in 1873 their patent was approved and they started up the business making riveted work pants under the brand that we still know today as Levi's Strauss.
This is one of the earliest type of rivets used by Levi's from 1873 up to the end of the 19th century, and the story of how it ended up in our shop in Stockholm Sweden goes back to 2009.
Me and my brother Hampus had just ended our high school studies in the small town Eskilstuna. This town is not known for very much but for some reason it did raise a few people that came to make a living on their interest for jeans, and we were among them! We were digging deep into our denim interest and started to search Ebay for interesting garments, collecting the ones we could afford. These pieces served as inspiration for us and we began to make our own jeans under the name Blue Highway that started as a blog in 2007 where we wrote about the history of denim, the garments we collected and the small batches of jeans we produced in a basement in Eskilstuna.
One day in the end of 2008 while we were doing our usual Ebay checkup we came to see something that caught our attention! Somebody had put up some listings of really old denim scraps dating back to the mid to late 19th century and that wasn't common on Ebay back then. So, as we were interested to know more about these unique pieces of fabric my brother Hampus wrote an email to the person who had put up the auctions. Pretty soon we got a response from a man named Michael Allen Harris who had found the denim when searching for old whisky bottles in the Nevada desert, and he was very kind to share what he knew about old American work wear with us!
I still remember pictures that he sent us with denim garments that we had never seen before, made by brands we never had heard of. He told us about his work with and upcoming book "Jeans of the old west", where he wanted to map out the history of the brands producing workwear in California during the 19th century. We were happy to listen to the information he provided and excited about the book that was going to be a great source of information for anyone looking to find the very origin to the history of blue jeans. One day Mike wrote us an email telling us that we were welcome to come visit him in Orange county if we were up to it, and of course we were! We couldn't believe the fact that it started to look like we were going to go to California to actually help Mike in his denim archeological work. We decided to ask our friend Viktor Fredbäck if he wanted to join us on this journey and in the summer of 2009 we got on the plane to go digging for blue jeans in old mines of California and Nevada!
We will probably get back to that journey in a later blog post with more information of what we came to experience on our adventure in the desert. For me it was a great way to better understand what life must have been like working in the mining industry back in the late 19th century and my favorite part of that first trip was camping in the desert and waking up to a cold and quiet surrounding, having pancakes for breakfast by the fire.
If I remember it correctly we actually got this particular rivet as a gift from Mike on that journey and as you can imagine it was much appreciated by us. This rivet is perhaps a small pice of metal but when it comes to the history of blue jeans it sure has got a story to tell.
The earliest versions I have seen of a pair of riveted blue jeans do not have any text on the rivets, and they might actually have been one of the pairs made by Jacob Davis before the patent was granted. I have also seen some pairs where some of the rivets have the text and some do not, and I think this might be due to the fact that the rivet only had text on one side. Perhaps the riveter didn't care about turning the text upwards on each rivet since it didn't compromise the quality of the jeans? This is just me speculating and Im really not sure if these theories are anything to keep in consideration! One thing we do know is that the early versions of the rivets were marked with the text "Pat May 1873 LS & Co SF" and that this text was changed to "LS & Co SF" in the late 19th and early 20th century. Perhaps this was because of the fact that the patent expired at this time, but that's just me speculating again. The text however has remained the same up until this day.
One thing you might notice on this early version of rivet is that it has got a nod in the center of the stud. This is the part of this rivet that interests me the most and Im not sure why they were made like this. My theory is that you pushed the stud through the fabric and then cut of the extended burrow, and to secure that the rivet stays in place you give it a small nod in the center making the copper expand slightly. Yet another theory of mine, and yet another mystery. We actually use similar rivets today when replacing broken rivets or making our own jeans in the store and the biggest difference is that I never manage to cut the extended burrow as straight at it looks on these old ones. Im using a plier and it always gives the rivet a pointy edge and not a flat one as this one has. But If I had a flat top I would definitely give it a nod because I think it's a great way to secure that it stays in it's place! As you can see with this particular one, these rivets seemed to outlive the cotton fabric they were designed to protect.
Im not sure if these rivets were attached using a riveting machine, or if they were fastened by hand. If you know anything about when automatic riveting machines were introduced in the clothing manufacturing history could you please give us a comment letting us know? We would really like to know more about that!
The back of the rivet is unmarked. On this side on later versions you could also read LS & Co SF
The side of the rivet and also the gap where the fabric once was.
We keep this Levi's rivett as part of our archive in the shop and if you are interested to have a closer look we will be more than happy to show it to you over a cup of coffee! That goes for all the things we have in our archive and we hope that they can serve as inspiration.
If we missed anything about the story of the this rivet or if you like to add something we would be happy to hear your thoughts! In that case just give us a comment below.
Last week we talked about silk and handmade patchwork in a vintage Kantha quilt and if you want to read more about it you will find that post here!