Treasure: Levi’s jeans cowboy figure ‘pretty special’
Today, Levi’s jeans are an American institution and among the country’s many instantly recognizable brands. Jim Foertsch’s brother was a Levi’s sales rep in Colorado for more than 20 years, he recently told appraiser Brian Thomczek at an appraisal session held at the Michigan Design Center in Troy. He was also a collector, picking up things he liked through the years, including an unusual piece of Levi’s advertising.
“He had his eye on this in a bootery and jeans store in Colorado and tried to talk the owner out of it for many years,” Foertsch told the appraiser. Eventually, he convinced the owner to part with the western figure, which measures 29 inches tall, with a base that is 10 by 10 inches. Made of what appears to be painted plaster, it’s in very good shape except for a small chip at the bottom of the left pant leg. “It’s original, from an old jeans dealer in Gunnison, Colorado,” he added as the appraiser took a closer look. “It was very, very dusty.”
According to the company website, levistrauss.com, the first pair of blue jeans was made in 1873. Strauss was born in Bavaria in 1829. In 1846, Levi and his sisters emigrated to New York, where they were met by his two older brothers who owned a New York-based dry goods business, which he joined. “When news of the California Gold Rush made its way east, Levi journeyed to San Francisco in 1853 to make his fortune, though he wouldn’t make it panning gold. He established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and served as the West Coast representative of the family’s New York firm. Levi eventually renamed his company “Levi Strauss & Co.”
Foertsch’s figure probably dates to the 1940s-1950s, says the appraiser. He said it appeared to be a form of resin composite, not wood, and is in “incredible shape.”
“It was kept up high in the store,” Foertsch told him. “It must have been out of the light, too,” the appraiser agreed. “It’s really great, with no fading or deterioration. Sunlight would have been very bad for it. “
Thomczek said it’s not the kind of piece you see every day. “It’s clearly a salesman’s sample or advertising piece, and isn’t the kind of thing that your average person would have had access to. You had to be a dealer to buy it.”
Foertsch told the appraiser that Levi Strauss has a large collection of memorabilia and a museum in their San Francisco headquarters, but he wasn’t sure if they had this piece or not. He said he had done some research and while he had trouble dating the item, he had found a similar one with an asking price of $4,000. Thomczek said that that was probably a retail price, and that dealers can ask prices they may not get.
He said that he would value the figure closer to $600-$800 at auction, which is a wholesale value. “It would definitely bring more in an antique shop.”
Foertsch said he had another identical one that shattered when it was shipped from Colorado. “You might want to see if it could be fixed,” Thomczek told him. “These are pretty special.”
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About this item
Item: Levi’s promotional cowboy figure
Owned by: Jim Foertsch, Troy
Estimated value: $600-$800
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek