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Vintage Levi’s 501 Jeans – The Ultimate Collector’s Guide

Posted by The Capsule on

The 501 has gone through more than twenty makeovers in its already long life and many of the early models are difficult if not impossible to trace down today. To indicate their rarity (and value), Levi’s themselves bought a pair of c1890 501’s in 1997 which cost them approximately 25,000 dollars! It’s safe to assume that today, nearly twenty years later, this value would have almost doubled.

We invite you to take a walk down memory lane of the history of the 501, from its inception through every major variation, all the way to its current form today.

Editor’s note: if you haven’t already, be sure to also read our accompanying guide, “How to Date and Value Vintage Levi’s Type I, II, and III Denim Jackets“.

The History of the Vintage Levi’s 501 Jean

It all starts with The Two Horse brand patch. I mean, it doesn’t actually – but for the sake of dating your 501’s a decipherable Two Horse brand patch will tell you a lot about when your 501’s were produced. The Two Horse brand patch was implemented in 1886, sixteen years after Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patented the copper-riveted waist overall. Actually, the waist overall wasn’t dubbed the ‘501’ until 1890 when the patent went into public domain and Levi’s had to think of new ways to make them stand out. The earliest pair of 501’s that I’ve come across currently for sale is a pair 1902 501XX priced at around 35,000 dollars in a good vintage condition.

Below I’ve listed some of the many different 501 models plus a few popular characteristics to each of them. Our timeline begins in 1890 when the lot number ‘501’ was first coined and ends around 2002 when the Valencia St. factory in San Francisco shut down as the last remaining Levi’s production facility on American soil. Any 501 produced after 2002 was most definitely made overseas.

Please note, that there were many models and transitional phases throughout the years and by the mid-twentieth century, the 60s in particular, numerous factories were producing 501’s, and thus features and years overlap in several examples. The following information is not based on facts, but on research carried out by myself and other collectors worldwide, sharing knowledge with each other. As always, we’re aiming to be as accurate as possible, but bear in mind, that there are no rules without exceptions.

1. 1890: 501XX, Two Horse brand patch introduced, recessed button center, one back pocket, Amoskeag denim
2. 1902: 501XX, added back pocket (two in total), recessed button center, long and “square” back pockets
3. 1922-36: 501XX, belt loops added, cinch-back remains, rivets still exposed on back pockets, Cone denim
4. 1936-41: 501XX, Red tab introduced, suspender buttons removed
5. 1941-42: 501XX, Pre-war regulations, still with cinch, rivets and stitched arcuate
6. 1942-47: S501XX, “Every Garment Guaranteed”, leather patch remains, but cinch is gone, rivets removed from crotch, watch pocket, arcuate is painted on instead of stitched
7. 1947-55: 501XX (post-WWII model), iconic 501 model, slim fit
8. 1955-62: 501XX, Jacron “leather-like” patch replacing leather patch. Still with “Every Garment Guaranteed”
9. 1960-65: “Every Garment Guaranteed”-slogan removed, v-stitch and hidden rivets remains
10. 1964-66: 501XX (last model), v-stitch and concealed rivets replaced
11. 1966-68: 501XX 501 transitional model
12. 1966-68: 501 0117 (0117 denotes “un-sanforized” denim)
13. 1968-71: 501 A, S & F (introducing quality grading to customers)
14. 1968-70: 501E (washing instructions printed on pocket bag)
15. 1970-73: 501E “66” (chain stitched top waistband/no more v-stitch)
16. 1971-78: 501e (small “e”, care label added, single stitch pockets)
17. 1978-81: 501e (double stitch pockets)
18. 1981-93: 501e, 3-stamp on the back of waist/fly buttons (except for a few transitional models (early 80’s))
19. 1992-2002: 501e (501xx, “xx” in black), 3-stamp buttons, new care label w. written instructions on the front

Although the 501 changed in fit and overall design throughout the years, there are certain features that thrifters and collectors commonly look for in order to distinguish 501 models from each other. This guide won’t be going into detail of every single 501 model ever produced, but rather present you with some tools to help you narrow down the age of your old jeans.

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