Purchased for $2,500 from a Levi Strauss & Co. salesman whom Ron met in Oklahoma, the button-fly dungarees—made in 1927 or 1928—feature suspender buttons and a back buckle. "He had paid $3.02 for them around 1950," says Ron. "I thought I'd get $10,000 if I was lucky." But after the word spread among their distributors here and abroad, a collector offered them $25,000. "I was stunned," says Cynthia. Explains David Little, author of Vintage Denim, to be published in January: "They are extremely rare. This is the best find ever." And interest isn't fading. Last month, a Japanese businessman, whose Tokyo shop sells old Levi's, upped the ante to $30,000.
For the Wrights, the timing couldn't be better. California natives (Ron, 47, is a former minister for a nondenominational Christian church; Cynthia, 42, has collected vintage clothes since she was 17), they have done well both in the used-denim business and by supplying costumes for films like Forrest Gump and Blaze. But seeing their son Jared through his 1991 bout with Hodgkin's disease (their only child, he is now 13 and in remission) caused tremendous emotional strain. And last year, Cynthia suffered permanent shoulder damage after being hit and dragged by a getaway car during a robbery at their store, Boss Unlimited Inc.
Hoping to get $75,000 for the jeans ("Whatever we make will be Jared's college fund," says Cynthia), the Wrights are holding out until year's end, hoping that someone with deeper pockets will materialize. Meanwhile, the dimensions of their lucky streak are just sinking in. "I knew the jeans were good," says Ron, "but I had no idea it would get this crazy."