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Thrifter's thread: Levi's 501 (1960's-1990's)

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Dr_Heech View Drop Down
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    Posted: 28 Nov 2015 at 10:01am
As the title suggests, a thread to inform any potential thrifters still out there looking for old Levi's 501's; Information that might be helpful for dating purposes when there is no patch/tab etc, only numbers/letters and possibly a wash tag.
This thread is not intended to detract from our other fine Levi's resources:
 
 
 
The basic pictorial information gathered here comes from several different Japanese denim magazines, and the wonderful "The 501XX - A collection of vintage jeans" (recommended for any real Levi's enthusiast). Although most of the examples here are NOS, and any pairs still left worth thrifting will be used/trashed, it is nice to see all the various changes to the details on the card pocket-flasher and Guarantee tickets. This info can help with dating as much as patches and button numbers/letters. 
 
This info also comes from my experiences of thrifting, many moons ago, and from trawling through 100's of images over the years from various online vintage sites such as http://www.marvins-jp.com/
..which leads me to my next point -
This information will of course be updated (when time allows) and photos added, as to any new 'finds' allow us to speculate further. The 1960's and 1970's in particular have many transitional phases (and grey areas it seems) due to several factories making the 501 jean at the same time(?)
This guide is not definitive in any way and feedback is always welcome - it's a big learning curve after all.
Lastly, I've started around 1960 as I doubt many out there will be lucky enough to find an older pair with hidden rivets from the 40's or 50's (but I've left a window open if there is enough interest). The cut off point has to be the 1990's, as this starts to get into Lvc and other repro-brand territory, and then there's the 'fakes' that followed. This thread is about "Made in the USA" 501's from the last century!
 
PLEASE take the time to check your Levi's 501's have the following combination of factors; Look at the photos (will be updating) and read the description - this will help you determine whether they are worth investigating further Wink
A crude example: If your 501's have a V stitch and a wash tag, then they don't comply to these models listed (the V stitch disappeared around 1970 and the first wash tag didn't arrive until 1973 ..... and so on).
 
Links to pairs are acceptable, but valuations by pm only, as I don't want this thread to turn to soup Smile


Edited by Dr_Heech - 28 Nov 2015 at 2:25pm
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[Reserved for 1940's/50's 501 ?]
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1960-1962.
 
In 1962 a pair of Levi's 501's would have typically looked like this when new (taken from "The 501xx") -
 
 
 
They would typically be stitched in orange and yellow thread, the two-horse patch would still have the words EVERY GARMENT GUARANTEED.  They would have the hidden back pocket rivets and the front rivets were copper-coated steel I believe (more anodized/shinier than earlier copper rivets (which seem to dull rather than rust). They would almost certainly have an offset back/centre belt-loop. The pair above seem to have something stamped on the rear of the waistband button?
 
 
 
 
More shots of the same pair (Lightning Vol 91) -
 
 
 
A closer look reveals the letter 'S' -
 
 
There is no definitive date when numbers or letters started to appear on the button backs, although my personal feeling is late 1940's. The Levi's jackets being produced at the time (the older 507xx up to 1962 and the 'new' 557xx introduced in 1961) had the # 17 stamped on the reverse of the buttons, so it is possible.
 
Lastly a pair made in the early sixties would have a 'V' stitch on the waistband.  A term coined by collectors to describe the V-shaped return of one side of the single-stitched fold of the waistband.  Shown here with the yellow thread -
 
 
And the button-hole side finished off into an L-shape normally -
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Edited by Dr_Heech - 19 Jan 2017 at 2:16pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (5) Thanks(5)   Quote Dr_Heech Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Nov 2015 at 10:03am
1963-1965
 
 
 
 
# 15
 
At this point your Levi's 501's still have the hidden back pocket rivets, off-set belt loop and numbers or letters stamped on the waistband button.  Sometime in 1963 Levi's took the words EVERY GARMENT GUARANTEED off their two horse patch. One of the other notable details that is a good indicator for dating 501's, is the change in material to the front pocket rivets; They change from copper-coated steel to Aluminium (please note on the pair above, copper-coated steel is still used). 
On a new pair the rivets will look shiny, like on this pair which unusually has a centred back belt loop -
 
 
'S' stamp -
 
but over time the outside will darken, for example -
 
 
The inside part of the rivet remains a shiny silver colour.  Also with this model (63-65/66) the lower waistband chain-stitch used lemon yellow thread only -
 
 
Another feature which normally distinguishes this model is the presence of the selvedge in the coin pocket -
 
The following letters have been noted for this era 501 model:
 
A, E & L (on waistband button OR on fly buttons) & J, K, R, S & W on waistband buttons only.
 
Numbers(so far): #15 & 20 
 
If you are lucky enough to find a pair with a two-horse patch still attached, here are two of the four variations -
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
And with and without hidden rivets/offset belt-loop -
 
 


Also, so far at least, this is the first model I've seen with the 'R' only tab -




 
1965-66
 
GOODBYE HIDDEN RIVETS:
The last two examples clearly show the basic two models of 501 around this time. And as I said before, there are at least four or five variations in patch (the two above and the one on the next pair being three of them).
 
The jeans still had the yellow/orange thread, but around this time the lemon-yellow waistband stitch, a distinctive feature of '63-'65 501's, was gradually replaced by copper-orange.  They still had the V stitch and the numbers/letters on the button-backs. 
The two most noticeable changes were the removal of the hidden back pocket rivets, and the 'off-set' belt-loop returned to its' central position once again. The words: 100% Cotton and WPL 423 were added around 1965/66 to the patch (will update patch variations noted in previous model).
 Essentially, after the rivets disappeared it becomes the start of a grey area which lasts until around 1970, but I've tried to make some sense of it - basically as time goes on I may be able to whittle the numbers /letters thing down to certain model variations. Or even factories?
 
Here is the last example from "The 501xx..." book - produced early '66 -
 
 
 
 
 
On this pair the letter 'E' is stamped on the fly buttons only (blank waist button) - here are my hidden rivet pair with the same configuration but with E also stamped on the hidden rivet, so they could have been made months apart, at possibly the same factory??
 
 

(I've also often wondered if this is the start of the 501 'E' (c.1967-70)?
 
 
 
 
 




Edited by Dr_Heech - 19 Jan 2017 at 2:18pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (3) Thanks(3)   Quote Dr_Heech Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Nov 2015 at 10:04am

1966-1970

 
Basically without the two horse patch, the 501's made between c.1966-70 look very similar.
 - So no hidden rivets, still has the V stitch ( pocket selvedge remains for perhaps a year?)  and letters/numbers on back of waistband button -
 
'K' stamp -
 
 
 
 
 
 
There are three main models here:
 
501xx 501} 501 501 and 501 0117 (c.1966-1968),
501 'E' : c.1968-1970,
501 A,S,F model: c.1969-1971
 
 
 
 
1.
1966-c.1968:
501xx 501, 501 501 and 501 501 0117 (same model or just different patch codes from different factories??)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Looks like a B, E or an F stamped on the button-back?
 
 
 
 
 
Although some of the following models overlap 1970 (notably the 'A', 'S' & 'F' model(s), the most distinguishing feature of pre-1970 501's is the V stitch. After 1970 the top edge of the waistband was, like the bottom part, chain-stitched - with two rows of single-stitch at the butt-ends (not a technical term) like this:
 
Pre-1970
 
Post-1970
 
 
 
 
 
2.
1968-1971
 
The A,S & F model(s) were the first attempt to give a quality grading to customers (A = A1/perfect, S = 'Satisfactory' and F which stands for 'Failure') -
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Interestingly, this last photo shows two thick black bands on the F model patch.  This is the word 'IRREGULAR' (stamped twice ..incoherently) which around 1970 was then simply stamped onto the pocket bag (in most cases) or on the patch.
 
Models with numbers stamped onto button-backs noted so far, both with AND without the V stitch or chain-stitch waistband:
 
 
'A' model with #6 (underlined) - the first appearance of this, later termed by the collector as the "Route 66" 501
 
A model with #4
S model with #2
S model with #8
S model with #16
 
 
 
 
 
 
3.
c.1967-1969
 
Sometimes referred to as the 501 'E':  This model along with 501 A/S/F was the last to use the old type, thicker Jacron two-horse patch (replaced around 1970 with a new two-piece type with tear-off section). A good sign of a pre-1971 501 is the 'shadow' of the patch is nearly (but not) always butted against the belt-loop.
 
Here is a pair with the # 16 stamped on the top button, which as mentioned, has been noted on the S model also -
 
 
This model was still stitched using a mixture of lemon-yellow and copper-orange thread, and of course still had the V stitch. 
The most important improvement that appeared on the 501 'E' was the first Washing Instructions, printed on the pocket bag like this -
 
 
501 'E' will only have 501 printed on the patch:
 
 The remains of printed pocket-bag wash instructions is always a good indicator of the 501 'E' model, as long there is still a V stitch and any number OTHER than #6 (underlined) on the button-back. The red tab, which had always been made from Rayon, also had a slight font change in the word "LEVI'S" around 1968/69.  Will update with an example, hopefully.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Edited by Dr_Heech - 13 Jul 2016 at 11:59am
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1970 - 1973
In around 1970, the material of the red tab changed from Rayon to Nylon, but still retained the word "LEVI'S" in capital letters.  
 
Sometimes called the 501'E' "66" model, this is a bit of a departure from the previous 501's (although some factories were obviously still producing the A,S,F model(s) until early 1971) - this became the definitive design for the next decade!
The most important design feature (as previously mentioned) was the waistband, which was now chain-stitched top and bottom (so no more V stitch) - also the Underlined #6 (so 6 ) on the waistband button-back is a good indicator of 501's made between 1970-c.1980.
 
 
This model still had the new added washing instructions printed on the right pocket bag, but now there was a new design Two-horse patch, made of thinner cardstock than before, with a small tear-off section (for why?), which had the added words "CARE INSTRUCTIONS INSIDE GARMENT" printed directly above 501. When this new patch was introduced, it meant moving the patch along to the centre more to allow for the extra tear-off portion to sit, like this:
 
 
 
Around the early 70's the numbers '1', '2' and '3' started to appear (pre-fixing the lot #501) to denote longer leg lengths (1: used for waist sizes under 38, 2: used for sizes 40-48, and 3: used as a prefix for waist sizes 50 and above. I have also seen this era 501 display jean (W76 46) with the '4' prefix.
 
 
Earlier 1970's 501's still had some variations in thread colour, but now there is noticeably more copper-orange and less lemon-yellow. This filtered down over several years, until by the end of the decade, 501's were only stitched in copper-orange thread.
Usual places that still have yellow thread: Around coin-pocket or inside front pockets. Bottom hems or around the fly (usually the over-lock stitching). Yellow belt-loop bar-tacking is commonplace, but there were no more yellow-stitch arcuates Disapprove.
 
 


Edited by Dr_Heech - 08 Jan 2016 at 1:35pm
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1973- 1978
No more 'Big E' tab.
This is sometimes referred to as the 501 'e' "66" model (don't get me started on this whole 'Route 66' thing). The significance of this model, especially when the new look red tab (now in the lower case spelling of "Levi's") is missing, is the evidence of the new wash tag. Instead of the garment care instructions being printed on the pocket-bag, this new separate white cotton wash tag was sewn into the outside seam, visible by the left pocket-bag. Judging by these pics, the buttons are different from the previous model too -
 
 
 
 
This model is more widely now know as the 'single-stitch' model to thrifters and collectors. Basically any 501 jean with a 6 on the back of the waistband button, a wash-tag with SF 207 (see pic) and no big E red tab, are either single-stitched or double-stitched - just look inside the back pockets: Two single rows of stitch = single stitch, Two rows of double-lock stitch = double stitched.
Simple way of determining whether they are pre or post 1978. 


Edited by Dr_Heech - 05 Jan 2016 at 8:48am
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1978-1981
Now referred to by collectors/thrifters as the 'double-stitched' model 501 (see previous model discussion)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here are some details of my pair -
 
 
 
 
The rivet on the blind side is different from the '73-78 model -
 
 
 
 
The bar-tacking on the belt-loops is shorter from 1978 onward (will update an example soon)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Edited by Dr_Heech - 05 Jan 2016 at 9:21am
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1981 - c.1993. 
 
This model was the last to use the Redline selvedge and the black bar-tacked back pocket stitching, although I have seen models with selvedge but with no black bar-tack, and vice-versa. But by 1984 the 501 lost the redline selvedge altogether.
 Around 1982 the font of Levi's on the red tab changed, as well as the info and shrinkage % on the (SF 207) wash tag (see photos). There was also a new flasher dated 1981)
 The number on the reverse of the fly button is usually 524, although I've seen one or two transitional models (c.1981) with the aforementioned # 6 stamp on the button.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Around 1982/83 over-lock stitching gradually replaced the redline selvedge.
The earlier non-selvedge 501's used copper/orange stitching, whereas the models made after 1984 used the white over-lock stitch only. The button stamp here is 525..
 
 
By 1984 there was a new flasher and the wash tag was given a new makeover (back view only) -
 
 
And by 1987 another flasher, although same wash tag (front view) and the new Two-horse patch showing he first 'return' of XX after the # 501 in red (along with the 'care instructions inside garment')
 
 
 
Another flasher, dated to 1991 (not shown here) and a change to the rivets on the blind side -
 
 
 
 
Last flasher dated 1993, and this model ran until the closing of the Valencia street factory in San Francisco in 2002. Note the 501 xx is now printed in black. 
 
1992 saw the introduction of the last type of wash tag, with the silver thread (fly button back stamped - 552, 553 and 555).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 









Edited by Dr_Heech - 18 Aug 2016 at 7:49am
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" You must spread more rep before giving any more to the good doctor. " 


Edited by Bob Dale - 30 Nov 2015 at 7:41pm
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