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SAN FRANCISCO - Sometime in the 1880s, Levi Strauss & Co. sold just another pair of blue jeans for about a dollar. On Thursday, the company that invented the dungaree bought back the pants for $46,532.

In what is believed to be the highest price ever paid for denim, Levi's reacquired the jeans during an online eBay auction. They are among the oldest in the world.

Levi's historian Lynn Downey said the company will use the jeans as a template for part of a vintage collection. Look for replicas this fall season, she said.

The jeans were found in the mud of a one-time Nevada mining town and eventually made their way to the hands of a man who has remained anonymous. That man brought the jeans to an appraiser owned by eBay, which promoted the auction with The History Channel.

The jeans are in "fair to good" condition, said eBay spokeswoman Jennifer Chu - faded, ripped in the inseam, but still intact and even wearable.

Historians for Levi Strauss & Co. examined the fabric and patented copper rivets and concluded the jeans - technically, denim waist coveralls - were produced sometime from 1880 to 1885.

The auction started out slow, but closed with a flourish, Chu said.

Until Thursday afternoon, no one had bid during the weeklong period the jeans were offered online. Then, in the two minutes before the auction closed Thursday night, a tussle of five bids saw the price shoot from an initial $25,000 asking price to the hefty sum Levi's paid.

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