The white pants were found in a sunken trunk in a shipwreck in 1857 near the coast of North Carolina.
They feature a five-button fly and are believed to have belonged to a miner.
The jeans were among 270 Gold Rush-era memorabilia that sold for nearly $1m total, according to Holabird Western Americana Collections.
The auction took place in Reno, Nevada in the western US, as well as online, on 3 December.
“Those miner’s jeans are like the first flag on the moon, a historic moment in history,” said Dwight Manley, the managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group, which owned the artefacts. “There are no earlier five-button fly jeans in existence.”
The items came from the SS Central America, also known as the “ship of gold”, a 280-foot (85-meter) steamer that brought passengers to and from Central America to the east coast of the US during the 1850s.
The ship sank during a Category two hurricane in September 1857, killing 425 out of 578 passengers and crew members.
Passengers sank with an estimated 21 tonnes of gold coins and artefacts. The shipwreck was first discovered in 1988.
The men’s work pants were recovered from a trunk belonging to John Dement, a man from Oregon, who may have purchased them in San Francisco, the auction company said.
Auction officials say the five-button fly strongly suggests the jeans could be an early manufacture of work pants sold by Levi Strauss.
The fly is “nearly identical, if not technically identical, to Levis of today, inclusive of the exact style, shape and size of the buttons themselves”, auction officials said.
Levi Strauss made the first pair of blue jeans in San Francisco in 1873, 16 years after the shipwreck that contained the miner’s pants.
But the company’s historian and archive director Tracey Panek told the BBC there is “no connection between Levi Strauss & Co and the Reno auction pants”, nor were they “miner’s work pants”.
“The pants are not made of denim and were made years before” Levi Strauss patented its blue jeans, she said, adding button-fly pants were common in the 19th Century.
The sale comes two months after a pair of vintage Levi’s jeans from the 1880s – found in an abandoned mineshaft in the western US – sold for $76,000 at an auction in New Mexico.
The SS Central America shipwreck auction featured a wide range of items, including passenger receipts, mid-1800s clothing, a brass bell, which was purchased for $18,000, a clear glass ashtray sold for $1,500 as well as cutlery and kitchen items including a double-spouted pitcher and warped cutlery.
The remaining items from the shipwreck are set to go on auction in February 2023.