A wallet, which had once been a name for a kind of sack, is a flat container used for carrying cash, credit cards, a driver’s license, identification, and sometimes checkbooks or change. Wallets as we know them today first appeared in the late 1600s, corresponding with the invention of paper currency and the innovation of sewing pockets into clothes. Shortly thereafter, thieves developed the concept of pickpocketing.

The first wallets, also called billfolds, were used exclusively by men, as women were not generally allowed to keep or spend money on their own. At first they were made of cow and horse leather, but eventually sewn canvas wallets became more feasible. During the Renaissance, wallets also included spaces to carry coins, and in the 19th century, men tended to carry wallets on their belts rather than in their pockets—they often carried dried meat in them, too.

It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that women began to carry a little bit of cash in their purses, although still not as much as men. Before then, women’s handbags were used for personal items like fans and perfume bottles.

In the 1920s, liberated flapper culture made it more socially acceptable for women to wear heavy makeup, to primp in public, and to smoke. Young women began carrying sleek, modern clutch purses to hold their face powder, lipstick, and cigarettes. In 1933, Van Cleef and Arpels introduced the minaudière, a chic metal box with secret compartments for cigarettes, money, and cosmetics.

These clutches and minaudières, the forerunners of women’s wallets, were replaced with larger and more practical shoulder bags during World War II. It wasn’t until the ’50s, though, that truly modern wallets were developed, along with the widespread use of credit cards and cars.

Novelty or character wallets featuring popular TV and comic-book characters like Hopalong Cassidy and Superman, sports teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers, and rock stars like the Beatles and Elvis also appeared in the last half of the 20th century.

At the higher end of the style spectrum, top designers like Coco Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermes, Gucci, and Coach made coveted wallets, usually out of leather, crocodile, ostrich, snake, or alligator skin—canvas wallets were often monogrammed with these designer’s logos. Designer wallets for women were made in styles, colors, and materials meant to complement a matching purse...

In the ’70s, the introduction of Velcro led to cheap, easy-to-open wallets made out of synthetic materials like nylon. The proliferation of pickpocketing in the 1980s and ’90s led to the popularity of chain wallets that could be fastened to belt loops. These were big with motorcyclists and skateboarders who wanted to avoid losing their wallets when they were on the move.

Other common kinds of wallets include bifold (one fold) and trifold (two folds) wallets, breast wallets (large enough to hold banknotes without folding them), and Jimi wallets (made of hard plastic). Moneys clips, too, are sometimes called “front pocket wallets” (the metal ones) or “wallet bands” (those made out of elastic), and small pouches designed to attach to shoes while exercising are called “shoe wallets.”

Popular vintage wallets include tooled leather cowboy-style wallets for men, with Western scenes burned into them, as well as elaborate embroidered needlepoint clutch wallets for women.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Ventagli.org

Ventagli.org

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

Antiquespectacles.com

Antiquespectacles.com

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Genuine Vintage Mulberry Oak Natural Brown Leather Wallet Purse - 417 W20Antique Faux Tortoiseshell Silver Pique Inlaid Card Case Wallet C 1880E1409 Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Marco Wallet Vintage (* Junk)Vintage Texas Fort Worth Deputy Sheriff Wallet BadgeGucci Vintage Signature Wallet Checkbook Case Clutch Firenze Collection Black TaAuthentic Vintage Gucci Bifold Metal Bar Credit Card Case Wallet Gg Logo- UnisexOakley Wallet Kevlar No Display Razor Blade Zero Romeo Mars Medusa Rare VintageSecessionist Arts & Crafts Tooled Leather Note Book Antique Card Case WalletVintage Coach Leather Checkbook Wallet Brown 1960s-1970s MarkAwesome Old Vintage 1970's Wilson The Duke Leather Football Wallet BillfoldVintage Mens Authentic Gucci Black WalletVintage Authentic Mens Gucci Bifold Wallet "black" Used With No ReserveAwesome Old Vintage 1970's Wilson The Duke Leather Football Wallet BillfoldBottega Veneta Woven Wallet Card Holder Double Color Vintage BlueDooney & Bourke Vintage Black Pebble Awl Checkbook Organizer WalletAntique Civil War Era Mens Leather Wallet100% Authentic Gucci Unisex Gg Guccissima Vintage Bifold Leather Wallet MonogramGenuine Vintage Leather Case For Apple Iphone 6 Plus Book Wallet Cover Magnet JpFossil Vintage Revival Reissue Brown Leather Turnlock Clutch WalletVintage Dooney & Bourke Navy & Tan Sachel Tote Bag With Wallet 1970s Vtg Gucci Blue Monogram Bi-fold Leather Wallet Change Purse Credit CardVintage Tooled Leather Fly Fishing Lure Wallet Pouch W/ 9 Lures InsideFossil Vintage Reissue Vri Embroidered Weekender With Fossil Wallet And DustbagVintage Louis Vuitton Monogram Brown Leather Envelope Check Book WalletAuthentic Balenciaga Pink Gold Giant City Long Wallet Italy Vintage 19-2(35)Vintage Dooney & Bourke Awl Large Checkbook Wallet & Holder Authentic Chanel Cc Logos Ivory Long Leather Wallet Italy Vintage 307-9(79)Vintage Mulberry Black Congo Leather Wallet PurseVintage Coach Accordian Zip Wallet BlackMen Genuine Leather Long Wallet Cowhide Chain Vintage Woven Rope Brown Purse Women Vintage Genuine Leather Wallet Short Trifold Zipper Purse Card HolderHobo International Happy Birthday Lauren Wallet In Black Vintage LeatherHobo International Lauren Clutch Wallet In Vintage Stone Gray Leather Msrp $110Vintage Orvis Fishing Tackle Wallet Type Case Manchester Vt W/fly LuresMen Genuine Leather Big Wallet Cowhide Purse Passport Holder Vintage Card HolderMen Long Chain Genuine Leather Wallet Cowhide Vintage Woven Rope Brown Purse Vintage Zorro Wallet Walt Disney Productions C1950'sVintage Harley Davidson Brown Embossed Leather Mens Tri-fold Wallet With ChainVintage 1960s Vinyl Barbie Wallet W/ Mini Catalog Ken Midge Rare HtfVintage Hartmann Heritage Classic Belting Leather Flip Money Clip WalletCowhide Vintage Woven Rope Brown Purse Men Long Chain Genuine Leather WalletVintage Fossil WalletAuth Louis Vuitton Monogram Porte Billets Cartes Bifold Wallet Vintage 1430sBookbook Iphone 5 Vintage Black Leather Case/wallet - For Apple - $60 RetailVintage Coach Brown Leather WalletVintage Gucci Wallet With Red Leather/ Canvas With The Monogram .Vintage Coach Mens Brown Leather Bifold Breast Pocket Wallet/checkbook Not Used.Vintage Dooney And Bourke Tan Cross Body Bag/wallet/camera CaseeucHobo International Lauren Clutch Wallet In Black Vintage Leather $110Auth Louis Vuitton Monogram Porte Billets Cartes Bifold Wallet Vintage 1425sAuthentic Vintage Louis Vuitton Bifold WalletVintage Authentic Louis Vuitton Tan Epi Leather Bifold Wallet Vintage Authentic Fossil Brown Pebbled Leather Clutch WalletGenuine Leather Men Vintage Wallet Dragon Cowhide Long Purse Bifold Card HolderVintage Alligator Crocodile Skin Genuine Tri-fold Brown Mens Wallet - 18k GoldVintage Authentic Levi's Denim Wallet In Great Shape!!!!Coach Authentic Vintage Red Signature Logo Embossed Leather Bifold Wallet $140 Hobo Euro Slide Wallet In Amethyst Vintage LeatherNice Fossil Wallet "talita Flap Clutch" Olive Green Vintage Finish Sold Out!Vintage Senatorial Executive Advisory Commission Badge W/org. Wallet California