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    

Authentic Chanel Vintage Caviar Wallet On Chain Woc Caramel ColorAuthentic Vintage Salvatore Ferragamo Vara Bow Wallet Mini Shoulder BagQuality Antique Edwardian Leather & Sterling Silver Wallet D&i Birmingham 1903Large Victorian 1860 Antique Dp Sterling Silver English Calling Card Box Wallet Authentic Vintage Louis Vuitton Men's Damier Monogram Leather WalletVintage Louis Vuitton Checkbook Holder Long Wallet Monogram Mens WomensAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Papier Zippe Wallet M61207 Vintage 46151-%Louis Vuitton *well Loved Vintage Lv Monogram Canvas Clutch Wallet Made In Usa "Hobo International Lauren Caramel Vintage Leather Double Frame Clutch WalletHobo International Lauren Mint Green Vintage Leather Double Frame Clutch WalletBottega Veneta Vintage Woven Large Leather Wallet Red BordeauxHobo Lauren Vintage Black WalletVintage Dooney & Bourke Trifold Wallet British Tan Trim Antique Cream QualityLouis Vuitton Handbag Monogram Vintage Speedy 40 With Bonus Wallet Sp1927Vintage Gucci Men's Leather Wallet Iconic Green & Red Stripe Mint 100% AuthenticShoulder Casual Vintage Handmade Authentic " Cognac " Leather Bag + Wallet FreeAuth Chanel Cc Chain Shoulder Wallet Bag Bk Caviar Leather Vintage FranceVintage Louis Vuitton Purse And WalletAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Long Wallet Purse Vintage No Reserve 46629-%Vintage Rolex Wallet, Calendar & Your Rolex Booklet Circa 1972Coach Wallet Vintage Wallet Small Wallet Cognac BrownAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Bi-fold Checkbook Wallet Vintage Men's Women'sCoach Vintage Leather Wallet/checkbookAuthentic Chanel Vintage Light Brown Caviar Leather Zippy Long WalletDisaster Designs...�� Songbird Purse/wallet ϿAuthentic Louis Vuitton Vintage Monogram Vernis Bedford Handbag With WalletRolex "vintage"brown Leather Card Wallet,original&booklet&calendar 1986/1987Vintage Hartmann Belting Leather Wallet Checkbook Credit CardVintage Dooney & Bourke Handbags And WalletEmbossed Hot Coffee Shop Sign Diner Restaurant Java Beans Roaster Silver Set TeaVintage Dooney & Bourke Green/tan Trifold Wallet/cross Body Hobo International Lauren-vintage Clutch Wallet Caramel Retail $110Men's 100% Real Leather Vintage Style Slim 9 Card Slot Wallet Clutch [brown]Vintage Gucci WalletVintage Coach Black Leather Wallet Bifold AuthenticVintage Gucci Black Leather Bifold Wallet With Original BoxT191. Vintage E.t. Blue Wallet By Aviva Ent. Inc Universal Studios (1982)Auth Chanel Vintage Cc Logos Leather Bifold Wallet CreamVintage Dooney And Bourke Zip Top Shoulderbag / Matching Checkbook Wallet!Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Sarah M61725 Wallet Purse Vintage 46006-%Genuine Vintage Leather Case For Sony Xperia Z3 Cover Luxury Wallet Cover NagnetVtg Man From Uncle Badge, Wallet, And Membership Card 1960sVintage Belknap Blue Grass Hardware Amity Cowhide WalletVintage Louis Vuitton Brown Leather/ Suede Monogram Clutch Wallet Saks Fifth AveVintage Louis Vuitton Coin Purse Wallet Lipstick Case Unisex Small Monogram VtgVintage Gucci Wallet With Red And Green StripesVintage Dooney Bourke Clutch Wallet Black501 Vintage Long Wallet Mens Leather Money Wallet Card Slot Clutch CheckbookHobo International Lauren Vintage Leather Double Frame Clutch WalletVintage Dooney Bourke Bifold Wallet Unique ColorsAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Tresor Wallet M61730 Purse Vintage 47804-%Hobo International Lauren Apple Green Vintage Leather Wallet Clutch $110Vintage Coach Leather Large Wallet For WomenVintage Dooney And Bourke Wallet With Strap! Cute And Rare - Bone And Tan!Vintage 1984 He-man And The Masters Of The Universe Wallet Motu Mattel Figure Vintage Mens Genuine Leather Bifold Wallet Two Zipperd Pocket Purse-3222Auth Vtg Lv Louis Vuitton Monogram Bifold Purse Wallet Ca 1916 - NrHot Vintage Wallet Leather Card Slot Magnetic Case Cover For 4.7''apple Iphone 6Vintage Coach Black Leather Bifold Wallet Coin Bag OrganizerHobo International Wallet Lauren Wallet In Vintage Bouquet-nwt-must See!