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    

Lot Wallet Vtg Gucci / Louis Vuitton / Givenchy Clutch BagBill Wall Vintage 1998 Clip Wallet Chain Smooth Chain Links Alligator Wallet BwlGucci Made In Italy Vintage Authentic Designer Monogram & Leather Clutch Wallet 16 Authentic Vintage Coach Purse Bag Handbag Wallet Lot Leather Resale Chanel Wallet Womens Dark Navy Blue 100% Authentic Vintage Item Lot Of 20 Vintage Craftaid Craftool Tandy Leather Working Belt Wallet PatternsVintage Prada Black Nero Envelope Saffiano Leather Wallet - Portafoglio M201aTory Burch Robinson Zig-zag Zip Continental Wallet Mid Camel Vintage VachettaVintage Coach Rust Leather Cosmetic Make Up Case Or Zipper Wallet Pouch.Authentic Vintage Burberry Women's Wallet Bifold Classic CheckAntique Civil War Era Leather Fold Wallet Embossed Eagle Shield FlowersVintage Harley Davidson Genuine Leather Belt/buckle/wallet Chain -size 38-usaPatricia Nash Vintage Cauchy Wallet Fall Floral Multi $98 Free Shipping Vintage Obsolete Washington Wa State Patrol Small Wallet Police BadgeAuth. Vintage Louis Vuitton Credit Card Coin Id Purse Wallet Canvas Monogram Embossed Hot Coffee Shop Sign Diner Restaurant Java Beans Roaster Silver Set TeaAuthentic Vintage Gucci Change Coin Purse Wallet Purse Bag HandbagHarley-davidson Bar & Shield Emblem Bi-fold Leather Wallet, Vintage Soft MadeusaHobo International Lauren Frame Clutch Wallet In Embossed Cream Vintage LeatherAuthentic Vtg Chanel Pink Leather Wallet Camelia Flower W/ Authenticity CardVintage Fossil Bifold Wallet Floral Daisy Print Button Hard To Find Blue GreenVintage Louis Vuitton Small WalletVintage Men's Alligator Billfold Wallet With Regalia Manual Wind WatchLouis Vuitton Vintage Monogram Brown Leather Photo~credit Card~id Holder WalletShoulder Casual Vintage Handmade Authentic " Cognac " Leather Bag + Wallet FreeAuthentic Vintage Louis Vuitton Passport WalletVintage Harley-davidson Leather Wallet Mens Black Tea Chain Vintage Coach Black Leather Coin Change 3" Purse Pocket / Wallet/ Keychain FobAuthentic Coach Vintage Black Leather Clutch Wallet FairRare Mens Vintage Gucci Monogram Bifold Wallet 100% Authentic Stylish Great CondAuth. Vtg 70's Gucci Blue Gg Monogram Bifold Leather Clutch Checkbook Wallet Vintage Beguelin Henry Cuir Zip Around Wallet Embroidered Black Artisian LeatherVintage Dooney & Bourke Black Organizer WalletVintage Coach Black Zip Around Coin Card Case Purse Wallet ExcellentVintage Women Genuine Leather Wallet Short Trifold Zipper Purse Card HolderLouis Vuitton Vintage Wallet Monogram Brown Nib Malletier A Paris Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Bifold Wallet Excellent Vintage Billfold 0970Vintage Tandy Leather Tools And Wallet Kit And ExtrasGucci Vintage Accessory Collection Canvas Leather Wallet Red/blue Italy Fossil Genuine Turquoise Leather Shoulder Bag Crossbody Vintage Wallet WowVintage Salvatore Ferragamo Black Pebbled Leather WalletGift Owl Vtg Women Ladies Real Leather Oversized Wallet Phone Travel CardAuthentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Bifold Long Wallet Purse Vintage Free ShippingVintage 1950's Western Till Goodan Wallet, Cowboy MotifCoach Womens Wallet: Black Color/leather/made In Costa Rica/vintageVintage Dooney & Bourke Awl Black And British Tan Zip Along Lg Wallet Nib W51blVintage Gucci Wallet Monogram Red Green Stripe 80's2 Vintage Davy Crockett Toy Revolvers & Walt Disney Wallet Gift Vintage Genuine Leather Long Wallet Women Lady Carved Artisan HandmadeCoach Vintage Chocolate/brown Leather Bi-fold Wallet Snap Closure W/coin PocketHarley-davidson Deep Rich Brown Leather Wallet W/chain, 6" Vintage Made In UsaMens Cowhide Vintage Leather Clutch Handbag Organizer Briefcase Wallet PurseAntique Fly Wallet W/ Flies & Spinner Flies Old Display Tackle Box BaitsBeatles Vintage 1964 Spp Ramat Wallet With All The Goodies + Orig Price TagHobo International Lauren Clutch Wallet In Flame Red Vintage Leather Msrp$110Antique Old West Cowboy Us Deputy Marshal Badge & Leather Wallet Holder-replicaDooney And Bourke Bluew/dark Brown Trim Awl Duck Wallet - VintageVintage Alligator Pocket Book Genuine Alligator With Matching Wallet Cuban MadePucci Vintage Colorful Wallet!!!!Vintage Fossil Bifold Wallet Hearts And Love Check Button Pink Hard To Find!