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    

Goyard St. Louis Pm Logo Coated Canvas Leather Green Tote Bag & Wallet, Vintage!Fossil Long Live Vintage Keyhole Cognac Leather Satchel Tote Handbag And WalletLouis Vuitton Wallet Monogram Authentic Vintage Mirror Brass ClaspAuthentic Fendi Zip-around Long Wallet Red Patent Leather Italy Vintage Ts00009Authentic Vintage Gucci Clutch Wallet Brown Coated Gg CanvasAuthentic Vintage Gucci Web Cosmetic Bag Wallet Clutch Purse HandbagGucci Vintage *well Loved & Heavily Carried* Gg Canvas Satchel + Wallet Bag YsGucci Monogram Canvas Vintage Satchel Handbag Purse Wallet Keyholder LotVintage Louis Vuitton Tri-fold WalletAntique Leather & Sterling Silver Card Case / Small Wallet Ehp Birmingham 1902Vintage Il Bisonte Black Pebbled Leather Bifold Clutch Wallet - Awesome!Authentic Vintage Chanel Leather WalletGorgeous Oroton Parfums Vintage White Mesh Beaded Purse / Wallet - Nc A23Vintage Fendi Handbag And Wallet SetAuthentic Vintage Gucci Men's Bifold Wallet Black LeatherHobo International Rachel Trifold Wallet In Leaf Green Vintage Leather Msrp $128Vintage 5-piece Unisex Louis Vuitton Monogram Leather Wallet SetWonderful Vintage Black Coach Card WalletVintage Louis Vuitton Lv Monogram Noe Lge Shoulder Tote Bucket Bag Purse Wallet Vintage Navy Blue Xl Gucci Wallet Beautiful Condition Classic Gg Monogram CanvasRare Guc Vintage Louis Vuitton Lv Signature Wallet Made In Usa Under LicenseVintage Louis Vuitton Monogram Jeune Fille Shoulder Cross Body Bag Purse Wallet Louis Vuitton Monogram Wallet Vintage Mens Bi-fold 1.8" Brass U Hook Fish Key Chain Ring Fob Hang Vintage Solid Belt Wallet LeatherAuthentic Louis Vuitton Vintage Monogram Long Wallet For Bill Double ZipperAmazing Vintage Nib Beige Authentic Rare Style Gucci Checkbook Wallet Nice!!Amazing Vintage Light Use Authentic Red Rare Style Gucci Checkbook Wallet NibHobo International Vintage Lauren Wallet Clutch Green TurquoiseVintage Dooney & Bourke Black Awl Pebbled Leather Bifold Coin Pouch Wallet QaOld Vintage Smoking Michelin Man Bibendum Leather Key Holder Wallet (lot I)Vtg Authentic Genuine Louis Vuitton Mono Keychain Wallet Combo Never Used! Box!Authentic Chanel Tan Leather Vintage Wallet Vintage Roma Fendi 1925 Wallet Brown And Tan In Stripes E0319 Authentic Louis Vuitton Vintage Monogram Wallet Made In France Authentic Coach Vintage Brown Leather Clutch Wallet EucHobo International Lauren Clutch Wallet In Flame Red Vintage Leather Msrp$110Hobo International Lauren Clutch Wallet In Caramel Brown Vintage LeatherAuth Louis Vuitton Porte Tresor International Wallet Monogram M61215 VintageVintage Gucci Made In Italy Black Butter Soft Leather Bifold Coin Pouch WalletVintage Womens Leather Floral Waterproof Canvas Slim Long Wallet Handbag PurseOriginal Rolex Vintage Seadweller Tool Wallet Green LeatherChanel Vintage '80's Trifold Cambon Wallet Purse Clutch With Box EucCoach Nwot Vintage Purse & Wallet Set Purple Periwinkle Double Handle HandbagDooney & Bourke Leather Black Croc Vintage Wallet Medium Vintage Louis Vuitton Wallet Made In Paris France UnisexAntique Lot Pflueger Spinner Flies Fly Rod Lures Leather Streamer Wallet Fishin Vintage Coach Tan Leather Logo Fabric Key Chain Fob Wallet Change Id PurseNice Vtg. Gucci Logo Metal Purse / Wallet Hang Tag Vtg Ghurka Marley Hodgson Leather Tainer Key Case WalletAuthentic Gucci Signature Vintage Tan Leather Wallet TrifoldAntique 1835 Named Quality Seamans Folding Wallet- Heavily Tooled LeatherAuthentic Louis Vuitton Epi Red Sarah M63577 Wallet Purse Vintage No Reserve #Brahmin Vintage Black Leather With Brown Croco Fold Wallet Authentic Louis Vuitton Monogram Sarah M61725 Wallet Purse Vintage 43549-%Vintage, Authentic, Louis Vuitton, Leather Wallet Nwt!! Dkny T&c Vintage Jacquard Leather Wallet!! $85.00 Fossil Red Leather "what Vintage Are You" Organizer Wallet, Heart Design, EucKate Women Ladies Genuine Leather Long Wallet Purse Zipper Card Coin Vintage AVintage 1970's/80's Harley Davidson Leather Biker Trucker Bifold Chain WalletMens Vintage Leather & Suede Money Clip Wallet Id Name Business Card Holder Gold