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    

Chanel Wallet Vintage Black France RealChanel Auth Vintage Classic Black Lambskin Cc Quilted Bi Fold Long Wallet PurseAuthentic Rare Vintage Gucci Tan Canvas & Dark Brown Leather Ladies Wallet PurseChanel Auth Vintage Classic Black Patent Leather Cc Flower Bi Fold Wallet PurseVintage-chanel-made In France-blk Caviar Leather Sml Wallet Purse-100% AuthenticUsed Authentic Chanel Handbag Shoulder Chain Red Bag Wallet Vintage France ParisVintage Fendi Zucci Hand Bag Purse Clutch Wallet Rare Gold Logo Italy 847012 Vintage Gucci Signature Cross Body/shoulder Bags And Wallet Antique Silver & Leather Wallet Purse Card Case Hallmarked England Circa 1902 Asprey & Co Ltd Men's Vintage Leather Note Book/wallet In Original Box.Guaranteed Authentic Vintage Gucci Red & Green Stripe Logo Coin Purse WalletGhurka Marley Hodgson Leather Billfold Wallet- Important Vintage Ghurka SaleVintage Fossil British Tan Leather Bi-fold Wallet W Coin PocketVintage Helmut Lang Men's A/w 04-05 Horsehair Leather Bifold Wallet Coach Brown Signature Jacquard Leather Clutch Wallet Purse ~ Vintage ~ Chanel Auth Vintage Classic Black Cc Lambskin Big Cc Bi Fold Short Wallet PurseAuthentic Vintage Louis Vuitton Wallet With Check Book CoverVtg Coach Whiskey Brown Leather Clutch WalletVintage Jewelry Lot Men's Drawer Coins Cufflinks Ring Bracelet Wallet MasonicVintage Marley Hodgson Ghurka Leather Pda/cell Phone WalletVintage Canada Coast Guard Police Hat Or Wallet ? Badge - Obsolete, BrassBlack Vintage Coach Leather Zip Around Wallet / Checkbook CoverFossil Vintage Leather Women's Wallet Clutch - Brown W/ White FlowerSweet Old Vintage 1940's Wilson Trapper Leather Baseball Glove Wallet AntiqueAuthentic Gucci Gg Pattern Canvas Leather Bifold Wallet Vintage 5l090300#Auth Louis Vuitton Monogram Epi Bifold Wallet Coin Case 2set Vintage 5l350210#Vintage Gucci Beige Tan Canvas And Leather Wallet & Change Purse ~ Authentic ~ Authentic Vintage Gucci Handbag & WalletChanel Auth Vintage Classic Beige Yellow Lambskin Cc Bi Fold Long Wallet PurseVintage Louis Vuitton Kisslock Coin Purse Wallet Makeup Bag NrGhurka Marley Hodgson Leather Large Wallet Case- Important Vintage Ghurka SaleVintage Coach Black Leather Long Tri-fold Wallet/clutchVintage Leather Fly Wallet & ~ 50 Flies - Montana Fly Fishing - 6" X 4"Vintage Dooney & Bourke Wallet Purse Zip Around Db Monogram Great ConditionVintage Harley Davidson WalletVintage Sanrio 1976 Sanrio Tiny Poem Wallet Must See RareBeatles Vintage 1964 Yellow & Red Wallet With File & Photos! Nice Shape SppAuthentic Vintage Gucci Long Wallet Gg Sherry Browns Canvas 98524Chanel Auth Vintage Black Patent Leather Mademoiselle Bi Fold Short Wallet PurseBeautiful Vintage Dooney & Bourke Red Zip-along Crossbody Wallet Purse ClutchVintage~coach~leather~red~bi Fold~wallet~coin Purse~clutch~keychainAuth Louis Vuitton Monogram Bifold Wallet 2set Vintage 5l350260#Vintage Louis Vuitton Wallet Credit Card Coin Woman's Trifold Box/bag FranceDooney & Bourke Wallet Check Book Vintage Leather Dark Chocolate BrownsVintage Style Brown Mens Leather Wallet Action Spring Money Clip PurseWomen's Michael Kors Est.1981 Vtg Leather Wallet Purse Original Designer Bag RtrGhurka Bi Fold Black Leather Wallet Vintage, Never UsedVtg Authentic Old Light Tan Coach Handbag Purse Shoulder Bag Huge Wallet UniqueOld Vintage 1970's Bob Sykes Model Leather Baseball Glove Wallet AntiqueGhurka Marley Hodgson Leather Billfold Wallet - Important Vintage Ghurka SaleAntique Bray Book Fly Wallet & Flies Rare Old Display Tackle Box Baits Ghurka Marley Hodgson Leather Billfold Wallet- Important Vintage Ghurka SaleVintage Etienne Aigner Leather Wallet Coin Purse Coach Vintage Black Leather Kisslock Credit Card Bi-fold Coin Wallet! Nice!Vintage Fossil Brown Leather Zip Around Clutch Wallet Organizer Euc!Vintage Gucci Black Wallet Dooney And Bourke Vintage Shoulder Bag Brown & Creme Satchel Style Purse WalletCoach Used Vintage Burgundy Leather Long Wallet Purse ClutchAuthentic Vintage Louis Vuitton Monogram WalletGhurka Marley Hodgson Leather Billfold Wallet- Important Vintage Ghurka Sale