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    

7 Vintage Barbie Doll Lot - American Girl Pj Skipper Malibu Plus Clothing WalletHm1907 Crocodile Skin & Silver Card Case Purse Wallet No Reser Alligator VintageAuth Louis Vuitton Monogram Porte Billets Cartes Bifold Wallet Vintage 1984fRolex Vintage Mens President Wood / Leather Box & Wallet + BookletVintage Toy Cap Gun Lot + Holsters Hickock Special Hiho Crockett Wallet PartsVintage Coach Leather Wallet Turn Key Blue United States Authentic G0d-7171Vintage Dunhill Solid 9ct Tipped Edges Black Leather Wallet Card Holder Auth Vintage Longchamp Leather Long Wallet Brown Excellent No ReserveVintage Authentic Louis Vuitton Leather Monogram Coin Purse Bi Fold WalletSuperb Vintage 1992 Rolex Of Switzerland; Luxurious Burgundy Red Leather: WalletAuthentic Vintage Gucci Ladies Clutch Continental Checkbook WalletCoach Soft Wallet Black Canvas Vintage Gold HardwareGucci Rare Brown Vintage Large Monogram "gg"s & Leather Wallet Made In ItalyVintage Genuine Louis Vuitton Monogram Porte Tresor International Wallet Fossil Vintage Reissue WalletDetroit Police Badge Retired. Obsolete Lapel Wallet Hat Vintage Rare MichiganWomen's Vintage Brown Leather Fossil Trifold WalletNintendo Power The Legend Of Zelda Vintage Wallet Vintage Gucci Wallet VintageRare Hermes Vintage Brown Suede Clutch W/gold Clasp, Orig Box, Mirror, WalletFossil Sutter Cross Body Organizer Shoulderbag “long Live Vintage” With WalletVintage Coach Red Leather Bifold Wallet Louis Vuitton Vintage Wallet Malletier Authentic Monogram Leather Vintage Bedford Ba Spanners Wrench Set Of 5 In Pouch Wallet Classic Car Tools Kirks Folly Dragonfly Dazzler Vintage Cigarette Case / Wallet / Business Card 100% Authentic Vintage Chanel Cc Logos Bifold Wallet Purse Caviar Leather BlackAuthentic Coach Vintage Camel Leather Crossbody Shoulder Bag #g8p-9031 & WalletDooney And Bourke Wallet Black And Tan Leather Vintage Very Nice!!Auth Vtg Awl Dooney Bourke Usa British Tan French Kiss Lock Card Case Id WalletFendi Vintage Stripe Honey Caramel Leather Clutch Credit Card WalletVintage Cartier Must De Cartier Bordeaux Burgundy Bifold Men's Wallet Never UsedVintage Gucci Men's Brown Canvas & Leather Gg Wallet Italy No ReserveLeather Coach Wallet Used/vintageVintage Juicy Couture Charmed Chain Quilted Gold Brown Leather Coin Purse WalletVintage Alligator/crocodile WalletVintage Dooney & Bourke Awl Kisslock Beige-brown Checkbook Wallet Coach Womens Tan Camel Leather Bi-fold Wallet With Zipper Coin Purse -vintageCollectable Vintage Fob Solid Brass Belt Pants Key Chain Ring Wallet Hook ClipGucci Vintage Fold Over Leather Checkbook WalletCoach Brown Vintage Wallet Coin Purse Snap ClosureFossil Light Brown Leather Vintage Trifold Wallet Clutch Vintage Coach Brown Leather Wallet, Slim Three PocketGolden Vintage Style Solid Brass Key Chain Ring Hook Wallet Chain Clip Z0201Vintage 1990's Dooney Bourke Wallet Clutch Change Purse UnusedCute Vintage Brown Leather Coach Wallet - Good ConditionVintage Dooney & Bourke Off White Pebbled Leather Cross Body Wallet Small Purse Handsome Large Antique Victorian 1896 Solid Silver & Green Crocodile Skin WalletMens Genuine Leather Harley Davidson Wallet, VintageMens Vintage Bally Leather Coin& Currency Bifold Brown WalletVintage Biker Trucker Wallet W/ Chain Old Antique Leather PouchVintage Ladies Gucci Wallet Made In Italy Black Leather W/checkbook Holder Brighton Vintage Black Brown Croc Embossed Leather Clutch Wallet! Christian Dior White And Blue Canvas Vintage WalletFallout Vaul Boy Inspired Real Leather Vintage Car Wallet HandmadeAuthentic Coach Vintage Black Leather Zip Top Slim Pouch Cosmetic Case/walletVintage Cartier Bordeaux Soft Leather Passport Portfolio Wallet ItalyVintage Levi Strauss Leather Wallet W/ Denim Interior Lining ~ Orange Tag Authentic Coach! Eeeuc! Vintage Trifold Red Wallet! Gorgeous! Coach Vintage Leather Brown Trifold WalletCoach Vintage Black Leather Zip Around Small Compact Bi-fold Wallet