The History of the Wallet

The History and Origin of the Traditional Wallet

The wallet we know and love didn’t always look, feel, or was even used like it currently is today. This long history dates back to the Ancient times, but we’ll be focusing on when it took its modern form around the 1600s. The word “wallet” has been in use since the late 14th century to refer to a bag or a knapsack for carrying stuff. The word may derive from Proto-Germanic. The ancient Greek word kibisis, said to describe the sack carried by the god Hermes and the sack in which the mythical hero Perseus carried the severed head of the monster Medusa, has been typically translated as “wallet”. Usage of the term “wallet” in its modern meaning of “flat case for carrying paper currency” in American English dates to 1834 but this meaning was one of many in the 19th century and early 20th century.

wallet history

Wallets through time

Wallets were invented in the late 1600’s, almost immediately after paper currency was introduced. Paper currency was invented in Massachusetts in 1690. Prior to this, simple purses were used to carry around metal coins. These purses resembled small, drawstring bags. The first wallets were generally made from cow or horse leather and had one small pouch for where people would place their identification cards (know then as calling cards).

19th century

Strangely enough in the early 19th century wallets were regularly used to carry meats among other items that were considered to be secret, treasures or simply not to be exposed to the elements. This was common in America at the time and was increasingly fashionable to carry your wallet on your belt. Unlike today in which a wallet would be carried in your pocket, this was considered highly uncivilized, uncommon and was to be avoided.

The Modern Day Wallet

The modern bi-fold wallet with multiple “card slots” that we all know and love became standardized in the early 1950s with the introduction of the first credit cards. Some innovations include the introduction of the velcro and zip wallet which is very popular and typically seems in kids wallets which first came about in the 1970s. Currently, we seem to be going through a wallet revolution as the internet has provided a gateway for small independent designers, innovators and entrepreneurs alike to develop a range of unique wallets, which of course, are typically dubbed minimalist or slim wallets.

Velcro Wallet

Everybody had one of these as a kid.

The question is whether the wallet will eventually die out. With society moving more towards wireless technology and mobile payment systems will the functionality and appeal of the wallet eventually fade out? We carry fewer cards and less cash so it definitely seems like a possibility in the near/distance future. Let me know what you think on the issue, I’m interested to know.



Posted by James

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