The History of Leather Wallets


Have you ever wondered how odd would it be to have a minimalist designed wallet filled with coins and other random stuff? Well, that could possibly be the case if you'd be able to travel back in time with your current wallet to, hmmm, let's say the fifteenth or even nineteenth century.

The other day, we were just hanging around and this quite goofy idea aroused into the chit chat. If time traveling was possible in an elegant and non-risky kind of way, which could be the quirks of mimicking with the local culture from the past?

And well, as leather and gadgets lovers, we quickly came to the conclusion that, of course, cameras, phones and laptops could raise too much attention from the people, killing the whole vibe of the adventure. And after a while, we also concluded that even our jargon could raise some sort of suspicions among the people we might encounter in our paths. Even our wallets could be seen as a novelty. Do they? 

Today, we'll illustrate to you the interesting history of one of the most quotidian artifacts we all take for granted, but would definitely ruin or day or week if losing it; the wallet!

Wallets Aren't as New as You Might be Thinking

We are not the place to learn about how money works and governs us. But we all can agree on a historic fact, the symbolic nature of money has been around for several centuries now, and even a couple of millenia too. The objects capable of transporting the nature of money have vastly evolved through the years. From cereal grains and seashells, passing through gold & silver coins, to paper and plastic money, into finally landing into the field of complex pieces of cryptographic data with highly valuable acquisition powers.

And along with, the preferred means of everyday transportation of it, wallets. From simple leather pouches carrying decent and limited amounts of cash, to sophisticated mobile apps, money storage has an interesting timeline. All of the aforementioned objects related to financial transactions have had, and still are, benefited from the accessory we are talking here today. But things began getting more interesting with the appearance of man-made objects like minted coins and paper bills. The earliest record of metal coins dates back to between the fifth and seventh century BC, hence the thousands of years mentioned above.

The road towards popularity began slowly for metal-based mint coins, and eventually kicked off. For a period of two thousand years, it became the dominant form of currency around the world. And along with, purses for carrying them became a popular necessity as well. Around the eight century, the Chinese introduced paper banknotes that continued up until the mid-fifteenth century.

Purses started getting their makeovers during the renaissance, due to the fine art of embroidery which began influencing diversity in the styles and shapes of purses. It was around the mid seventeenth century when, what we call today pants were made, that the purses became sort of unnecessary, especially to men. The simple reason, pockets.

Around the 1950s, when credit cards began to appear, wallets quickly became what we all now know today. Well, not exactly like that, because they were chunkier, but the principle was still the same. A center pocket for cash, and some side pockets for cards.

Picking Out a Wallet

Just like any other accessory which has tons of options from us to pick from, the logic route to follow is to examine the need behind a purchase, and then pick out the one that feels the best while fitting under a reasonable price. In broad terms, we can find three types of wallets; but don't you worry, well tell you more about other styles later on.

Large breast wallets, also called secretary wallets, are quite curious indeed. They offer generous space for carrying a lot of cards with us in a slim and elegant leather accessory. Nice, but quite not that useful these days, especially for the minimalist lifestyle seeker. The name is quite interesting, and it corresponds to the peculiar breast pocket inside suits. Suits are still popular, but not the mandatory clothing option like in the first half of the twentieth century. One cool thing about breast wallets though is that they can fit more unfolded stuff, resulting in a cleaner outcome of cash, bills, receipts, photos, and anything you could fit inside of them.

Bifold wallets are designed to fold horizontally in half, and naturally, take smaller space than the breast ones. These have been designed to fit, curiously enough, into the front pocket of a pair of jeans. And last but not least, the trifold wallet which allows for a smaller yet thicker solution. This last one usually offers more space for cards, and some wallets also come with a convenient pouch for coins. But we rather use dedicated coin pouches for this matter.

Traditional Wallets and Card Holders

In the more traditional sense, wallets function primely to store paper-based money; and anything else you could need and fit inside of them. Tickets, photographs, notes, ID cards and credit ones, anything in fact. On the other hand, card holders are slim solutions that are mainly designed to fulfill the function of keeping your cards safe while organized and easy to reach out. The first appearances of card holders could be traced back to detachable card pockets used in bifold leather wallets. Then, they eventually became an accessory of their own.

And despite the announced fortune of wallets' extinction due to technology and the imminent disappearance of physical money, we are certain that wallets and card-holders will still be a basic human necessity for at least a couple of decades from now. Also wallets could be perceived as a personal possession, like watches and many others, resulting in a deeper value that will withstand a bit of time and some trends. But eventually, they'll become a curiosity of human history for sure.

How did Very Early Wallets Look Like

Well, that will depend on two things. First the very definition of wallets; and then, the periods in time. Back again into our imaginary elegant time machine, we get back to ancient Greece. The ancient word "Kibisis" has more to do with a pouch than a contemporary wallet. Now, we know that the modern usage of the word wallet as we know it came around the 1834 in America.

Taken from Campbell's 1931 book, "the wallet was the poor man's portable larder; …… that you stocked with provisions." More of a thick-leather bag or purse than a flat-enveloped like piece of crafted fabric.

A quite odd and fascinating archaeological finding that perfectly describes early wallets was the object linked to Otzi the Iceman, which scientists date it to being from around 3,300BC... Now that's old! The body of this iconic specimen was found with a coin purse attached to his hip. But of course, we are talking about "coins" like the cereal grains mentioned before.

Since those distant times, wallets have been part of our daily human lives. therefore, a very considerable amount of time. Although, not in the modern shapes we now use. The wallet artifact as we know it today started its life in the fourteenth century, and is generally described as a simple bag for carrying valuables around. It was around this time that wallets became smaller, and more in line to what we recognize nowadays as a wallet or purse. 

Various Wallet Types 

We've covered the most popular wallet types above, but what about other less popular types of wallets or money holsters if you wish? Here is a brief list we've retrieved from various places across the web:

  • Automatic wallets are built with a spring-mechanism that slightly pops out the previously stored credit cards with a button for convenient access and use.
  • Checkbooks are still observable in some countries, but are definitely in the realm of their extinction. These long pieces of leather have been usually designed to hold standard-sized cheques.
  • Crypto wallet: a digital holster where private electronic keys and signatures are stored for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple and more. And more specifically, a hardware wallet is a crypto holster built as a separate physical device which identifies the owner, and lets the owner sign online transactions in a very very secure way, like the ones from Ledger for example.
  • Cardholder zip wallets are rectangularly shaped with a single dedicated zippered pocket for coins and credit cardholder. They are also called coin holders as well.
  • Envelopes are long wallets, similar to breast wallets, but with a distinctive covering flap which reminds of classic paper envelopes.
  • Front pocket wallets are hard cases with no currency compartment and just a few pockets just for cards. People using them, usually fold banknotes in any of the wallets compartments, and you might recall them from TV advertisements transmitted on saturday mornings…
  • Metal wallets are slim money holsters made from metal, usually aluminum or titanium; and can be found mixed with other materials such as wood or leather.
  • Money clip wallets are similar to a front pocket wallet in terms of size; however, banknotes are usually held in by a stronger clip.
  • Shoe-wallets are small pouches designed to be attached to a shoe, and are frequently used by workout lovers.
  • Tactical wallets incorporate handy tools like rulers, small saws, knives, bottle openers, and other useful artifacts.
  • Travel wallets are mainly used by travellers to hold their essential documents together. They usually have dedicated pockets for passports, tickets, boarding passes, foreign currency, traveler's cheques, itinerary, travel insurance, hotel booking information, and other traveling-related stuff.
  • Wallet bands are simple yet useful pieces of something, they use a continuous elastic band, usually made from fabric or natural rubber, in order to keep cards and cash tight together, and are amazing for reducing the bulkiness from traditional wallets. Basically, they are the precursors of the minimalist wallets we know now today.
  • Wristlets are a type of wallet that can be secured to the wrist, enabling easy transactions without the need of taking your card out. Pretty convenient during these Corona days. 

Many wallets nowadays feature RFID technology, which secures your cards from being distantly read by contemporary pick-pockets using portable RFID readers for stealing sensitive data.

Making your Leather Wallet Last Longer

Despite being an extremely durable material, leather can be quite delicate if you don't treat it with proper care; especially under humid environments or watery circumstances. Therefore, if you are a person that tends to be close to water as a regular part of your lives, then we wouldn't suggest you investing in a leather wallet to begin with. Proper materials like Nitrile, Neoprene or PVC could be better ideas for you.

Regarding leather, it is true that one of the romantic qualities of it is to see how it wears out and develops that characteristic patina on top. However, harsh exposure to the elements could decay them faster than expected. With normal usage, an occasional wipe with a damp cloth should get you covered. But in extremely dry conditions, it will be mandatory to rub them with a proper skin conditioner in order to moisturize the leather. Perhaps the most important thing you can do for preserving your wallet's life is to avoid over stressing it, therefore keep them stuffed with the essentially necessary things.

Revise your wallets from time to time, and give them the occasional cleansing (detox if you wish). You simply don't need to keep that concert ticket you went to like ten years ago, right?

The Future of Wallets

Well, we can't tell that for certain; but we are sure of one thing. Money will still be around, and there is a huge human legacy linking the concept of money to something tangible and transportable. And we will continue to craft stuff with leather because we simply love it. Our passion towards this magnificent material will guide us into the trends, and whatever future might come up with, we'll find a way to deliver that "objective" feeling associated with having a wallet in your hands.

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