The Surprisingly Long History of the Wallet

Posted by WalletBe on Apr 15th 2024

Chances are, you can’t imagine life without your wallet. It’s always there for you, whether you keep it in your back pocket or favorite purse. The wallet is essential to daily modern life, and believe it or not, it has been a necessity for centuries. While wallets have not always been the fashionable and functional style they are today, they have been a staple the world over since early human history. So how exactly did the wallet come about? The answer may surprise you.

The Beginning of Wallets

The wallet actually came to being centuries ago. Back in Ancient Greece during the Archaic Period, warriors created small drawstring pouches they could tie to their belts that held food as well as any coins they might have. This was long before paper banknotes; their wallets, which were called knapsacks at the time, were used to conveniently hold any necessities for the day in such a way that keep them out of the way, just as wallets do for us today. Wallets essentially were Ancient Greek warriors' lunchboxes originally! What a yummy start to such a helpful invention.

Wallets During The Renaissance and Beyond

Despite the fact that the first wallet was invented in ancient times, the word “wallet” did not appear until the 1300s. Notably, Shakespeare mentioned wallets in “Troilus and Cressida” in 1609, saying: “Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, wherein he puts alms for oblivion, a great-sized monster of ingratitudes.”

The Massachusetts Bay Colony introduced paper money in 1690, but billfold wallets had actually been invented long before in 17th century Europe. These old-school billfolds were similar in some ways to wallets as we know them today. They were made of cow or horse leather and contained small pockets (similar to the credit card slots in modern wallets) for calling cards, an early form of ID used exclusively by aristocrats. However, they were more purse-shaped than the foldable wallets as we know them today. The use of these leather wallets by the elite made them a sort of status symbol.

The Turn of the Century

The 1800s brought in a new purpose for wallets. Rather than holding food or money, they became the fashionable way to carry tobacco and its necessary accessories, particularly in England and Spain. The wallet become smaller, only able to hold a small flint, piece of steel, and a bit of paper, serving as a precursor for the cigarette case. By the late 1800s, it was “uncivilized” to carry food in your wallet, and attaching it to your belt was out of style as well. This was when the wallet became what we know it to be today; a folding accessory that can fit in one's pocket that is used to hold paper money. While leather has been used in the textile industry since the early Middle Ages (and potentially as far back as 79 A.D.), with the Industrial Revolution, now the masses had access to leather wallets. Additionally, the new textile technology that developed during this time meant that wallets could come in a variety of styles and be dyed different colors.

Wallets Today

Today's wallets are still heavily influenced by their beginnings. While no longer used for food storage, wallets now come in a wide variety of styles to ensure  you can simply organize your cash and cards. Whether you prefer an accordion wallet with a zipper pouch for your coins, or you need an ultra-slim front-pocket wallet for men, you can find a wallet that suits your needs.

Since credit cards were invented in the ‘50s, credit card slots have become a staple in wallets. However, you can still find wallets that are specifically designed to carry cash, or even wallets that carry your passport as well for your worldwide adventures. In the last few decades, the different styles of wallets have exploded, from bi-fold and tri-fold wallets to money clips to smartphone wallets.

Regardless of your specific wallet needs, you are sure to find what you are looking for at WalletBe. We offer our leather wallets for men and women in a variety of colors, styles, and functions so you can find something that truly matches your lifestyle. Shop WalletBe today for a wide selection of gorgeous leather wallets!