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A Brief History of Wallets and The People Who Own Them

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My grandfather carried pictures of his grandchildren in his wallet.

It was a black bi-fold leather “billfold”, as he called it, with an insert for pictures. It held tokens and treasures that were special to him and, if I was lucky, he would show me the pictures.

More than 20 years later, I can still picture it in his hands.

Wallets are one of our most used possessions. They follow us throughout our lives and they become a part of our life history.

They also have an interesting history of their own.

Even Otzi, also called the Iceman, a well-preserved natural mummy who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE, was discovered with a small purse attached to his hip. The purse carried knives, food, and other items that were necessary and important to him.

And let's not forget the Ancient Greeks. They tied wallets around their neck or waist. Made from lambskin or other fabrics, these pouches stored tokens, food, and knives. Much like Otzi’s purse, they functioned more as survival packs.

Hermes, the god of wealth and travel (not to mention the messenger of the gods), carried a satchel strapped to his side used to store messages and coins.

This satchel was called a Kibisis which has been translated as wallet.

The precursor to our modern day wallet came about in the 1300s, described as a bag to carry valuables. By the Renaissance, wallets could be simple or very ornate with crests and stitching. The Elizabethan merchant, John Frampton, was described by historian Lawrence C. Wroth as,

"A young English-man of twenty-five years, decently dressed ... wearing a sword, and carrying fixed to his belt something he called a 'bowgett' (or budget), that is, a leathern pouch or wallet in which he carried his cash, his book of accounts, and small articles of daily necessity".

With the introduction of paper money, modern bi-fold wallets came into being around 1690. Much like their ancient ancestors, men used wallets to hold more than just money. They carried dried meat or other victuals, sentimental tokens, and more.

Carrying smoking paraphernalia in one’s wallet was common, especially in Spain. However, it was deemed uncivilized to carry a wallet in one’s pocket. Instead, wallets were attached to the belt, all the better to show it off.

(Did someone say, “fanny pack”?)

Not surprisingly, it was the company named Hermes that started to make the first modern-styled wallets, in the early 1900s.

Wallets became a must-have accessory for men by the 1920s. Fashion may have slowed during World War II but soldiers still carried wallets with them. Wartime wallets carried pictures of loved-ones, dog tags, and other small items like matches.

Perhaps the wallets holding these small treasures became even more important to their owners.

Wallet design and style continued to evolve after the war.  Bi-fold wallets with card slots became standardized in the 1950s when credit cards were first introduced. Clutch wallets also became popular during this time. Seen as a high-quality item that could be used for many years, they were often given as gifts to men.

By the 60s and 70s wallets were simpler. They were made out of everything from traditional leather, to nylon, or chains. The velcro wallet became popular in the 1990’s (let's let it stay there!). Brightly colored and more casual than leather wallets, some even featured super heroes or other popular characters.  

We no longer carry food stuff or smoking paraphernalia in our wallets - at least most of us.  Styles may have become more miniliamistic, but no less fashion forward. They have changed with our needs, but wallets still make great high quality, long lasting gifts for men.

Over time, stylish wallets made from ethically sourced leather may develop endearing signs of wear. Signs that the item has been used and loved.

They are conscious fashion accessories that hold sentimental meaning for their owners.

And this is why wallets are an important part of our accessory collections at Brave Soles.

Like our grandfathers’ wallets, they can hold more than just money or credit cards.

In fact, they can carry precious memories both inside and out. 

We are proud to introduce the newest member of our accessories collection: The Michel Bifold Wallet.

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