Wallet History at a Glance
Due to the original purpose of leather crafts, its designs are basically simple and minimalistic. Most people may not expect that the history of leatherware is not long as the modern leatherwares appeared after 1930.
Today let's have a glance at the wallet history which may be a great subject or small subject.
This purse from about 10th century was discovered in Babylon region, now collected in St. Michael's University Church. Because the usage of belt, most purse were hanged on belt or carried as crossbody, so its shapes were mainly slim and have a certain decorative effect. There was a big difference between its size, the large purses were like backpacks while the small ones were similar to today's wallets. The main reason of the difference of size is due to the lack of cards and paper currency in ancient time. When they went out for a long travel, then they have to bring more stuffs, so they need a bigger purse.
This is a statue of St. James. The bag he carried is purse, and the proof is the shell decoration on it. In ancient times, shells were used as currency in many places. Though later as silver and copper coins appeared shells were withdrawn from the market, they still could be discovered on purse as decorations.
This purse was from 1170. It was aristocratic stuff at that time. The smaller the purse the richer the owner. Because there might be high value items in it, such as a packet of pepper.
This leather carving purse was from 1170 as well, discovered in eastern Iran. We could clearly see the traces of the Silk Road; the carving patterns are obviously Chinese style. It also had a string to carry it but since it had fold cover so there was no drawstring closure design.
The way to carry this purse can be illustrated by this picture from a manuscript in 1350. With frequent trades between the east and west, more and more examples were showing people carried prized items as currency. The purse size in this illustration was obviously for tea and pepper.
This pilgrim who carries a green purse was from Poems by Luttrell (1325-1340).
This purse was from an illustration on a manuscript (1332-1350). Please note the same shell symbol on purses.
Statue could show there was no apparent change on purse for 300 years.
The statue of Moses (1325-1405)
An oil painting by Heimsuchung Mariens, 1425-1435, Czech Republic.
From France in 1575.
A deerskin wallet from Spain, 1580. It was similar to today's clutch. But in fact, it didn't have metal clasp frame, the hardware was a rack for hanging it on horse saddle as a decoration.
A wallet from Paris, 1600. In the reign of Henry IV, the French economy began to develop greatly, and then in the reign of Louis XIII and XIV, the French economy became even more prosperous. As a result of the change of clothing style, the design of wallet finally changed, which is the rudiment of the modern wallet. Due to the booming of economy, the design of the big envelope used by the postman became popular. The information in the envelope meant wealth, and the shape of wallets were influenced by envelope greatly.
At that time, you couldn't wear a purse around your waist, although you could carry it. But the noble appearance was more important, so the wallet was put in the pocket.
1600s women's wallet was different from men's style. Although wallets for women were still followed the old design, they cancelled the lanyard and been put in pocket as well.
For a long time, most men's wallets looked like this wallet which from Paris, 1650.
This wallet was from Caen, France, 1790.
The flat man's wallet has remained the same ever since then. With the spread of paper money, men's wallets never returned to the shape of bags. But the pouch shape of women's purses remained in use until the early 20th century.
In the late 19th century, precious materials were applied for making wallets. With the sea trade booming, ordinary material was no longer enough to show off wealth. However, wallets of this period were not designed to be practical, so they were later turned into cigarette boxes. Only on the auction house will we know it was originally a wallet.
A men's wallet, 1890.
A woman's purse, 1900. Through the past one thousand years, the main design of women's wallets has remained the same.
A clutch purse from 1910. In the early 20th century, metal purse frames were used heavily.
Men's wallets style split two sides at the early 20th century.
One followed the old style, but the material changed to leather which was stiffer. There's still a handle on it.
The other one still used the cigarette case design with more bold designs.
A woman wallet, 1925.
Around 1930, the modern man's wallet began to appear. But the internal structure of the wallet was different from today's wallet. It was very simple.
Around 1970, women's wallets finally changed too.
After that came the modern wallets that we use today.
In the past one thousand years, why wallet styles before modern wallets have not changed? There was no need. Why did wallets change after 1930? Because everyone's clothes have changed. This design is necessary. In a word, design change is slow. Many modern styles are actually the cumulative result of history.
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Despite years of evolution, the wallet remains one of the best accessories you can have.
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