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The History of the Wallet: From Coins To Paper To Plastic

Motorcycle Bifold Checkbook Wallet with chain
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The Turn of the Century
In the 1800s, wallets adapted to their surroundings. Instead of holding money or food, they became used principally for tobacco and smoking accessories, especially in Spain and England. With just enough room to carry a bit of white paper, flint and a small piece of steel, the wallet was the pre-modern cigarette case. In Otis T. Mason’s essay “The History of the Carrying Industry,” he suggests that by the late 1800s, carrying food in one’s wallet was considered “uncivilized,” while attaching your wallet to your belt at all was considered only “semi-civilized.”

The turn of the century marks the turn of the wallet as we know it today, or as we’ve known it to be for the last hundred years - a foldable, pocket-sized accessory with the express purpose of carrying paper bills. While leather has been a staple in the textile industry since as early as Middle Ages (and in fact, even before: A complete leather tannery was unearthed from Pompeii in the late 1800s, suggesting that leather-making techniques date as far back as 79 A.D.) the industrial revolution made leather goods more accessible to the masses, and new technologies meant the material could be dyed, oiled and preserved in a way that broadened the spectrum of wallet styles.

Today and Tomorrow
The modern-day wallet takes cues from all of these purposes. While not typically used to store food, and with less of an emphasis on coin cargo, today’s wallets come in an enormous variety of styles to help making consolidation simple. With manmade materials offering a more versatile, sensible way to manufacture goods, today’s wallets come in varieties that are washable, waterproof, neon, pastel, patterned and - most importantly - skinny. Still, a classic leather wallet la the Ancient Greeks will never go out of style.

Since the invention of the credit card in the 1950s, wallets have evolved to include slots designed just for the square-shaped, plastic charge cards. But you can still find wallets of any variety, including money clip styles that are designed specifically for cash, and checkbook wallets that are large enough to cover your checks. Bi-fold wallets, tri-fold wallets and breast wallets all came to be in the past several decades, ensuring that you have plenty of options for storing your money and personal belongings in your back pocket or bag.

Big Skinny wallets are the wallet of the future. Designed to further streamline cargo, these super thin, flat wallets are 50 percent thinner than the traditional wallet. Available in a variety of materials, including top-grain leather and nylon microfiber, Big Skinny’s extra thin wallets are actively paving the way for the next generation of pocketbooks. To prove just how far we’ll go to advance the legacy of the best accessory on earth, Big Skinny unveiled the World’s Largest Wallet (as designated by Guinness World Records) in 2010. After an evolution that started with coins and food and ended with credit cards, we were proud to unveil the 10-foot tall wallet just in time for the next big thing: Bitcoin.

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