The word “vintage” has many connotations, including its most common reference to wine. But it doesn’t just mean “old”, “aged" or “historical". When talking about vintage mens wallets, vintage also refers to a period of time when something of quality was produced. Or denoting a time period of a person’s best work if an artist is involved.
Over the history of wallets it all started with a pouch. Since sophisticated closure mechanisms had yet to be invented, the ability to close something was a result of tying a strand of some material (usually leather) together, folding or wrapping or a combination of all of these. The purpose, of course, was to prevent the contents from falling out. Many ingenious closure inventions have been made over the prevailing millennia and centuries, including magnets, velcro and other inventions. But the fundamental folding of material has remained and with many of the wallets and pouches presented, they also represent non-mechanical or modern closures. Where present, we will call out the more modern closure, but ultimately, they hark back to what vintage mens wallets looked like in the past.
When talking about vintage mens wallets, we’re going to look at the top 4 best from history, a little about the background of each, then find the best modern reproduction. Let’s get started.
What we would consider a wallet by modern standards would have been a purse or a belt in the beginning. Truly, it was a drawstring type handbag, something that was usually attached to the belt of the person and contained their essential items. Anciently they were used to hold weapons, tools, flint, food, and coins if used in trade at that time. Otzi, the Copper Age, 5,300 year old mummy discovered frozen in time on the slope of the Italian Alps in 1991, had such a bag which contained tools and other items necessary for his survival and trade.
As you can see, it’s structured like a belt, but has slits that allow leather strips to be threaded so equipment can be dropped down via an attachment type grommet and then tightened. This is very much like the military MOLLE system used as a universal attachment system. The concepts, though separated by several millennia, still has applicability.
A modern touch on the leather belt pouch would be the one produced by Le’aokuu.
The Le’aokuu Leather Waist Bag/Pack is made of genuine leather and provides the ability to carry your smaller items. With a zippered top it can securely keep your essentials. It can be attached to your waist or used as a light messenger bag.
Pouches were still the dominant container for carrying personal items in medieval times. The vintage mens wallets or belt pouch below is from the late 12th-early 13th century from Eastern Iran or Afghanistan area. It’s decorated by stamping the leather in a matrix pattern which was followed up with a dark dye. This pouch was attached to the owners belt.
It was constructed of leather strapping which held all the pieces together with loops in the back. The closure mechanisms was a knot ball threaded through a loop, very similar to how cuff links close shirt cuffs.
Something similar in modern times would be the ripstop fabric of the CAMTOA multi-purpose belt pouch. It can be attached to your belt or backpack and provides quick access to essential equipment.
CAMTOA Multi-Purpose Belt Pouch
In general, during the mid to late 1800’s people in Victorian England didn’t carry much on their person in the form of cash. Coin would be more appropriate. Given that laborers earned about 20 shillings a week, which would be equivalent to 1 British Pound, smaller denomination coins were carried. To put this into perspective, and by using silver as the value transfer method, 1 British Pound in 1850 would be equivalent to $58 US Dollars in 2015. Thus, laborers would make about $3,000 a year in today’s dollars. Engineers, or those with advanced service degrees, would make twice that.
Since the majority of the British population never carried pound coins, they were also unlikely to carry paper money, which was reserved for larger, rarer, transactions. This leaves us to understand that coins were the prevailing method of payment (not discussing credit, which was used extensively, but reserved for the upper classes). Therefore, “wallets’ were more like purses, or small pouches, than billfolds, see graphic below.
If you’re looking for a more modern version of a coin pouch, we found this one to be very nicely crafted.
Made from soft, supple leather, the Visconti brand coin purse is 3.15” (8 cm) x 3.15” (8 cm) so it’s easy to slide into a pant or suit pocket. It can also hold a key or other smaller items. I remember most men carrying these, or the swirl-type coin cases when I was younger, when coins were used with cash more frequently to round up a purchase for exact change.
But for those who did tend to carry paper money around, or other documents like invitation notes, calling cards, etc. the picture below represents what you likely would have seen as a vintage mens wallets.
Beautifully crafted, there were no snaps and relied on either a strip of leather which wrapped around the wallet several times and was tied, or like pictured inserted into a slot to maintain the closure.
Today’s equivalent, is similar but takes advantage of snaps for closure.
Very representative of the victorian model of a large billfold it has all that you’d expect from that era, crafted into a modern accessory. It’s 9.5” H (24cm) tall x 1.5” (3.8cm). It has 23 credit card slots, 3 currency or receipt pockets, 2 photo pockets and a zipper pouch for any coins. Made from 100% leather it fits the style, material and size comparative to the larger victorian style wallets.
Plenty of lore exists around the American Cowboy in the Western United States. Many like to think all they did was ride around on horses, shoot their pistols and drink in bars, but the Hollywood persona would be very wrong. The reality is that most cowboys didn’t carry guns unless they were traveling, or on the range working cattle, and when they did it was usually a long-gun (rifle) due to what they were likely to shoot at. However, there were plenty of circumstances when a pistol was convenient to have.
When a cowboy made on average, $25 to $40 a month, and a box of .44 or .45 caliber cartridges cost $.70 for a box of 50, they only bought and used them as necessary. Practicing for days to become incredibly proficient like its portrayed in the movies was neither necessary or desired as it was a waste of their hard earned money.
Most Western towns at the time didn’t allow firearms within city limits. When cowboy’s earned their pay, they would usually spend it quickly, as banks were not prevalent like today, and cowboy’s had needs and wants. They usually had their eye on equipment like saddles, horse related kit or clothing. When carrying money, it was usually gold or silver coins, which were standard at the time. A coin purse was usually a leather bag with a strap to keep it closed. Formal businessmen, usually from the East or West Coast, had leather wallets to carry paper money, but again it was not the norm. These wallets were larger than what we see today and would be carried inside a coat pocket, not pants.
Coin purses during the 1800’s did, in fact, have snaps for closures and would later be associated with women’s coin purses in look and operation. But they functioned well for both men and women in the day.
Buxton Triple Frame Coin Purse
Similar to the timeless design seen in the 19th Century, this coin purse has a triple frame structure for 3 separate areas to store coins or other small items. It’s a great throw-in for purses or backpacks. It’s 3.75” (8.9 cm) x 5.5” (14 cm) x .5” (1.27 cm).
UER Unisex Handcrafted Tanned Leather Drawstring Coin Wallet Pouch
This classic design in a modern reproduction, this drawstring coin purse is excellent. It can hold coins, makeup, cards, keys or other small things in both purse, backpack or messenger back. Made from genuine grain leather it has a drawstring closure to help keep it closed once pulled tight. Measurements are 4.3” (11 cm) x 3.1” (7.8 cm) x 3.1” (7.8 cm)