Experience Our Heritage

Medusa, England & Superman all have one thing in common

Medusa, England & Superman all have one thing in common


Most of us carry one on a daily basis.  We use it when we go shopping, out to eat or need to show our ID.  What is this object?  It is a wallet.

We use wallets to store our money, ID’s, and credit cards among other things.  The term wallet has been around for thousands of years.  In fact it was used in the story of Perseus when he slayed Medusa.  In this story the term wallet meant a bag to carry something in, but over the years the word transformed into what we know as wallet today.

Superhero wallets
Superhero wallets

Wallets have been used to carry money since the ancient Greek times.  As money has changed over the years so has the wallet.  In early times money consisted of coins, so the flat wallet we have today would have been impractical.  Instead the bag like wallet would have worked much better, where it continued throughout the Renaissance.  Wallets were not just used for money during this time.  Peddlers and people traveling would also use them as these wallets could fit large amounts of goods, products and personal items.

It was not until paper money started to be used that wallets changed.  In the late 1600’s England began producing notes for deposits.  These notes were a means of exchange and allowed the user to come and exchange it for gold or coins.  It was not until the 18th Century that England started to produce bills with fixed denominations.  In the United States paper money was used early on.  What was confusing about the money situation in the United States was that at any one time Spanish, French and English money was floating about.  It was not until the government was set up that they issued fixed denominations on paper money.  To learn more about currency in the United States today visit the United States Treasury.

High Plains Museum | LH291 Leather wallet
High Plains Museum |
LH291
Leather wallet

Once paper money became popular and used regularly, wallets needed to change.  Today most wallets are flat and can fit in pockets or a purse.  At the High Plains Museum we have one wallet in our collection.  This wallet is a leather wallet that when closed is 3 ½” x 7 ¼” and when open is 7 ¼” x 8”.  Leather is a popular material for wallets, as is plastic and cloth.  Today wallets come in many different sizes and styles.  For men, wallets are small enough to fit in the back pocket and contain holders for money, credit cards, ID, business cards and other items.  Sometimes wallets will have a money clip on the back to keep paper money all together.  Wallets for women come in many sizes.  Some are long, like the leather wallet in our collection, while others are short and stout.  These wallets also contain paper money, credit cards, an ID and business cards, but can also contain coins and even cell phones.

Over the years wallets have changed as money has changed.  Once a bag like item that contained food, products and even Medusa’s head, today wallets are flat and easily placed in a pocket or purse.  When currency started to change from coin to paper money wallets reflected that change.  They come in a variety of materials as well as sizes and are used by both men and women.  Stores like Macy’s and JCPenney’s sell wallets and one can get wallets with almost any design, like the superhero wallets.  Can you think of other objects that have changed their design to stay in use?  Please leave your comments in the comment section below.

Look for more posts in this series about our wonderful collection of Sherman County history.

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