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On Design—The Swanton Billfold, part 1 of 3

Part one; The evolution of the billfold

‘I’ve always had an interest in and an attraction to the wallet,’ says Ben Lezin, founder and head of AK Salz. ‘I’ve been making wallets with our current manufacturers since I was in elementary school. It’s like trying to design the perfect chair, there’s this outward simplicity and then underneath there’s this deep functional complexity. It’s an incredibly interesting time to be starting AK Salz because we’re inside of what we see as a period of tremendous change in small accessories.’  

A close look at the Swanton Billfold

For our first line of AK Salz leather goods, we’ve started with the most utilitarian of small accessories in an effort to perfect and modernize the staples of a carefully designed collection. To make a clean, contemporary billfold wallet, we started by understanding the evolution of this men’s essential.

The flat billfold wallet in particular was largely born from the widespread use of paper currency in Renaissance Europe in the late 1600s. Before this, European men typically carried their valuables around their waist in a pouch. It was also around this same time that pocketed men’s pants became fashionable in western culture as well. The convergence of these two styles fueled their respective popularity and led to the Ménage à Trois of wallets, pockets, and money that you find in most men’s pants today.

In the 1950s, the invention and proliferation of credit cards created another wave of change. Card slots became standardized in every billfold wallet, and as the number of credit cards, store cards, and loyalty cards increased, wallets grew to accommodate more and more. For men in particular, wallets became a catchall for anything you didn’t want to lose. Wallets became increasingly complex, designed to hold receipts, credit cards, membership cards, coupons, cash, and even coins.

Seinfeld's George Costanza and his exploding wallet

Today, smartphones are the new catalyst for dramatic changes in what we carry everyday. Much of our identity, memberships, and currency has moved from physical space to a digital one. We’d argue that beyond an id, a couple credit cards, some emergency cash, and maybe a key card to get into your building at work, you don’t need much else in your pocket on a daily basis. When we talk about ‘modern carry,’ we’re referencing this kind of conscious minimalism and efficiency.

Salz's vision for modern carry

While your wallet probably spends most of its time in your pocket, that doesn’t mean it’s not visible. Your wallet, and everything in it, can add unwanted bulk to your pockets and quickly wear out your favorite pants. Additional card slots, partitions, layers, hardware, and even coin pouches add to the weight and thickness of a wallet. If you care about how your pants fit, you should care about your wallet as well. 

Check back soon for part two of our series, 'Designing a modern carry wallet'

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