If you close your eyes and picture a wallet, your mind’s eye probably presents you with a billfold.
Or, we might say, you imagine a wallet that has a billfold.
Wallet terminology tends to trip all over itself. Billfold is typically used as a synonym for any wallet that stores folded bills in a pouch. So, a billfold is always a wallet, but not every wallet is a billfold.
There’s also “bi-fold,” a term that sounds a whole lot like “billfold” but isn’t quite the same thing.
I could go on and on. In fact, I think I will.
It’s time to go in-depth on the most classic of all wallet designs, the billfold.
Let’s explore the following:
- What is a billfold wallet?
- Billfold wallet history
- Billfold wallet lingo and definitions
- Wallet folding styles
Table of Contents
What Is a Billfold Wallet?
The word billfold is used in a few different ways.
First, the word billfold is sometimes used as a direct synonym for wallet. That’s appropriate, as long as the wallet referred to does in fact have a folding cash pouch.
Billfold is also used to refer to a specific type of wallet—thin, folding styles with fewer compartments than “regular” wallets.
Dictionary.com goes a step further. They describe billfolds as having “fewer compartments than a wallet.”
This suggests that billfolds and wallets are entirely different entities. I would disagree; a billfold is most definitely a wallet.
Of course, in their second definition for billfold, Dictionary.com simply uses one word: wallet.
So it goes with language and dictionaries.
Anyway, in my opinion, the defining feature of a billfold wallet isn’t its size or the number of compartments it has. It’s the folding.
Which Wallets Are Considered Billfolds?
Billfolds have cash pouches. Usually, that’s a central pouch. Money goes in flat, then folds up along one (bifold) or two (trifold) seams when you close the wallet.
Or, for some smaller card-holder style wallets, the bills are folded but the wallet itself doesn’t fold. For wallets built primarily to hold cards, the cash pouch is an outer sleeve rather than the main compartment.
Bifold and trifold wallets are the ones that are most fittingly referred to as billfolds.
I also find it useful to refer to the pouch itself as a billfold, as in “the wallet has a billfold.” That just makes sense, right? Dictionary.com, as of yet, doesn’t include such a definition—but hey, language is always evolving.
Clear as mud? Great. Let’s continue.
1 - Wallet Pouches Weren’t Always Used for Paper Money
Around the year 3,275 BC, a fellow who we now know as Otzi, or The Iceman, was born.
He’s the oldest example of a naturally-formed mummy ever found in Europe. His incredibly well-preserved remains were found by hikers in the Alps near the Austria-Italy border in 1991.
Popov Leather fans will recognize a kindred spirit in old Otzi. The dude was covered in animal hides … leather loincloth, leather coat, leather belt. Goat, sheep, cattle, deer, and bear skins all contributed to his outfit.
Sewn to his belt, Otzi carried a leather pouch. Some folks, myself included, like to think of that pouch as the first known leather wallet.
What did Otzi keep in his pouch? The usual—some flint tools, some dried fungus for starting fires, and a pointy bone that may or may not have been used as a toothpick.
Between the time of Otzi and the modern day, wallet-like items were used more for snacks than for cash.
Paper currency hit the scene in Europe in 1661 and arrived in North America a few decades later.
However, up until the 1900s, wallets were more like pouches and less like folders—more likely to carry coins and bits of dried meat than stacks of cash.
2 - Modern Billfolds Became Popular in the 1950s
The word billfold came into use in the late 1800s. Presumably shortened from billfolder, the name reflects the growing need for wallets designed primarily to hold cash.
Through the first half of the 20th century, most wallets looked more like pouches or eyeglass cases and less like the ones we’re used to today.
By the late 1940s, the modern billfold was taking shape. By the 50s, credit card slots had appeared.
3 - Billfold and Bifold Are Two Separate Terms
As you shop for a new wallet, you might notice that the terms billfold and bifold are often used to describe the same wallet or the same style of wallet.
The two words are suspiciously similar, but they’re not the same. While billfold refers to the folding of bills, bifold indicates the number of folds involved in closing the wallet.
A bifold wallet has:
- One fold
- Two sections
A trifold wallet has:
- Two folds
- Three sections
Both bifolds and trifolds are billfolds. You can also say that both bifolds and trifolds have billfolds.
Here’s a look at different wallet styles, noting which designs require folding of the wallet, the cash, or both.
Traditional (Bifold) Wallet
Cash and wallet fold along one seam
Cash and wallet fold along two seams
Wallet folds inward, cash remains unfolded
Money is folded and clipped, wallet folds to enclose cash
Cash is folded and tucked into external sleeve
Cash folds and slides into pouch, wallet doesn’t fold
Bifold and trifold wallets are considered traditional options. Both are still quite popular today. More recent designs tend towards minimalism, like the slim, simple shapes of money clips, card holders, and ID wallets.
”I love my Popov wallet. The leather is thick and soft. Protects my cards and my money and has great style.”
Traditional Billfold Wallets by Popov Leather
Bifolds and trifolds, the styles most commonly referred to as billfolds, have been around for a while. These iconic designs remain as stylish and practical as ever.
If you’re looking to upgrade your billfold, visit the Popov Leather wallet collection.
”This wallet is very well made and obviously of very high quality. Popov Leather really cares about the products they produce and they provide outstanding customer service.”
All of our wallets are made with full-grain Horween leather and are hand-sewn with Tiger thread. We make heirloom-quality leather goods. That means they’re not just built to last, they’re made to span generations.
For more buying guides and impassioned ramblings on niche leather topics, visit the Popov Leather blog.
Article by Ryan Popoff
Ryan Popoff is the CEO and Co-Founder of Popov Leather. He has absolutely no business background, in fact, he graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Ryan's leather goods business was born from a hobby at the dining room table and a passion for technology (ecommerce in particular). Ryan calls Nelson BC his home where he's raising his family and enjoys spending the odd afternoon at a local craft brewery.