Wednesday, 6 April 2016


There is a pretty spiffy kind of bag called a market wallet or simply wallet and it's quite useful. It's sort of like a saddlebag, except you carry it over your shoulder or over a stick - I've never actually seen one on an animal in my scanty store of 12th C images although it would make sense to use it in such a way.

Wallets are also are one of the simplest sewing projects you'll ever find. This page give a description of an 18th C original, and if you can't work out how to construct it from that, this page describes how to make your own.

Karen Larsdatter has an excellent links page on market wallets with images of wallets in artwork from the 13th to 16th Centuries, I'm not going to relink all her excellent work, instead I'm going to focus on a few examples from her list that give some additional clues to how these may have been used and their construction.

I've found several examples of these wallets displayed in 12th C artwork, so we know they date from this period, even though I'm aware of no extant ones. Where the slits are visible, they all seem to run along the length of the bag.

The Copenhagen Psalter (Thott 143 2º) England, 1175-1200 f12r "The flight into Egypt"

Zillis, St Martin. Painted ceiling, detail panel "The flight into Egypt" c1140-60

Is he about to load that Wallet onto an ox?
 Stuttgart Passionale I (Stuttgart Cod bib 2°57) f253 "Life of Saint Maximus" 

This I've shown you before (yes another depiction of the flight into Egypt).
Periscope book of St Erentrud, Nonberg Abbey, Salzburg around 1140 (München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. lat. 15903) f14 "The flight into Egypt" 

And a new one today courtesy of the wonders of pintrest:
Psalter, North England, 12th C (Bodleian Library, Ms Douce,293) fol 10 "The flight into Egypt" 

So, you have historical context and some tips about construction, go play with a wallet today. They are a most useful carrying device.


Cathy Raymond said...

Your 12th c. Morgan Library image is broken (the link heads to a page with an error message saying "The resource you are looking for has moved.").

I really like your posts; wish they came more often!

Cathy Raymond said...

Now that I think about it more, the form of the medieval wallet reminds me of a Victorian type of purse called a miser's purse. Unlike the wallet they were quite small and often ornamented with beadwork, and they had a metal ring or two around the section with the slit in it to secure it.

You can find pictures of some very ornamental miser's purses here. This article gives a bit more background about them, as well as more photographs of different styles of miser's purse. Finally, this article by Laura L. Camerlengo of the Philadelphia Museum of Art includes a video showing how this type of purse works and has a significant bibliography.


Cathy Raymond said...

Although the period art shows wallets draped over a staff, I'd bet that the reality is that the wallet was tied around the bag at the midsection; this would serve the same purpose as the rings on a miser's purse (i.e., closing/tightening the slit opening when you wanted to carry the bag instead of getting to its contents.

pearl said...

I suspect the slit running lengthways would make more intuitive sense, because items in either end of the sack could also work to pull the fabric downwards, and hence keep the slit closed. A slit running perpendicular to the sacks might run the risk of having the slit gape open, and increase the risk of items falling out?

Teffania said...

I think the broken link should be I'll fix that, sorry.

Teffania said...

As pearl said, a lengthwise slit just basically self closes as long as anything a little heavy is in the bag. I don't think it needs a closing ring at all. I suspect the bags are so very long partially so the slit section is empty and can close (much longer than the misers pouches in proportion to width). Also there are plenty of pictures of such bags at rest and no sign of a ring. The bags seem to be nearly as common over a shoulder as over a staff, and when over a shoulder they sit better if nothing stops them from laying flat. Over a staff with a fork, they naturally bunch up and close. I think the ring/tie is superfluous, as long as the slit is lengthwise they work really well without it - make one up and give it a try!

Teffania said...

Oh, and I wish I could post more often too, but my health decrees otherwise, and I need to save my energy for daily living tasks.

Cathy Raymond said...

For a big bag like a medieval wallet, I wouldn't expect that you'd need a closing ring either. But Victorian miser purses were meant to handle coins. I can see where people would prefer having a ring to keep the contents down on one end or the other, away from the slit.