The Market Wallet
by Dan Lambert
First published in the GA CoHT newsletter September 2003

The bag we are going to study this month is a very common bag, although one that is pretty difficult to document. It is my belief that the lack of documentation isn’t due to lack of use, but rather due to the fact that it was so common that no one thought it worth writing about.

The market wallet is sometimes called a purse, wallet, market wallet, or simply a bag. Many references simply say “a bag”, and it is thought that the market wallet is the bag referred to. Other references have been noted calling the wallet a saddlebag. The simple design and easy construction make this type of bag an “everyman’s” bag, particularly for the civilian family living in a relatively settled area, or a frontiersman on a scout or hunt.

Here, from “A fast and true Inventory and Conscionable Appraisement of the Personal Estate of George Adam Egolf late of New Hanover Township in the county of Montgomery deceased of what came to our hands, best to our skill and knowledge. Appraised by us this twentieth day of March 1795. Witness our hands: Benj. Markely and Sebastian Reifshneider” we find:

2 Coats, -- 17.6;
4 close waistcoats, --.10;
2-- pair trousers, one pair breeches, --.10.;
4 shirts, --.15;
a hat, 3 pair woolen hose, 1 pair mitten, --.8--;
27 yards tow linen a 1/10 1/2, --2.20.7 1/2 ;
1 1/2 yard [?], 6/ 1 yard of cloth 5/, --.11--;
Cloaths [?], 3.10--;
5 table cloths --.13--; 4
sheets 15/ market wallet and other wallet, --1.--;
sheets, one ditto and one narrow one ditto --.9--;
4 towels 3/one wallet…

In the “Inventory of the Estate of Philip King dec'd No. 7564 Filed October 21st 1824 A true and perfect inventory and just appraisement of all and singular the goods and chattels rights and credits which were of Philip King late of this township pikeland in the county of Chester Yeoman deceased at the time of his death, to wit. -- ", we find the following items:

4 pieces of tow linnen and 4 Yards of tow [unreadable Stripe?] $16
5 Empty Hogsheads and 5 barrels $4.25
3 Coverleds 5 Sheets and 1 bed case $13.50
1 Market wallet, Woollen and tow yarn $6.90
[From ]

In the Pennsylvania Gazette, the following runaway add is found: ITEM #37496
February 27, 1766
The Pennsylvania Gazette

Philadelphia, February 19, 1766.
RUN away, this Morning, from the Subscriber, am Irish Servant Man, named Patrick Sheeren, about 23 or 24 Years of Age, Looks young for his Age, about 5 Feet 3 or 4 Inches high, has long black Hair, tied behind, full faced, pitted very much with the Small Pox, and writes a pretty good Hand; had on, when he went away, a blue Surtout Coat, blue cloth Jacket, old light coloured Cloth Breeches, home made Check Shirt, black Worsted Stockings, pretty good Shoes, plain Brass Buckles, and a half worn Castor Hat. Said Servant has not been three Months in the Country. 'Tis supposed he has stolen, and taken with him, a plain China faced Silver Watch, MakerName and Number forgot, with a striped purple or Straw coloured Ribbon, instead of a Watch string, and a small Brass Seal; likewise a superfine Olive coloured cloth Coat, with a cuff and Slash Sleeves, double gilt yellow Buttons, Nankeen Jacket and Breeches, two Pair of cotton Stockings, a Pair of Yarn Ditto, four white and Check Shirts, and a pair of half worn Pumps, with a large market Wallet. All Masters of Vessels, and others are forbid to conceal said Servant, as they will answer the same at their Peril; but whoever takes him up, with the Goods stolen, and secures him in any of his MajestyGoals, so that his Master may have him again, shall have three Pounds Reward, or Thirty Shillings for the Man alone, and reasonable Charges, paid by Jacob Barge, at the Sign of the Lamb, in Market street, or the Subscriber, in Blockley Township, near the Falls Ferry, in Schuylkill. JOSEPH JOHNSON.

The Textile Museum (( has presented two exhibits in the recent past focusing on carrying and storage bags from around the world, and a similar lineage and use is seen from many different areas of the world. The almost universal use of these simple bags proves that their use was not a “maybe” thing They may have been constructed of different fabrics and materials, but the use and utility was the same. The information below is used with permission from the 18th Century Life web site. (

"Market Wallet "The Wallet, or Market Wallet, is a rectangular bag with an opening in the center, made of cloth in various sizes and used as an all-purpose carrying item by civilians. It makes a great addition to a civilian kit, as haversacks are mentioned primarily in military descriptions.

"The Wallet, being of a long length and narrow width, can be carried in several ways. It can be put around the neck so that each side rests on one’s chest or twisted at the center and thrown over the shoulder. The twist will keep the contents from falling out. The runaway ads in the Pennsylvania Gazette of the period list descriptions of it being tied to a saddle as well. Judging from these ads, the size varies greatly and a good deal can be fitted into them. Fabrics mentioned range from course and sturdy flax or hemp linens, tows, and osnaburgs to striped ticking and checks and occasionally even marked with the owners initials.

"The pattern shown below is based on a Wallet in the collection of Historic Bethlehem Inc., a historical society located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. These dimensions can be used as guidelines but the wallets were, as mentioned above, of many sizes.

"The Market Wallet In the collection of Historic Bethlehem Inc. is a late 18th or early 19th century (1790-1840) Market wallet. Recently purchased for the museum at an auction in Lancaster County, PA the wallet is now on display in the Sebastian Goundie House.

"The wallet is made of a single piece of natural linen with a cream to light color. It is of equal, plain weave, approximately 131 warps and 31 wefts per inch. Overall dimensions are 12-1/8" by 39-1/4". The end and center seams are felled on the inside and have approximately 1/4" seam allowance. The slit is 14-1/4" long and 1-3/4" wide at its mid-point. Its edges are rolled and Hemmed. Charles LeCount "

As stated above, the wallet is not always an undecorated and very simple affair. As with all things that ladies used in daily life, it was sometimes decorated to show whom the owner was of to display the owner’s embroidery skills, etc. A man using a wallet to carry his provisions on a scout wouldn’t necessarily have had a very plain wallet, either. He may have his initials or some other identifying mark stitched on to his wallet to differentiate it from others of a like size and color.

What we will refer to as the wallet has been used for centuries in a variety of sizes, fabrics, and design specifics. A heavy-duty construction and larger size version of the wallet has been used as saddlebags for horseback travel, while a lighter construction and smaller sized version would be used as a market wallet by the lady of the house.

For use in the southern Colonies, or in the later southern states, the use of linen, hemp, or cotton would be appropriate, and the weight of the material could be anything from osnaberg or muslin, to a heavy sailcloth or canvas. The construction can be as drawn above, or could be a simple overlapping hemmed opening along the center seam.

With such broad possibilities of fabric, weight, and construction detail, there is no reason not to make yourself a wallet. Besides, they did have them, and they did use them!