by Doug Atkinson
Click here for the Card to Wallet Reference List.
Updated 10 May 07 minor update
Sources for this information include Jerry Mentzer's Card to Wallet book, product literature, and many magic catalogs and bulletin boards on the Internet. Ron Bauer was kind enough to pass on some letters from Milt Kort clarifying some issues with the Le Paul style wallet. This guide has been written so as not to reveal secrets, yet still provide enough guidance to understand the differences (not an easy thing to do!).
There are two broad categories of wallets:
Switchers: Allow you to switch one card for another, make cards disappear, and so forth. Not usually limited to cards only. These include Himber Wallets and other switching wallets such as the Eclipse wallet by Chazpro. Himber wallets can be used effectively for a card to wallet effect, but can also be used in any situation where you want to exchange one card for another.
Loaders: Allow you to load a selected card into a seemingly impossible area. That is, a marked card appears in a zippered area in a closed wallet, and sometimes in an envelope in the sealed area. These include Balducci/Kaps, LePaul, and Mullica wallets.
General Advice: Note that some wallet designs combine features, so you may have a combination switching and loading wallet, or a combination of loading techniques available. Also, wallets vary greatly in quality of construction. Expect to pay $50 or more for a quality wallet, although some of the less expensive wallets are certainly usable. Depending on your use, even a vinyl wallet may suffice. In many cases, gimmicked wallets are not even necessary, and many prefer to gimmick their own wallet purchased from a department store. In most cases, a wallet that looks like a "normal" wallet is best.
Richard Himber made famous the "Himber" wallet, as it is known today. The Himber wallet allows you to switch cards, bills, and so forth with other cards, and can also be used for card-in-wallet effects.
There are two designs of the Himber wallet. The original design by Richard Himber uses straps that keep the opposite side closed. The other basic design is a Z-fold arrangement. The advantage to the strapped wallet is the ability to have the spectator partially handle the wallet without fear of the "other" side falling open. The advantage to Z-fold wallets is the lack of the tell-tale straps that indicate a Himber wallet is in use. If you are performing for other magicians or magic saavy spectators, you may prefer to use a Z-fold wallet.
Another feature to look for in a Himber wallet is the "passthrough" feature. This is not necessary for every routine, but may be important for some. A card or bill placed in the middle section of the wallet will also be available when the other side of the wallet is opened. Not all Himbers provide this feature. If your needs are for pure switching, you may not need it.
One of the premier Himber type wallets was developed by David Bendix and is known as the Bendix Bombshell wallet. It is marketed by R.A.R. Magic in the U.K. The Bendix wallet is a Himber wallet that incorporates a zippered compartment in the middle. The zippered compartment provides a unique passthrough capability that is not possible with standard Himbers, even those with a passthrough.
There have been several variations made through the years. For example, Chuck Leach's Eclipse Wallet and Randy Wakeman's One Eyed Wildebeast wallet provide visual switching mechanisms. That is, a card can be seen through a hole in the wallet, yet a swtich can be made when the card is removed.
When buying a Himber wallet, you also have to decide what size you want to use. For example, Michael Ammar's Showcase Wallet is a small vinyl switcher designed for simple switching of gimmicked card packets for ungimmicked ones. On the other hand, a full size pocket secretary type Himber wallet will allow you to place envelopes or bills into the wallet without folding.
One of the earliest types of loading wallets was based on a "document case," which was essentially a pocket-sized leather folder zippered on three sides. In about 1950, Dick Washington of Chicago designed and made a gimmicked version of a document case for Paul (Braden) LePaul to use in place of his gimmicked stack of envelopes from which he'd remove a sealed envelope containing four marked aces which had vanished from his deck. LePaul used this in place of the stack for several years.
The Washington Wallet only zipped on two sides, but looked like it would on the third, which was actually open with two leather flaps inside for feeding cards into a sealed envelope.
Ron Bauer obtained an early copy made by Howard Bamman from Don Alan in the late fifties, and had Dave Hertzberg make several samples, including one that was part "pocket secretary" and part LePaul wallet. He gave a prototype to Larry Jennings who was on route to California. Jennings marketed this design for a time, which is why Mentzer calls modern versions of this wallet "The Jennings Wallet" in his "Card to Wallet" book. Credit really belongs to Bauer/Washington for this style wallet.
You will also see many references to Balducci/Kaps. According to Jerry Mentzer in his Card to Wallet book, Balducci first developed the loading mechanism, and Kaps improved it by adding a slide. The end effect is much like the LePaul wallet, but without the envelope. The loading is aided by the mechanism. The concept appears in Hugard's Magic Monthly, Vol 15, No 11, April 1958 (thanks to Chris Wasshuber's http://www.lybrary.com/mlp Magic Lineage Page and Wesley James' entry for this wallet).
The Mullica wallet is another variation that allows loading without needing to palm a card. The card is loaded into a wallet that fits inside another wallet. The original can be purchased from Tommy Mullica's site.
There are also many variations on the above, as you will see as you read the product descriptions on the Card to Wallet reference page.
There are many factors to consider when buying a loading wallet. Can you palm a card, or do you prefer a no-palm method? Do you want the wallet to fit in your hip pocket, or do you wear a jacket? Do you need an instant reset, such as for table hopping? The LePaul wallet requires you to rip open the envelopes, so the reset is not as fast. Most Kaps/Balducci loaders provide an instant reset when the wallet is put away in the pocket.
The quality of the wallet can vary. Some wallets are as low as $30, others well over $100. Some wallets combine several features, such as Tony Miller's BKM wallet. BKM stands for Balducci, Kaps, Mullica, and combines the features of each. Some combine a Himber feature with a loader, that provides some unique routine possibilities.
Several wallets have been highly recommended during the past few years in magic forums on the Internet. This does not mean the other wallets are not recommended of course, but I thought the following were worth mentioning (note, this is a bit dated, circa 2000 or so, there have been a variety of new wallet introduced since):
Bennet, Keith: Wallets by Keith
have been widely recommended (As of June 2005 they don't appear on his
Draun, Steven: Real Man's Wallet: highly praised
LePaul Style: classic signed card to sealed envelope
Mullica Wallet: no sleight
Tony Miller BKM Wallet: highly praised
Wakeman, Steve: Expert Card to Wallet. Well made Kaps/Balducci Wallet: highly praised
Bendix Bombshell: advanced
Himber features, a classic
MAK Magic's and FUN Inc.'s Himber Wallet: well made, classic strapped full size wallets with passthrough
RFA Productions Star Himber: Full size Himber w/Kaps & Bombshell ability
Stockholder: Greg Wilson's Out to Lunch principle in leather
There are a ton of quality wallets currently available, and there is no single wallet that will be right for everyone. Some prefer a wallet that looks like a "normal" wallet, others are not concerned. For the most part, almost all of the available wallets will do the job, and it is up to the routine and the performer to make it happen!