A few days ago, I went to a gift shop with a friend who wanted to buy a small coin bank for his 7-year-old nephew. Oddly enough, most of the money boxes that we came across in the store were pig-shaped. In fact, people often refer to money boxes as ‘piggy banks’, but there doesn’t seem to be an obvious connection between pigs and money.
Have you ever wondered what the reason is behind this? Why are money boxes/coin banks commonly known as ‘piggy banks’?
Short answer: Piggy banks are not actually named after pigs; in fact, they date back to the Middle Ages, when a type of clay – called ‘pygg’ – was used to make pots that could store money.
Although there is no definite answer to this question, there are quite a few interesting hypotheses behind the porcine origins of the term.
The practice of saving money
People have been saving money since, well, whenever currency came into existence, i.e. thousands of years ago. However, unlike other household things, money (which predominantly existed as coins in ancient times), had to be kept somewhere safe and protected. This resulted in the rampant use of boxes and containers to store money (spare change).
To encourage saving, new containers – with a small slit on their top, where you could only drop coins in, but not retrieve them – eventually emerged. Therefore, once you dropped a coin through that slit into the container, it remained there until you broke the entire box to retrieve the money (akin to withdrawing money from a bank account, minus the shattering part).
Pygg: A type of clay
Since it was necessary to eventually retrieve the money stored in these money boxes, they had to be made using a cheap material. A yellow-colored clay called ‘pygg’ presented a decent choice. It was frequently used to make pots and jars where money could be stored during the Middle Ages. As such, people naturally began to call such pygg clay money boxes ‘pygg jars’. By the 18th century, the term ‘pygg jar’ was almost completely replaced by ‘pygg bank’.
Since certain other materials, such as plastic, glass, plaster etc., were also used to make such pots, the term ‘piggy bank’ became indicative of the shape of the pot (i.e., a pot that looked like a pig), rather than the material used to make it. Customers took this trend of pig-shaped money boxes well, and the now-famous piggy bank was born!
Other stories regarding the origin of piggy banks
Archaeological data suggests that money boxes first appeared centuries ago. The oldest Western discovery of a money box is from the 2nd century BC!
Some historians believe that piggy banks first appeared in Indonesia. The Indonesian and Javanese term cèlèngan is frequently used in reference to domestic places to store money. The word cèlèngan literally means ‘the likeness of a wild boar’ and was used to refer to both ‘money’ and ‘piggy bank’. Various boar-shaped money jars dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries have also been found.
Another hypothesis concerning the origins of piggy banks involves China during the Qing dynasty. In that era, pigs were a symbol of wealth and abundance, so pig-shaped boxes became a popular choice amongst people to store their money.
Therefore, the true origins of the term ‘piggy bank’ cannot be established with real certainty. However, the one thing that can be said with absolute confidence is that, thanks to their immense popularity, the name and the pig-shaped designs of money boxes are here to stay!