‘Piggy banks’ have delighted children for generations
There are times I get exasperated because I discipline myself to sit and write every week night, but all last week I didn’t get one idea for an article. At least not until I visited, my 1½-yearold greatgranddaughter, Eva, on Saturday.
Before I left, Grandma (Mande) brought out Eva’s piggy bank so Eva could show me how she now knew how to put coins in the slot. It was fun watching her face light up when she’d hear the clink and the bank’s funny noise. Her Grandma, her Mommy (Jessica), and myself all clapped our hands and giggled with her.
On the drive home all I could think about were piggy banks. By the time I drove into my driveway, I knew I had my next article — piggy banks.
Containers with slots for the protection of money have been used in ancient cultures, such as the Chinese, Indonesians, Greeks and Romans. The Old Testament (2 Kings 12:9) references a chest, with a hole in the lid, being placed on the altar for the money brought to the Temple.
These simple containers were made of various forms, such as jars, pots, a temple and of various materials such as ceramic, wood, and clay. They could be turned on a wheel or shaped by hand. Few of these ancient vessels have been found, because in order to retrieve the coins inside, they had to be broken.
Scholars found it difficult to pin point “exactly” where the piggy bank originated. This is one theory: The oldest “recorded” money box, in the shape of a reconstructed wild boar, is located in the Nat’l Museum of Indonesia, dating to the 14th century. The wild boar is a native of the jungles of Java (a province of Indonesia), and is considered a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. It is believed, due to all the trade in this area, the pig shaped banks, were exported to Europe and became popular in England.
Where does the word bank come from? In Italy, money traders sitting at a table did their business in open markets, displaying their money next to them on a bench. The Italian word for bench is “banco” and from this we have the English word “bank.”
Now for theory 2: In Medieval England the coin containers were called money boxes. Square and rectangular boxes were hard to make and a box was then considered a small receptacle in any kind of material or any shape.
During this period, metal was expensive and seldom used in making houseware. Instead an orange-colored clay called “pigg” (pronounced pug) was used to make inexpensive household containers, including pigg dishes and jars, where people could put their coins in.
By the 18th century, pig jar became pig bank. As time went on, materials other than clay were used and the name began to refer to the shape of the bank — “Piggy bank” — not the material used to make it. By the 19th century, money boxes were not only made in the shape of pigs, but farm animals, pets, buildings, and famous people.
No evidence of money boxes have been found in England before the Tudor period, due to destroying them to get the coins out.
Whether true or not, there is a European legend that an English potter in 1600 was asked to make pygg banks. Since he hadn’t heard this term, he made banks in the shape of pigs. It turned out customers loved piggy banks.
With all these theories from the potter thrower in England, to the Java pig banks, I’ll let you decide which theory you like best.
Here are a few traditions that came through the use of piggy banks and their lucky status.
In Britian, the first day of Christmas is called “Boxing Day.” Most servants and household workers had a money box, due to their being inexpensive. On Boxing Day these “Christmas boxes” or “Rattling boxes” were given as gifts, often to babies and young children.
In both Germany and Netherlands, the German speaking countries, during the Middle Ages, farmers were dependent on the meat of a pig, to get them through the winter. A common expression was “Ich habe Schwein gehabt” (I’ve had pig), meaning the family was lucky to eat during the winter.
Around New Year, it became a custom called “Glucksbringer” (a bringer of luck) to give others a piggy bank, a Christmas ornament, a charm, or a holiday treat, such as Marzipan (a confection of almonds and sugar) in the form of a pig for good luck.
And of course, we have the German immigrants to thank for the custom of eating pork and sauerkraut for good luck on New Year’s day.
The American money boxes were patterns from the European immigrants until the 19th century when they were mainly made of metal in various forms, including a piggy bank.
If you have a piggy bank in your home, I’d suggest smashing it to see if you can find a 1943 copper penny. Because of World War II war effort, pennies were cast in stainless steel, but a few copper pennies got through by mistake. Let me know if you find one. I wouldn’t mind having one for my piggy bank, since its worth a lot of money.
Columnist Carole Christman Koch was inspired to write this column by her 1½-year-old great-granddaughter, Eva.