‘Piggy banks’ have de­lighted chil­dren for gen­er­a­tions

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - LOCAL NEWS - Ca­role Christman Koch

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.

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