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The History of Piggy Banks

Money banks with a coin slot on top have been used since ancient times. They were typically made of inexpensive materials since retrieving the coins inside involved breaking the vessels. The earliest examples of piggy banks hail from the ancient East and the most famous of these are the terracotta money banks used on the Indonesian island of Java during the rule of the Majapahit empire, which began in 1293. Used to store Chinese copper coins, these early “piggy banks” were made in the image of wild boars. Many believe that Indonesia’s wild boars (“celeng”) were chosen as a symbol of prosperity because of their round bellies and, according to many Eastern traditions, their connection with Earth’s spirits. But how did piggy banks become popular in the Western world? One theory holds that Italian Franciscan friar Oderico of Pordenone, who was possibly the only Westerner in the Majapahit court in the 14th century, brought the concept home with him. A more popular story claims that Western Europeans used a material called pygg to make dishes and pots during the Middle Ages and that the etymology eventually led to money banks being shaped like pigs, however, there are several claims that this popular story is completely untrue. Another theory holds that the Scots introduced the terminology (though not the pig shape of the banks) in the West by naming their coin banks ‘pirly pigs’ (‘pyrl’, meant “to thrust or poke,” so the moniker may have been related to the action of inserting coins into the slot in the earthenware banks). While we may never know for sure how piggy banks became a concept in Western Europe, we do know that they caught on in the Northern regions, especially in Germany. It’s thought that the shape was embraced quickly in the area because the pig was historically seen there as a symbol of fertility and frugality. When large waves of German immigrants entered the United States in the 19th century, they brought their piggy banks with them. The concept caught on in America and was popularized during the 20th century. Today, piggy banks are well-known, available in a variety of colors and styles, and are often given as gifts to young children to help them learn money management.

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