Who invented the piggy bank?

by Ruth Griffiths

Several Canadian banks use the piggy bank as a prominent image in their advertising. The piggy bank is a traditional coin container, usually used by children. So I wondered, why is that little coin container in the shape of a pig? Why not a dog or a cat?

I checked the Internet for clues and came up with these suggestions.

According to Wikipedia, pygg is an orange-coloured clay commonly used during the Middle Ages as a cheap material for pots to store money, called pygg pots or pygg jars. Perhaps “pygg” was simply a dialectal variant of “pig.” By the 18th century, the term “pig jar” had evolved to “pig bank”. Other materials, such as glass, plaster, and plastic, eventually supplanted earthenware but the name gradually began to refer specifically to the shape of the bank, instead of the material that was used to make it.

The oldest Western find of a moneybox dates from 2nd century BC Greek colony Priene, Asia Minor, and features the shape of a miniature Greek temple with a slit in the pediment. Moneyboxes of various forms were also excavated in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and appear quite frequently on late ancient sites, particularly in Roman Britain and along the Rhine.

Wikipedia also says, the Javanese and Indonesian term cèlèngan (literally “likeness of a wild boar”, but used to mean both “savings” and “piggy bank”) is also used in the context of domestic banks. A pig-shaped money container was excavated at Majapahit and dates to the 15th century. Several boar-shaped piggy banks have been discovered at the large archaeological site in East Java, the possible site of the capital of the ancient Majapahit Empire. These are probably the source of the Javanese-Indonesian word referring to savings or money containers.

One important Majapahit piggy bank specimen is housed at the National Museum of Indonesia. It has been reconstructed, as this large piggy bank was found broken into pieces. Majapahit terracotta coin containers have been found in a variety of shapes, including tubes, jars and boxes, each with a slit into which to insert coins.

The Financial Brand website says that in Europe, early piggy banks had no hole in the bottom, so the pig had to be broken to get money out. Perhaps that is where we get the expression “breaking the bank.”