Piggy Bank

Objects in which to collect coins have been found in Greek and Roman excavations. They were simple containers of clay or wood, usually pots and jars with slots, shaped by hand or turned on the wheel. To gain access to the contents of the bank, the owner would either have had to break it or slide the coins carefully out through the slot with the aid of a knife. The shapes of these banks changed little before the eighteenth century, when glazed earthenware (delftware) was introduced.

Piggy banks date from about the seventeenth century, when they were made of pottery. There is some debate about why the pig became a symbol of thrift. It is possible that it derives from pygg, the orange clay used to make pots in the Middle Ages. The name pig was probably retained after the clay stopped being used. Pigs were also considered to be symbols of good luck in many parts of the world.

In Germany and the Netherlands, piggy banks are given as good luck gifts and New Year presents. In the 1800s, England's Staffordshire potters made money boxes to meet the public's preference for rural scenes, castles, and flowercovered cottages. They were crude and simple but when decorated with glazes they became attractive ornaments, which were often displayed rather than used, although small ones were given to children to use.

American money boxes followed European patterns until the mid-nineteenth century, when they were made extensively of metal. Between 1870 and 1900, hundreds of castiron mechanical banks, often representing a topical, patriotic, or amusing scene, were made. Banks shaped like buildings were made to represent real banks. In Britain, pillar box savings banks were introduced in the late nineteenth century, and post office savings books, which could be locked, were issued. It was usual to give a child a savings bank as a birth or christening present. Thrift and the cultivation of wise savings habits were actively encouraged, while any inclination towards frivolous spending was discouraged. In the nineteenth century, working-class children who earned money helped to support their families with their earnings. Children who were better off received pocket money from visiting relatives, which was often supplemented by money paid for running errands and helping with household chores. In the pre-welfare state era before World War II (1939-1945) a firm control over one's finances was vital if one wished to acquire possessions and property of one's own; sometimes even one's survival depended on good financial housekeeping. Banks and building societies gave away money boxes to encourage saving. (This custom endured into the late twentieth century; the most famous of these building society money boxes were the National Westminster Bank's pigs of the 1980s.)

A variety of money boxes in different shapes and materials were available. New technology coupled with gradual improvements in lifestyle and increasing interest in child rearing prompted manufacturers to design more interesting shapes and colors, intended for children. Printed tin plate was often used for their manufacture in the 1920s and 1930s, and plastics were used to produce cheap money boxes after 1945. Many children had some pocket money. Attractive novelties were also made, which could be used as toys or as containers for sweets and cookies. These would often also be used as advertising tools for various companies. Brightly colored miniature vending banks rewarded children with a small treat when they put their money in and also encouraged saving.

Despite all these innovations, temptations, and computerized banking, the piggy bank remains the shape that children associate with special treats and with saving all over the world.

See also: Allowances.


King, Constance Eileen. 1983. Money Boxes: Antique Pocket Guide. Guildford, UK: Lutterworth Press.

Moore, Andy, and Susan Moore. 1984. The Penny Bank Book: Collecting Still Banks. Philadephia: Schiffer.