The History of the Piggy Bank

It has surprisingly little to do with pigs.

Piggy Bank
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While the piggy bank has come to connote a cute clash of childhood and commerce, the origin of the phrase “piggy bank” (and the invention of the item itself) has very little to do with pigs. In fact, piggy banks probably owe more to the evolution of language than to an individual toy maker or inventor. 

In Old English (around the 15th century) there was a word "pygg" which referred to a type of orange clay. People made all kinds of useful objects out of clay, including dishes and jars to hold spare change. 

The Oxford English Dictionary cites the earliest recorded entry of “Pygg” from around 1450: “...was broght vnto hym a lofe of bread and a pygg with wyne.”

According to linguistic historians, the word pygg was pronounced “pug” during the middle ages. Languages evolve, and the “y” sound began to morph from a “u” sounding pronunciation to a “I” sound. By the 18th century, the word "pygg" now sounded the same as the word for the animal "pig". 

The result of this newly evolved synonym was that it gave the pygg bank—the earthenware verison—a potential double meaning. And so pygg banks were naturally made in the shape of pig. Who was the potter that first thought up this meta-craft pun? Nobody knows. Perhaps an order came in for a "pygg" jar and the potter simply misunderstood. 

As for the second word, “bank,” the O.E.D. notes that its origins lie in the Italian word for bench, banco, “was extended in Italian to that of ‘tradesman's stall, counter, money-changer's table ‘money-shop, bank,’—and so

Whoever made that first piggy bank, and why, will never be known, but the results speak for themselves. Pig-shaped banks have been made for hundreds of years and have become a popular gift for children. In the 20th century, manufacturers added a removable stopper to the bottom of many piggy banks to allow the withdrawal of funds without having to smash the pig or holding the bank upside down and trying to jiggle coins out of the slot.