Why Do We Have Piggy Banks? | Piggy Bank Origins

Maybe you had one as a kid when your parents were trying to teach you how to save. Maybe you just had one to keep money in, or even have one now as a rainy-day kind of thing. Honestly, it might not even have been shaped like a pig–but it definitely served the same purpose. But have you ever thought about why they’re pigs and not like a rooster, or something? Why do we have piggy banks?

Pyggs Older Than You Think

While not necessarily a pig yet, the very oldest forms of “little box to put money in” date back to the 2nd century BC. At least in terms of the West. It was modeled after a Greek temple, but still had the whole slot-to-put-coin-in thing going for it. When you think about it, it tracks that some kind of “money box” would be a super old invention–people needed a place to put their money at home. 

Metal was expensive, and people often put their coins into “orange clay” jars–the ceramic was called “pygg.” One theory holds that when “pygg” made its way into the English lexicon, “pygg” eventually evolved into “pig.” So aptly named “pygg banks” would be easily mistaken for “pig banks” and now you have a little ceramic pig sitting on your shelf.

Except this is a theory that’s just bandied around frequently as fact. It doesn’t seem like the true origin of the term “piggy bank” is that cut and dry. 

Tracing Etymology

One of the earliest recorded uses of “pig bank” (which is close enough to “piggy bank”) dates back to the 1903 An American Girl in Mexico. The term “pig bank” is used to describe a souvenir.

“A girl had a stall where she sold only little red and blue pig banks, and remembered me always with such a bright smile, that I almost became bankrupt buying her little pigs. There are few of my friends in the United States who have not a pig bank.” ~An American Girl in Mexico, Elizabeth Visere McGary.

A 1900 publication in The Oregonian also puts up a “pig bank” as a novelty. They described it as something where you’d have to kill the pig to get your money. Which… is accurate for piggy banks without those stoppers we guess.

The assertion that “pygg” becoming “pig” eventually led to piggy banks may not be super concrete, but there are other linguistic roots for piggy banks that get thrown around. The etymology of “piggy” can bring us to the Scottish “pirlie pig” dating back to 1799. Pirlie pigs were money boxes made of earthenware. Earthenware pigs in Middle English also date back to the 1450s.

See if you know where all the normal pigs are here.