Friday, January 11, 2013

The Origins of the Piggy Bank

Here's a fun one.  The blog of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has a short post on the history of "piggy banks."  As it turns out, they originally had nothing to do with pigs:

Looking far back, all the way to the Middle Ages, people were in many ways very similar to those living today. Households acquired items of value, including currency. In those times, when the question of where to keep money arose, people didn’t typically have the option of a local bank. Instead, the answer oftentimes involved keeping their valuables in a vessel made of pygg. 

What was pygg, exactly? Pygg, a word with Old English origins, was a type of dense orange clay, popular in Western Europe for its use in the creation of a wide variety of containers, jars, and cups. The common name for these containers was “pygg jars.” As the pygg jars were fairly ubiquitous, they were used for storing a variety of items, including money.

     The transition of usage of the phrase “pygg jars” to that of “piggy banks” arose from a natural evolution in the English language. People continued to call their money-saving containers “pygg jars,” and then “pig banks,” well after they were made out of other materials. Eventually, the clay origins were forgotten, the meaning of “pig” in this instance shifted to that of the animal, and craftspeople created piggy banks shaped like pigs as we know them today.

HT: Andrew Sullivan