I still recall the very first piggy bank that I ever got. It was a cheap little plastic container shaped like a pig that I could put a few cents into from time to time. As I grew up, it filled up, and before long I could spend the money that I had managed to save. But as we do, I lost mine, and had to get a new one, which meant that I had to spend some of the money that I had saved. Luckily enough for me, my school teacher at the time got us to make a new one out of a balloon and paper mache. Once again, it ended up being shaped like a pig. Even at this young age it got me thinking. Why shape a money box like a pig, and why call it a piggy bank? It’s a really stupid thing to call something that you put money into. But ignorantly happy that I was saving money in an artificial animal, it wasn’t until very recently that I discovered that piggy banks get their name from clay. What? That’s what I thought, but we will explain further.
How is it that piggy banks get their name from clay, when pigs are an animal, and clay is well, clay? Well, we know and get to experience the evolution of language all of the time, and this is where they got their name from, not the animal at all.
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Life was pretty tough back in the dark ages. There were no video games to keep children entertained, and no television to prevent couples from building families of innumerable size. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the doctors were just well trained barbers, and a cough could end up being the plague. It was a really shitty time to live. And you know what, as if things weren’t bad enough for the peasants already, there was practically no disposable income in a household, if you were lucky enough to have a house that is. It was during these dark times, in the deepest of poverty stricken eras that the first piggy banks came about.
OK, so we know that during the 15th century money was very tight, and plastic was so futuristic that it wasn’t even invented yet. If you found yourself with a little spare change you had to be able to store it somewhere, and iron and steel were way too expensive for common peasants to afford. So what people did was make money storage jars out of the same abundantly affordable clay that they made their plates and bowls out of. This clay was called pygg. If the lady of the house found that they had a few spare coins they would put them into their jar made out of pygg clay, or their pygg bank.
Over time people started calling their clay banking jars pyggy banks, and soon piggy banks. During the nineteenth century, when pottery makers received orders for pygg banks, they would make them in the shape of pigs. This both made sense, and would have delighted the children, and probably the parents of the house.
Over the course of the next two hundred years the original meaning of their name was forgotten. The adopted shape of the first bank that many a young children around the world use was soon thought to be the reason for the unusual name.