by Michael Kabel
He sits on your shelf, holding money in his big round tummy.
His smile lights up his round, jolly face.
He's part of a tradition going back six hundred years!
Possibly the most ubiquitous childhood learning tool and bedroom decoration ever, the piggy bank's humble origins date to a time before real banks existed, and the English language was much different than today.
The piggy bank got its start in Europe during the Middle Ages, when the term "pygg" referred to a kind of soft clay commonly used to make household objects such as pots, bowls, and wash basins. Before the creation of modern-style banking institutions, people commonly stored their money at home, sometimes making a special "pygg jar" to contain their loose coins. By the 18th Century, English as a language had evolved the spelling to "pig," and the name slowly changed to "pig bank."
Years later, the pig bank became popular with small children. Soon, the clay banks were sculpted into friendly pig shapes. Some toy historians suggest the round, curving shapes were easy to hold and carry by small hands, while its friendly demeanor would charm children raised on nursery rhymes like Mother Goose and Old McDonald.
Once the name "piggy bank" came to suggest the item's theme instead of its shape, manufacturers began producing piggy banks from a variety of ingredients, including ceramic, porcelain, and plaster. In the 20th Century, the piggy bank earned respect as an educational tool for children learning to set aside money or practice budgeting their allowance or other income.
During the early days of the piggy bank's popularity, the standard piggy bank was solid with no opening from which to retrieve the money placed inside. Owners would simply smash the pig open, often destroying it as a result. In recent years, however, producers have begun including a small opening in the pig's belly, usually stopped with a cork or plastic cap, so that any money inside can be removed without damaging the bank's shape. Some piggy banks now even include electronic features that tally the bank's holdings.
Creating individual piggy banks is regarded now as a fine example of arts and crafts and usually involves the painting and decoration of pre-sculpted piggy banks. While not generally ever considered a fine art, some graphics artists have recently displayed elegantly painted and decorated piggy banks in their exhibitions.
Piggy banks are usually small enough to fit on a child's bedroom dresser or desk, remaining large enough - about the size of a loaf of bread- to comfortably store a good amount of coins. Some larger piggy banks have been constructed, including one over three feet tall that was designed and painted to resemble the cartoon character Porky Pig.
Other cultures have their own forms of piggy banks, too. In Japan, the Maneki Neko, or money cat, is often placed in the home to help bring good luck and fortune to the household. Maneki Neko's are often used as a kind of piggy bank, too, holding loose change and money for the family.