The Piggy Bank and Its Alternatives in Ancient Cultures

The Piggy Bank and Its Alternatives in Ancient Cultures

There’s a good chance that as a child, you had a piggy bank. These small, pig-shaped containers are meant to teach us about saving money instead of needlessly spending it. They’re popular in many countries and have quite an interesting history. In this article, we’ll have a closer look at the piggy bank and its origins. Have a read to learn more about the piggy bank, and you may be surprised by what you find out.

The Concept of the Piggy Bank

Piggy banks are containers made out of porcelain or any kind of ceramic material. They’re usually in the shape of a pig (hence their name) and are used to store money. There’s a slot at the top that money can be deposited through. Coins are mostly used as the slots are designed with coins in mind, though sometimes people shove notes through as well. 

Piggy banks are mostly used to teach children the basics of saving money. The idea is that instead of spending money on things they don’t necessarily need, children store money in their piggy bank to be used at a later date for more important things.

Most piggy banks have a rubber plug located underneath on the pig’s belly. This can be removed and replaced at any time, so you can withdraw money from the piggy bank whenever you wish. 

However, there are some that don’t have a plug of any kind. The only opening they have is the slot through which money is deposited. For this kind of piggy bank, you can only get hold of your money by taking the bank and smashing it. People usually wait until the piggy bank’s just about full before smashing it; some decide to wait until the money’s needed for an emergency or special occasion.

There are even some more modern piggy banks that are electronic. Most of these actually resemble bank safes, not pigs, and are designed to work just like mini-safes, in that you can only access the money inside if you enter the correct password. 

Where Did the Piggy Bank Come From?

The concept of storing money in a container to save it has been around for thousands of years. While these days money containers are most often designed to resemble pigs, they haven’t always been associated with the farm animal. In fact, they’ve come in a range of different forms and guises over the years.

The earliest known example of a money container dates back to the second century BC. An object shaped like a small temple with a slit in the pediment was found at the site of Priene, an ancient Greek colony located in what is today western Turkey. More examples of ancient money containers dating back nearly two millennia or so have been found throughout Italy, as well as in Germany and Great Britain. 

However, the oldest pig-shaped money containers we currently have date back to the twelfth century. They were found on the Indonesian island of Java. There have been no such containers found dating back any earlier. The ones that were found on Java kind of resembled boars and what’s interesting is that in the Indonesian language, the word ‘cèlèngan’, which translates as ‘the likeness of a wild boar’, can also mean ‘money savings’ and also ‘piggy bank’.

It’s believed that in the west, the piggy bank as we know it today originated in Medieval times. People in those times would often use jars made from clay to store money in. Metals were too expensive, so clay was preferred as a cheaper substitute. A particular type of clay, the orange-coloured pygg, was commonly used to make these containers. 

It seems that the term ‘piggy bank’ actually comes from the word ‘pygg’ and not the fact that some containers were made to resemble pigs. Somewhere along the line, the term ‘pygg bank’ or ‘pyggy bank’ became the main phrase used to refer to any kind of money container.

Over the last few centuries, especially, money containers were produced to resemble pigs as a sort of pun on the term ‘pyggy bank’. They gradually became known as ‘piggy banks’. The earliest known use of the term ‘pig bank’ dates back to 1903. The term was used to describe a Mexican souvenir in the book An American Girl in Mexico. Presumably by the turn of the century, piggy banks were fairly widespread. 

So, even though some money containers in the past were shaped like pigs, the piggy banks we have today didn’t properly become a thing as such until around a century or so ago. The word for the type of clay used to make money containers sounds like ‘pig’, and so a large percentage of money containers ended up being shaped like pigs. 

The Piggy Bank and Its Alternatives in Ancient Cultures

The Piggy Bank Today

Piggy banks are commonly used by people all over the world. Children are encouraged to use them by their parents to get them used to save money, and adults who used them as kids continue to use them to help them with their savings. 

Of course, not every kind of money container is designed to look like a pig. Many of them are, in keeping with the popular concept of a piggy bank, though there are lots of other designs these days that can be seen. Some are just plain boxes with little or no theming, while others are themed to things such as other animals, bank safes or even well-known IPs (some feature characters from movies and TV shows, for example). Some people use things such as jars or boxes to store their money in. 

Perhaps the most famous piggy bank is Hamm from the Toy Story films. He’s voiced by John Ratzenberger and appears in all four films in the franchise. He made his debut in Toy Story (1995) and most recently appeared in Toy Story 4 2019; he’s also appeared in various other Toy Story-related media, including short films and even theme park rides.

The Future of the Piggy Bank

Children (and adults) will always need to understand and practise the concept of saving money. Society, in general, seems to be gradually moving towards using physical money less and digital money more. A growing number of us are buying and selling things without using notes or coins; more of our payments are carried out online. 

Even though the lesson the piggy bank can teach is important, there’s less of a demand for physical money containers today than there was several years ago. The demand is likely to go down even more in the near future as more of us use physical money less and rely on digital transactions instead. 

Even if society does go completely cashless at some point, the need to save and to encourage others to save will always exist. If there’s no physical money (or at least very little of it), people will still be familiar with piggy banks, even if they’re a thing of the past – kind of how people know all about video cassettes, even though they’re pretty much redundant these days. 

Piggy Banks in Gaming

Online casino games, especially slots, feature just about everything since they come in practically every kind of theme imaginable. Some slots, of course, feature piggy banks prominently. A good example is Smash the Pig slots from IGT. Its symbols include piggy banks and hammers, and there’s a bonus round where you smash piggy banks to win special prizes. 

Some other examples include:

  • Piggy Bank by Play’n Go
  • Raid the Piggy Bank by Gluck Games 
  • Fortune Piggy Bank by KA Gaming

Most slots that feature piggy banks are themed to money in some way and often feature coins, notes and currency signs as symbols on the reels. They come with all sorts of special features, including free spins and bonus rounds, and offer special symbols such as wilds and scatters to boost your chances of winning. 

It’s ironic that piggy banks are all about saving money, yet they appear in casino games, which encourage you to spend money. If you do play a slot themed to piggy banks or any kind of casino game for that matter, remember not to overdo it and stick to your budget.


The concept of setting money aside and saving it for a later occasion isn’t new – people have been doing this for centuries. What’s curious, however, is that a pretty large number of money containers are designed to resemble pigs. While money containers can come in all sorts of forms, the piggy bank remains the most popular. Many children the world over are gifted a piggy bank and encouraged to understand how to save money. Many continue to use piggy banks or similar sorts of containers throughout their lives. If you’re not already using one, why not start? Buy yourself a pig-shaped one and stick with tradition, or purchase any other sort of container. Get into the habit of saving and one day you’ll reap the benefits!