Pigs seem like a funny shape for a bank to be fashioned after. Pigs don’t save anything like squirrels do. They aren’t symbols of power or wealth. So, why would the humble pig end up as the symbol of saving money?
Back as far as the Middle Ages, people were known to have piggy banks. Because metal was quite precious back then, the average person couldn’t afford to have a bank made out of metal. So, instead, they would choose the next most readily available material—clay. Orange clay that was used to make pottery and dishware during the Middle Ages was called “pygg.” Pygg was used all over Europe for everything from vases and plates to cups and serving bowls. So, it’s only natural that the clay would also be used to fashion banks.
The story goes that as time went on when a craftsman was asked to make a pygg bank, he misunderstood and made a bank in the shape of a pig. The rest is history.
Today, piggy banks can fetch big dollars at auctions and in antique markets. The pig has now been elevated to an art form. Piggy banks come in ornately decorated porcelain styles as well as metal, wooden, and tin styles.
You can find a number of vintage collectible piggy banks online at sites like eBay.com and etsy.com. Collectors now see the value and beauty of the pig in bank form. Some fetch as high as $450 or more at auction. Depending on the shape, size, age and condition of a piggy bank, it may be classified as a valuable antique.
The most rare and valuable piggy banks from yesteryear are the cast iron type. These piggy banks are heavy and were often decoratively painted. A cast iron bank in good condition with the original paint intact can bring in hundreds of dollars. Other cast iron bank shapes that collectors look for are bears, human figures, cats, dogs, and rabbits.
Next time you are out at a flea market or tag sale, keep your eyes peeled for piggy banks. You may be able to pick up a pig for a bargain price. Start your own collection and you will be in good company. Entire web sites and books are devoted to the collection of piggy banks. You can peruse photos of the earliest piggy banks on record and start to train your eye to pick originals out of a crowd.
It’s fun to collect piggy banks as well as to admire them from afar. If you’re thinking of getting your first vintage piggy bank, be sure it’s in good condition. If you are planning on using it for savings, be certain you can access the money without “breaking the bank.” The term comes from the days when a person would have to smash their glass piggy bank with a hammer to access the coins they had saved. If you don’t want to damage your new find to get your change out, choose one with a cork or other stopper that allows you access when you need it.