If you’re reading this you already know that the humble piggy bank has an exciting digital future! But what you might not know is that the piggy bank also has a surprising and slightly mysterious history.

Piggy Banks! At Pigzbe, we love them! So we got to wondering. Who invented the Piggy Bank? Where did they come from? Who are Pigzbe’s ancestors? Our Grandparent pigs, and Great Grand Pigs? We didn’t know!

We decided to trace the family tree of our little Pigzbe all the way back to the very first piggy bank. This was a piggy mystery waiting to be solved. Pigzbe was on the case.

Coins in piggy bank

A quick Google reveals a few competing theories about the history of the piggy bank. The most popular one is that old money pots in medieval England were made from a type of clay called Pygge. Over time as the English language evolved, this Pygge became Pig and later Piggy, and the pig shape followed as a natural progression.

Sounds reasonable right? Case closed, you might think. But you would be wrong. Other blogs might stop there. But Pigzbe goes deeper and gets to the truth.

In fact, that story which has been reproduced dozens of times around the internet is a fraud. Every single post is traceable back to one of those “Life in 1500” spoof emails that circulated so widely in the 1990s ( old enough to remember them, so of the Pigzbe team are!)

So what is the truth? In fact, it is even stranger than fiction

Smashing Piggy Bank

The first piggy bank

The history of the piggy bank starts in distant Java in the 14th century. The Majapahit Empire made the first piggy banks, as a home for brass coins with square holes that the Balinese still use for making offerings.

They have been found in so many sizes that it is clear they were immensely popular. Visit the National Museum on Jalan Merdeka and several are on display. But why a pig? Turns out a boar is to blame.

Celengan piggy bank

The ancestor of our Pigzbe is technically not a pig at all but a Javanese boar called the Celengan.

The link goes far back into the Indonesian language. Cèlèngan -literally “likeness of a wild boar” is also used to mean “savings” and in the context of domestic banks.

So, the form of the boar of pig probably relates to wealth associated with the ownership of livestock and it secondary use as a store of value. OINK!

Once filled, the only way to open Majapahit banks was to break them open. It would be several hundreds of years before a piggy bank with a replaceable plug in the bottom would be invented.

Majapahit piggy bank

So we have tracked down Pigzbe’s oldest ancestor — and it is actually a boar! But we still don’t know how the piggybank made the jump into a pink pig in every kid’s bedroom!

The piggy bank goes global

All over the world, and especially in Asia, people had the same idea. Every great fortune starts with the first penny and putting money into a box for safekeeping is a universal behaviour.

The oldest Western find of a money box dates from the 2nd century BC in what was the Greek city of Ionia. They were the shape of a miniature Greek temple with a slit in the pediment for coins.

Roman Vase Money Box

Closer to home people have also found Roman money boxes, dating from the 2nd or 3rd century, and Terracotta Money Pots in Nepal and China from around the same time. They share features, like a slot in the top and no hole in the bottom, but they were not piggy banks.

So how did the modern piggy bank end up as such a popular part of common culture? The mystery is we still don’t know!

Manekinekos piggy bank

By the 19th century China saw huge mass production of the famous Manekinekos: the beckoning cat used as a good luck charm. Often they had a piggy bank element — maybe that had something to do with it?

The idea may also have travelled to Europe via China and the Silk Road. As art history often teaches us, visual concepts often migrate far from their point of origin in mysterious ways.

What we do know is that by the late 19th-century piggy banks were being produced in places like Germany on a huge scale, in a huge range of shapes and sizes. The pig we know and love has become a common form for a ‘still bank’ as collectors call them.

The modern piggy bank

The term ‘piggy bank’ is first recorded in print in the 1930s in the USA, but the first ‘modern pigs’ were made in Europe, probably Germany or Austria.

So, we know that the closest relative of Pigzbe was created by European toy makers. It is likely these Europeans, who emigrated to the USA who took the Piggy bank with them.

Pretty soon the piggy was everywhere. By the turn of the 20th century the Pig had become a universal symbol of the savings bank. For the first time ever the phrase entered popular recorded culture. The term ‘piggy bank’ is first recorded in print in the 1930s in the USA, but the first ‘modern pigs’ were made in Europe, probably Germany or Austria.

So, we know that the closest relative of Pigzbe was created by European toy makers. It is likely these Europeans, who emigrated to the USA who took the Piggybank with them.

New technology saw the creation of elaborate mechanical banks, often depicting historical or legendary events they perform an action when a coin was dropped into a slot and a lever was pulled. By now they had developed a stopper being so they could be used again and again.

By the end of the millennium, the movie Toy Story immortalised the piggy bank as the character Hamm.

The Future

Coming closer to the present day, digital Piggy banks began to bleep and bloop into the world, with sounds, digital displays and in some cases even Wi-fi connections!

But these piggy banks still take cash through slot in the top and follow the form factor of the big bulky piggy banks of old.

These pigs have one foot in the future but are stuck in the past. Something is missing.

The next big jump for the piggy bank it the jump into the digital world. And Pigzbe is here to take that leap with all four of our piggy legs!

Pigzbe is the piggy bank 2.0 — a digital piggy bank that teaches you about money while you save.

21st century piggy bank

Meet Pigzbe: what the piggy bank did next

The thing is, piggy banks move with the times, they always have. From shape, size, material and design, they reflect the world around them, Pigzbe is the natural successor to the lineage of piggy banks, and our vision for Pigzbe is to bring together the best of the features of our ancestor piggy banks.

Piggy banks through history

In a world of digital money, contactless payments and V-Bucks ( from Fortnite, guys!) kids are interacting with cashless and less. But they also need to learn those same lessons of dropping money in a slot, saving up the efforts of hard work and finally getting the reward.

With our digital piggy bank, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors piggy banks, all the way back to Java in the 14th century AD.