Sometimes I think I am losing it. Such was the case last week as I was in the early stages of writing this column. After writing the first several paragraphs, I searched the internet for related material that could be useful in addressing my subject. I came across a piece that had been posted more than 10 years ago that was right on point with my subject. As it seemed familiar, I checked out the writer only to discover it had been written by me.
As I was well into the thought processes for writing this column, I decided to continue and allow us to revisit this subject. I also decided to continue down this path as a reminder that most of us, at a very young age and regardless of family socio-economic status, were taught about the importance of saving money. So, what vehicle was used to introduce you to saving money? It was the piggy, something almost every little boy and girl had, back in the day.
The piggy bank was the first introduction to saving money for many. This introduction was usually from mothers or fathers who told you, as a very young child, about the importance of saving money. Will you ever forget, “a penny saved is a penny earned?” For many of us, the piggy bank was received as a Christmas, Christening or birthday gift.
The so-called piggy bank was not always in the shape of a pig. Conversations with several friends and colleagues indicated that their piggy banks were sometimes old mason jars. To this day, some have various types of banks, mason jars included, that are referred to as their piggy bank. Today, large liquor bottles are often used by some to save coins. However, the history of the piggy bank, and why these banks were made in the image of a pig, is worth visiting.
A Jan. 18, 2014, article in College Weekend titled “Why Do We Put Money into Piggy Banks” by Stacey Sklepinski of the University of Michigan provides some insight into the background of the piggy bank. She points out that the most common legend about the creation of the piggy bank dates back to the 15th century. She indicates that clay called pygg was used to make items such as plates, bottles and vessels. At the time when people started to throw their spare coins into these types of pygg containers, they were referred to as pygg banks. This article goes on to point out that due to a misinterpretation of the word pygg as pig, potters began to construct containers, in the shape of pigs, to hold money that was being saved. Thus, the piggy bank allegedly was invented.
I hasten to point out that there is considerable disagreement regarding the legitimacy of this account as indicated by Sklepinski. Some questioned if pygg actually existed as a type of clay back then. Some dictionaries list pygg as a variation of the word pig which referred to an item made of earthenware, a type of ceramic material. What is not clear is how pygg became a term for earthenware products. Related stories can be found on several websites and in various publications, yet, various internet postings refute such stories. They point out that there is no record of a clay called pygg, in orange or any other color at that time.
Early banks were not in the shape of a pig. Some of you know this as you have had and still have banks that you refer to as piggy banks, but they are far cries from the image of pigs. Today, some of you recall having, or perhaps have, banks in the form of buildings, radios or other images. Some of you may even have one of the early cast iron mechanical banks; some that were demeaning to Black Americans. Other readers may have a piggy bank that was in the form of an automobile, an alarm clock, a hand grenade, a music box, a train, or a cat. Then others may have piggy banks that were given out by stores to serve advertising for the store. Many of you have simply resorted to using jars, potato chip and pretzel cans, bowls, cigar boxes, tubes, or anything in which you can place your coins. These are a far cry from the type of piggy banks children had, back in the day.
Can you remember your first piggy bank? While the types you had may have evolved over the years, I would bet that your first piggy bank was plastic, shaped like a pig, and with little or no markings. Pictures I have seen of older piggy banks reflect banks that had been elaborately decorated. Many did not have a stopper or plug on the bottom for getting money when needed. How many of you recall struggling to shake coins out of the slot on your piggy bank? When you became frustrated, often you placed a knife in the slot and manipulated the bank to get coins to come out. If this effort failed, or in times that you were in a hurry and did not have time to take monies out through the slot, you simply got a hammer. You know what happened at this point — your piggy bank ended up in tiny little pieces and ultimately in the trash. This action dictated that you secure a new piggy bank.
While piggy banks are generally associated with children, let me suggest that you are never too old to embrace a piggy bank, regardless of whether it is shaped like a pig or some other object or image, to save money for that rainy day. Why not go out and purchase a piggy bank or dig your old one out of storage? It will be useful and will resurrect fond memories of how we used piggy banks to save money, back in the day.
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