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Piggy (n.):

  • "a little pig," 1799, from pig (n.) + -y (3). Related: Piggies. Piggy bank attested from 1941 (pig bank from 1937). (Etymonline)

The origin of this expression in unclear. There are two main assumptions:

  • The name originated from the word “pygg”, which referred to an orange clay used to form all sorts of pottery items, including jars to hold loose change, which were named after the material itself. In the eighteenth century a clever potter decided to make a pig-shaped “pygg bank” as a novelty item and that soon became the piggy bank of today. (thefinancialbrand.com)

while others suggest that,

  • more likely it came about through German immigrant influence, since money boxes in the shape of pigs are known much earlier from that country and from elsewhere in continental Europe. It’s claimed that the shape was suggested through an old idea that the pig was a symbol of fertility and frugality. (Ancient Javanese ones exist, too, but knowledge of these is less likely to have travelled to the US.) (World Wide Words)

Despite the very old origin that both theories claim, the expression is relatively recent as stated by Etymonline and confirmed also by Ngram.

What is the more reliable source for the etymology of piggy bank ?

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    In Eastern Europe (Poland, Ukraine, etc) through to Austria in the west, a pig is a symbol of prosperity and fortune. A ceramic pig is a common gift to give at new year to bring someone luck. – Dan Bron Apr 12 '15 at 18:48
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Robert Hendrickson, The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins (1997) has this assessment of piggy bank:

piggy bank. Though piggy bank's popularity over the years probably has something to do with the pig's supposed greediness, the main reason the child's bank is called a piggy bank is simply because so many of the banks are made in the shape of pigs. They have been made in such shapes since at least 1909, though the first recorded use of the term piggy bank is in 1945.


Early Google Books matches for 'piggy bank'

The earliest Google Books match for "piggy bank" is Dairy Stephenson, "For Auld Lang Syne," in The Christian Register (August 5, 1920):

This argument silenced the little girl like magic. As she hopped along in the dust she hugged the thought of her pennies and nickels, safe in the piggy-bank.

The second is Katherine von der Lin, The Way of the World (1921):

In the evening the Woman worked on the caps and flowers; in the daytime she would sell them. ... How different they felt as they climbed the hill to deliver some of their orders, which resulted in a nice visit and many friendships were formed in this way. On one such trip Ronile was given a small amount of money and sh had a dozen places for it. First the Piggy Bank, which for so long had been empty, an she felt that to make the Piggy satisfied it would have to have money in its belly.

But the next are from 1941, when a whole swarm of matches appear in the search results. I should note an oddity: The Traveller's Malay Pronouncing Hand-book eleventh edition (1917, the first edition evidently was published in 1886) has the following untranslated Malay phrases:

Bahwah soorat eeny piggy Bank Blan-dah

Piggy Bank tookar note eeny am-bil ring-git

Piggy Bank tookar ring-git eeny am-bil skilling

But elsewhere the handbook notes that piggy (or pergi) can mean "go away," so these instances of "piggy Bank" are presumably just coincidental.


The 'Pete Pig Bank'

On significant antecedent of "piggy bank" may have been the "Pete" pig bank—a charity movement for the relief of lepers in the 1910s. From "For the Soldier Leper and Others," in The Continent (March 20, 1919):

Perhaps you have heard the story of Wilbur and his pig. Wilbur, a Kansas boy, was much interested when his church raised $225 to support nine lepers for a year in one of the mission stations. When some one gave Wilbur three silver dollars, he bought a little pig, saying he would sell him for money enough to support a tenth—a leper's child. The Sunday school and everybody in the town became interested, and everybody brought an ear of corn or a pail of swill to feed the pig Pete. And sure enough, Wilbur sold Pete for enough to support a little Siamese leper boy.

When that story was told at a meeting in the Sunday School Times office in Philadelphia. an arrangement was made to get another kind of pig—“Pete No. 2." a pig bank that was fed “coin in the back" instead of “corn in the ear." They say there are over 4,000 of these banks being fed now.

You can see an advertisement for a "Pete Pig Bank" in the July 1917 issue of The Nurse: A Journal of Practical Knowledge.


Earlier matches for 'pig bank'

However, pig bank goes back significantly farther than the Pete Pig Bank movement. From Sophie Swett, "The Twins' Seventy-five Cents," in Primary Education (1904):

He [Uncle James] took out two silver pieces, a half dollar and a quarter.

"What do you do with money?" asked Uncle James.

"Put it into my pig," aid Caddy.

"Into my red apple," said Lizzie. And then both sighed. The pig was a bank made of tin and so was the red apple. Caddy's cousin, James Henry, who was a big boy almost fourteen, had given her the pig because—oh, dear! because she was a little bit greedy. Aunt Mary said, at first, that he shouldn't give it to her, that it was too bad to hurt her feelings, but afterwards she said perhaps it would do her good.

It didn't hurt Caddy's feelings much to have the pig bank given her. Caddy was very plump, with red cheeks and a little pug nose, and she almost always had a good time. It did hurt Caddy's feelings to put her pennies into the bank instead of spending them for candy.

A note in Good Housekeeping (April 1904) suggests that "pig bank" and "piggy" were sometimes used interchangeably even then:

When we were married I felt that more money was spent for cigars than my husband realized, so he agreed to give me a nickel for each cigar he smoked. I bought a china pig bank at the five-and-ten-cent store and each night I presented piggy to my husband, for his supper, as we called it. In a comparatively short time the bank could hold no more, and after guessing what amount we should find, we cracked our faithful piggy, and now I have seven dollars to show for my experiment.


The later arrival of 'capitalist pig'

I also ran a Google Books search for "capitalist pig" to see whether that term might have influenced "pig bank," but the first two quotations are from the 1920s. From The Plebs (1923) [snippet view]:

When, however, one capitalist pig got stuck both our authors criticised the people who really ended the grunting—but there, logic is often not a strong point in Labour Party policies and pamphlets.

And from European Economic and Political Survey (1925), quoting Nikolai Bukharin:

"Here lies the chief danger... But we hope that our Communist god—that is the entire Communist Party—will not allow the capitalist pig to eat up the framework of the socialist edifice..."

  • They are all very interesting links, which origin of the term you think they support more? – user66974 Apr 12 '15 at 20:03
  • @Josh61: My guess is that pig-shaped banks were one of a number of shapes that coin holders had in the late 1800s and early 1900s; they may even have been the most common of these, but not (I suspect) to the point of defining the category by name. I think that "pig bank" may have achieved critical mass as a category name because of the Pete Pig movement of the 1910s, and then made the shift in name to "piggy bank" in common U.S. usage during the 1940s. – Sven Yargs Apr 12 '15 at 23:06
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OED is a reliable source and it says that pig bank is an earlier usage. It also adds that pig, meaning earthenware, might be related.

Apparently < piggy n.1 + bank n.3, on account of its shape (compare earlier pig bank n. 2), although a connection with pig n.2 also seems probable: compare pirlie pig at pirlie n. for earlier use of pig n.2 in the name of a pot used as a money box. Compare piggy n.2
In the mid 20th cent. in Scots piggy also occurs (as adjective) in the sense ‘made of earthenware’ and (as noun) in the senses ‘earthenware or clay marble’ and ‘earthenware’: see Sc. National Dict. s.v. piggie n.2, v.1

The earliest usage of piggy bank is from 1913 [OED]:

1913    Dietetic & Hygienic Gaz. Mar. 123/1   She could see everything quite plainly now; her little room,..her desk with the piggy bank on top of it.

The earliest usage of pig bank is from 1902 [OED]:

1902    Frank Leslie's Pop. Monthly Jan. 329/1   Their clay pig banks—bulky-bodied beasts, furnished with abdominal slits—were empty and echoless.

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Etymologist and researcher Barry Popik has a thorough entry on his site for piggy bank, which begins:

A “piggy bank” is a vessel where money can be inserted; it was originally shaped like a pig, but can be other animals and objects. “Pig bank” is cited in print from 1898 and became popular in the 1900s. “Piggie bank” is cited from at least 1914 and “piggy bank” from 1917.

Those cites:

  • 31 March 1898, Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ), pg. 12, col. 1:

    ...consolation, a “silver pig” bank, Mr. Jeffreys Donahue.

  • 1 September 1914, New York (NY) Herald, “Women Give Jewelry and Gems to Aid German Widows and Orphans,” pg. 15, col. 5:

    Little Annie Scheuerberg, seven years old, of No. 878 Third avenue, walked into the bureau yesterday with a package under her arm. When asked what she wanted she replied that she desired to donate her “piggie bank” to the relief fund. The little “piggie” was broken open and a handful of pennies with a few nickels and dimes rolled out on the table.

  • 11 June 1917, Baltimore (MD) Sun, pg. 12:

    There are= 108 public schools in Baltimore. In seven of them children have mobilized their “piggy-bank” savings and bought bonds.

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