Piggy banks get their name from an orange-colored clay called pygg, which was used in the Middle Ages to make jars for storing staples such as salt. Sometime in 18th-century England, these jars had morphed into hollow containers with a coin slot, often shaped like a pig to make a visual pun on the name of the clay.

To retrieve the coins inside, one would have to smash the jar, which is why so few of these early pig jars, as they were known, have survived. In more modern times, removable plugs have spared piggy banks and made them the fun collectible they are today.

In the first part of the 20th century, ceramics manufacturers as prestigious as Belleek, Delft, and Quimper made piggy banks. Numerous Staffordshire, England potteries also made piggy banks. In the 1920s, the Ellgreave Pottery Company of Burslem produced its bow-tied Mr. Pig banks. Some had coin slots on the back of the head; others had slots along the front part of the pig’s shoulder.

After the war, other Staffordshire potteries began to produce piggy banks, including Studio Szeiler, which became world famous in the 1950s for its tiny earthenware animal figurines, as well as its low-to-the-ground piggy banks, which were glazed in white with patches of tan or blue. Around the same time, George Wade & Sons created its round, Smiling Pig banks, which ranged in color from pastel green to bone white with delicate blue flowers.

Before Beswick was sold to Royal Doulton in 1969, it made a cigar-chomping high-rolling porker of a piggy bank, whose surface appeared drawn in graphite or colored pencil before being glazed. Finally, in the 1970s, James Sadler & Sons created cute little piggy banks that were decorated with kilts, overalls, and traditional caps.

Meanwhile, in The Netherlands, production potters in Makkum and Workum made souvenir piggy banks for the post-war tourist trade. Polish and Hungarian potters sold their piggy banks in department stores such as Vroom & Dreesman. Also inexpensive were the Mexican piggy banks, which were made of a very lightweight ware and featured a handle on their banks.

In the United States, piggy banks marched down the cute path and never looked back. From the 1930s on, American Bisque Company and American Pottery Company produced countless fig...

Brush Pottery was another piggy-bank producer. Known for its cookie jars and lawn ornaments, its piggy-bank heyday was the 1950 and ’60s, when it made several variations of pigs in tuxedoes. Frankoma made piggy banks, as did Gonder Art Pottery of Zanesville, Ohio—its Sheriff piggy bank with a badge that reads "Money Guard" is especially collectible. Hull Pottery made dime banks with almost-round bodies and pastel glazes, while its famous Corky banks had corks in their noses (a pull-ring in the cork allowed an impatient child to get at his or her dimes in a hurry).

Maddux of California made banks that depicted running puppies, costumed bears, and, of course, pigs, and McCoy produced banks in the shape of Santa heads (the coin slot was in his red cap). McCoy also made countless coin containers that were given away by small-town or regional banks.

Because of their cartoonish appearance, piggy banks were naturally used as three-dimensional canvases for cartoon and children’s characters. Shawnee made a Howdy Doody bank in 1950 for one year until it was ordered to cease and desist due to copyright infringement—these banks are thus highly collectible. ABC made banks depicting Fred and Wilma Flintstone, as well as many Disney characters.

There were Popeye banks, Muppets banks, Peanuts banks, and banks featuring the main characters from The Wizard of Oz. In the 1940s, Superman banks were produced; in the 1960s it was Batman and Robin’s turn. In the 1980s, McDonald’s banks ranged from Ronald’s head to a ceramic version of the trademark McDonald’s sack. And by the 1990s, video-game heroes Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Bowser would also be immortalized in ceramic piggy banks.

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