Collecting Advice

Collecting Piggy Banks - A Beginners Guide

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History of Piggy Banks

You may be asking “Why are banks shaped like pigs?” Well, there are two theories regarding the origin of the pig image in banks. One theory states that the pig is a derivative of pygg, orange clay pottery that was used during the Middle Ages for jars that stored household staples such as salt. Sometime during the 18th-century in England, these jars began to evolve into hollow containers with a slot, in the shape of a pig making a visual pun on the clay’s name. Another theory comes from the fact that in many societies the pig was thought of like a family's "food bank" as well as a symbol of good luck.

With early banks to retrieve the coins within the jar would have to be smashed, which explains why so few of these very old pig jars have survived. Most modern banks have a removable plug (often rubber) which save the piggy banks from destruction making them a fun collectible today.

At the beginning of the 20th century, prestigious ceramics manufacturers such as Belleek, Delft, and Quimper began to make piggy banks. Several potteries in Staffordshire, England also made piggy banks including the Ellgreave Pottery Company of Burslem who produced a well-known bow-tied Mr. Pig banks. Some of these well-dressed pigs had their coin slots on the back of their heads while others had their slots along the front of the pig’s lapel.

During the post-war years, potters in the Netherlands, specifically in Makkum and Workum, designed piggy banks as souvenirs for the tourist market. Potters in Poland and Hungary began to sell their piggy banks in department stores such as Vroom & Dreesman around this same time, while Mexico produced inexpensive and lightweight ceramic piggy banks featuring a distinctive handle on their banks.

As for the United States, the piggy bank tradition took the cute path and never really deviated. Starting in the 1930s American Bisque Company and American Pottery Company produced numerous figural piggy banks using slip-mold techniques. In the 1950s and 1960s, cartoon characters were used as a fun way to persuade kids to save their allowance. Being one of the most popular newspaper comics of the time, “Peanuts” by Charles Schultz inspired some 40 different “Peanuts” banks, including a ceramic bank that depicted Snoopy lying on his back on top of a hot dog.

Tips on Buying Piggy Banks

1. Do some research before buying

A good first step when searching for banks online is to begin searching online auction sites and sorting the results by the highest price first. This technique will help you become aware of which banks and manufacturers are the best-selling, and which ones will be the best investment.

You will also want to determine what type of banks you would like to collect. Since piggy banks come in a wide variety of sizes, styles, and materials you may want to narrow your collection to a specific type of bank. The choice between mechanical piggy banks and still banks is also a choice that should be looked into. While it is not necessary to limit your collection to any one area you may find a natural affinity to one type over the other.

Guides such as Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 2015 can be a helpful resource when buying and selling piggy banks with a view towards investment. There are also organizations such as the Still Bank Collectors Club of America, which has an annual convention every year in June that includes a members-only auction of over 400 banks.

2. 'Still' vs. mechanical piggy banks

If you are interested in the traditional "still" piggy bank, the cast-iron banks manufactured between the 1870s and the early 1930s are thought to be the most valuable from an investment standpoint.

Early cast-iron banks were made by hardware foundries which were often out of business by the turn of the century. Some later cast-iron banks were manufactured by foundries as a way to diversify their offerings and stay in business during the lean years of the Great Depression, but by the mid-1930s, cast-iron still-bank production had come to an end.

For those interested in mechanical banks, a good place to start is with the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America. Their online scrapbook contains extensive information on the history of mechanical banks including old advertisements, manuscripts, and photographs that can be searched by keyword. In order to get a feel for what appraisers are looking for in mechanical banks, a visit to the Antiques Roadshow website where you can watch videos of banks being appraised.

3. Define your budget

The more effort you put into building your bank collection, the more you'll get out of it. As with any type of collecting pursuit, a good rule of thumb is to buy the best you can afford. Since the condition is often the main arbiter of value, keep in mind you can upgrade your pieces as you find better quality items.

If you don't have a large budget to spend right away though, don't worry. If an investment is your aim then time will be on your side as long as you have the patience to wait out the market.

Still-bank prices, principally for banks in excellent condition, are several times higher today than they were 20 to 30 years ago. As these pieces become more and scarcer the value increases.

4. Know where to look

Years ago, collectible banks were generally easy to find but these days the task has become a bit tougher.

Still banks, in particular, are there to be found, but not nearly in the quantities they once were. Many high-quality pieces are already in collections but that doesn't mean there still aren’t some great finds to be made. Start by searching through auction houses that specialize in piggy banks and toys. Other locations that have great potential are estate sales, flea markets, and local second hand shops.

Online sources such as Craigslist, Etsy, and eBay can be a good source as well, but be cautious when buying online. Make sure that you know what you're looking for and be on the lookout for reproductions, repairs, and repaints. If you have questions about an items condition or provenance do not hesitate to question the seller. Reputable sellers will welcome all inquiries and strive to be transparent in their dealings.