In the Middle Ages when metals were expensive, potters used an orange-colored clay called “pygg” to make hollowed earthenware jars and other vessels for people to stash away their spare change and other valuables. As the English language evolved, the words “pygg” and “pig” came to be pronounced the same way, and according to “The Accidental Invention: The Origin of Piggy Banks” in The Financial Brand newsletter (June 4, 2012), this triggered the popular casting of coin holders in the form of pigs.
Ceramic and porcelain piggy banks were some of the earliest types of money boxes to be produced. And because vintage specimens had no opening at the bottom, the clay vessel often had to be shattered to retrieve the saved coins, hence the expression “breaking the bank.” Some serious etymologists disagree, however, arguing that this phrase originated from the practice of medieval Venetian bankers who conducted their lending activities whilst sitting on benches (“banco” in Italian), and who eventually went out to business and broke these benches (“banco rotta,” from which we derive the English “bankrupt”).
While the traditional Filipino alkansya (from the Spanish “alcancia,” or money box) was usually a dried coconut shell or a bamboo tube, the 1960’s saw local financial institutions distribute metal coin banks to their customers to promote savings, to provide a gift in return for opening an account, or to celebrate anniversaries and the Christmas season. And in many instances, these cast-iron repositories of loose change depicted ingenious designs from highly detailed molds based on the ornate styles of the banks’ buildings – so called “architectural coin banks” – many of which were located in Binondo and Santa Cruz. Here’s a nostalgic trip along the memory lanes of old Manila.
The Don Roman Santos Building, which housed the Santos-owned Prudential Bank and Trust Co. (founded in 1952), was a neoclassical edifice in Santa Cruz that was originally built in 1894 as the main office of the Monte de Piedad Savings Bank. Used as an American Red Cross hospital during the Liberation of Manila, it was acquired by Prudential in 1954 from Dona Magdalena Hemady, who had purchased the building in 1944, and used as Prudential Bank’s headquarters until the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) bought it in 2005. This building now serves as the Santa Cruz branch of BPI.
BPI itself started life in 1851 as El Banco Espanol Filipino de Isabel II, the oldest financial institution in the Philippines. A string of mergers with Commercial Bank & Trust Co., CityTrust Banking Corp., Far East Bank & Trust Co., and Prudential Bank has made it one of the largest in terms of market capitalization. This metal coin bank issued in the 1960’s may have been a replica of its Plaza Cervantes office in Binondo, reputedly the same site where El Banco Espanol was founded.
The Philippine Trust Co. (now Philtrust Bank) was established during the American era in 1916 as the first bank to engage in the trust, guardianship, and estate administration business. Counting General Douglas MacArthur and the US Veterans Bureau as among its first customers, the bank’s first office was at Calle T. Pinpin in Escolta. This metal coin bank may have been modeled after a five-story building it erected in 1950 near the Santa Cruz Church in Plaza Goiti (now Plaza Lacson) at the foot of the MacArthur Bridge. Philtrust today also occupies the Art Nouveau Mariano Uy Chaco Building along Quintin Paredes in Binondo, completed in 1914 and designed by American architect Samuel Roswell.
Continental Bank, founded by Vicente Tan in 1963, was closed by the Central Bank in 1974 during a run of some small- and mid-sized banks at the time. It later re-opened in 1977 as the International Corporate Bank of the Herdis Group (in turn, later acquired by Union Bank). During its heyday, however, it held office at No. 434 Rosario St. (later re-named Quintin Paredes), and while its building was not likely shaped like a flying saucer, its metal coin bank evoked a “global” reach.
The Philippine National Bank was founded in 1916, a state-owned institution meant to replace the Agricultural Bank. Its first office was located at the Masonic Temple along Escolta, but in 1966, it transferred to its own edifice – designed in the so-called International Style by architect Carlos Arguelles at the old site of the Crystal Arcade. In the 1950’s, PNB commissioned the Vicente Zamora Mfg. Co., one of the finest metal engravers of the period, to cast a metal coin bank with a pinkish hue.
The same engraver produced this metal coin bank for the Postal Savings Bank, which traces its roots to 1906. Primarily established to provide financial services to rural areas, it underwent a series of closures and re-openings until it was finally converted to the digital bank Overseas Filipino Bank. Now headquartered at Liwasang Bonifacio, the bank similarly gave away this now-vintage promotional coin bank in the 1950’s.
Founded in 1959, the Philippine National Cooperative Bank – eventually liquidated in 1972, with its assets transferred to PNB – produced its own zinc coin bank in the 1960’s. Echoing the theme of savings at the grassroots level, its promotional item was modeled after the quintessentially indigenous “bahay kubo” (or nipa hut), an iconic image of Filipino rural culture. This specimen portrays the “bayanihan” spirit of communal cooperation as exemplified by townmates assisting in relocating a neighbor’s home.
Was the use of vessels and receptacles for stashing coins a 20th-century phenomenon? Perhaps not. In the Second Book of Kings (12:9), the priest Johoiada, consolidating all the individual contributions to fund the repair of the Temple, “took a chest and bore a hole in its lid and put it beside the altar…and the priests who guarded the threshold put in all the money which was brought into the house of the Lord.” Written between 561 – 538 B.C., this narrative provides perhaps one of the earliest examples of a coin bank.
Yet in the New Testament, Luke records in 21:1-4 that Jesus was less impressed with the gifts of the wealthy for the treasury, than He was with the two coins of the poor widow, for the rich offered out of their surplus, while the old woman “out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” No wonder Jesus remarked “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”