In addition to Walter P. Chrysler's automotive company and landmark New York skyscraper, the industrialist was also known for his collection of toy banks. In 1938, he told a hobby magazine that he saw the coin receptacles as a "symbol in the game of life." How that symbol came to take the shape of a pig, however, has long been disputed by historians. Some point to the "pygg" clay commonly used to make ceramics in medieval Europe; others refer to the Victorian association of plump pigs and prosperity. But it wasn't until the conclusion of World War II that argyrothecology—the tongue-twisting term for collecting money banks—became a widespread trend. "The craze really took off because people finally had more income," says Corine Wegener, curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, whose toy-bank collection numbers more than 1,110. Eager to attract new customers (and their new money), banks offered these mini depositories, shaped as animals or buildings, as promotional gifts. The banks found business, and customers found a hobby. "What started as a toy for kids grew into an adult activity," Wegener says. Penny-pinching: It's cross-generational!
A version of this article appears in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company.