Porcellino means piglet in Italian and there has been a bronze sculpture at Mercato Nuovo since at least the early seventeenth century, although this is a modern copy from 2008. The sculpture is part of a fountain and initially this was part of the system to get clean water for the market traders.
The original sculpture by Pietro Tacca is now safely in the Museo Bardini and it was considered good luck, and would ensure a return to Florence, for anyone who put a coin in the sculpture’s mouth and then rubbed his snout. From the state of Porcellino’s snout, it’s clear that very many people take part in this tradition, although I decided against it as there was a queue and I had more museums to get to.
Actually, I rather suspect that some clever market manager at some stage many centuries ago thought that this was a marvellous idea, get people to come to the market, shove coins through their sculpture and then tell them that it’s good luck. I suspect that the people with the most good luck here are the market managers, but nonetheless, it’s popular with children at least. Incidentally, it’s only really those who put coins which fall through the grate who get the good luck and by fortunate chance, it’s the heaviest coins which are more likely to do this. To their credit though, the money is today given to charity, to the Opera della Divina Provvidenza Madonnina del Grappa, so it’s all in a good cause.