The mystique and rarity surrounding the “three hole spade” (san kong bu 三孔布) is such that many Chinese coin collectors consider it to be “the king of ancient coins”.
Even though catalogs of ancient Chinese coins have existed for almost 900 years, “three hole spades” from the Warring States period (475-221 BC) are so rare that their existence was essentially unknown until about 200 years ago.
The shape of the three hole spade is based on an ancient farming implement similar to a shovel. The three holes distinguish it from similar forms of spade money of the time.
The three hole spade shown here was sold on April 23, 2013 at an online auction (华夏古泉网) for approximately US$402,675 (RMB 2,475,000).
Three hole spades have the name of the city where they were cast inscribed on their obverse side.
Yang Jian was a city in the State of Zhao (赵国) during the Warring States period.
The reverse side of a three hole spade shows the denomination as either one liang (两) or 12 zhu (十二朱).
The one liang spades are typically about 7.2 cm in length and are referred to as “large” spades.
The 12 zhu spades are about 5.2 cm in length and are referred to as “small” spades.
The inscription on the reverse side of this specimen gives the denomination as one liang.
Many three hole spades are one of a kind.
This three hole spade cast in Yang Jian is the only “large” specimen known to exist.
It is 73.99 mm in length, has a thickness of 2.00 – 2.13 mm and weighs 16.33 grams. Unfortunately, the width is not specified.
A “small” (12 zhu) three hole spade from Yang Jian is part of the collection of the Tianjin History Museum (天津历史博物馆).
It is also unique in that it is the only “small” specimen of a Yang Jian three hole spade known to exist.