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Rare ‘Three Hole Spade’ Sold at Auction

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.

Rare 'three hole spade' minted at Yang Jian in the State of Zhao during the Warring States period

Rare ‘three hole spade’ minted at Yang Jian in the State of Zhao during the Warring States period

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.

According to Mr. Huang Xiquan (黄锡全), the former head of the China Coin Museum (中国钱币博物馆) and an expert on pre-Qin money, the inscription on the obverse side of this spade reads yang jian (阳湔).

Yang Jian was a city in the State of Zhao (赵国) during the Warring States period.

Reverse side of the Yang Jian 'three hole spade' shows the denomination as 'one liang'

Reverse side of the Yang Jian ‘three hole spade’ shows the denomination as ‘one liang’

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.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Jimmy Hewitt September 20, 2014, 1:44 am

    I have one of the three hole spades in excellent condition that i want to sell if could let me know who to contact. thanks

    • Gary Ashkenazy September 24, 2014, 8:06 pm

      Hi Jimmy,
      I will email you requesting additional information.

      • Gary Ashkenazy September 24, 2014, 8:18 pm

        Hi Jimmy,
        The email address you provided does not work.
        Please provide a good email address.

  • Christopher Lowe March 8, 2021, 9:53 pm

    Hey Gary,

    My wife and I bought a collection of “Old Chinese Hardware” from a goodwill in Nebraska, they seem to be Chinese spade and knife coins from around 400BC and AD 23. Ten of them in total, 6 spades and 4 knives. We bought a book ‘Cast Chinese coins’ by David Hartill and think we have done all we can to verify and authenticate them. However, frankly they are in amazing condition and so we still want a “professional’ to tell us if what we have is real or just some kind of an amazing fake. A couple have been cleaned, but the rest have a very unique ‘aged’ yellow patina. My wife and I were hoping you have met some people who could verify what we have or direct us to where we can find where to find that?


    Christopher Lowe

    • Gary Ashkenazy March 9, 2021, 9:45 am

      Hi Christopher,
      I will email you with a recommendation.

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