Green’s Dictionary of Slang

three balls n.

[the trad. three brass balls that hang outside a pawnshop. The stereotypical pawnbroker was Jewish. The three balls themselves supposedly come from the arms of the Medicis (although these were 6 red balls, rather than the three gold ones of pawnbroking) and were imported to London by the Lombard bankers and thence to the US]

1. (also Mr Three Balls, sign of the three balls, three-ball exchange, three ball joint, three-ball man, three-balls outfit) a pawnbroker or pawnbroker’s shop; also attrib.

[UK]Egan Life of an Actor 75: I strolled about in search of a pawnbroker’s, but so useful a personage was unknown in Lyme — the three balls were never even heard of.
[Aus]Satirist & Sporting Chron. (Sydney) 4 Mar. 2/2: Messrs. Quick, Gammon, and Snap, opposite the three balls in George-street!!!
[UK]T. Hood Pawning Watch ix n.p.: I’ve gone to a dance for my supper; And now must go to three balls! [F&H].
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 19 Nov. 3/2: He observed Elizabeth enter a pawnbroker’s shop [...] and he rushed into Three Balls Lodge.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 3 Dec. 3/1: He ascertained the different ‘Three Golden Balls’ localities where the rings had been deposited.
[US]C.L. Cullen Tales of the Ex-Tanks 25: Well, the same three-balls outfit got the ring and pin.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 6 Jan. 20/4: Now, the three-ball man and the money-lending Parsee have done their deadly work, and they have no farms to cultivate […]. Viceroy Curzon has introduced a bill into the Indian Council that is […] so sweeping in […] its destruction of the three-ball man that the whole tribe of shent-per-shenters is crying to the Empress to veto the bill and save their tribe from utter destruction. [Ibid.] 29 Sept. 31/1: His pale, worried wife had toiled when she could toil, and pawned everything on which the three-ball man would advance the price of a loaf.
[US]Omaha Dly Bee (NE) 11 June 33/4: My sword will not be buried with me but will be placed in soak at the ‘Sign of the Three Balls’.
[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe 65: I’ll have to run around to a three ball exchange and see if I can’t dig up an outfit.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 5 Dec. 16/2: By next mail, the expectant husband received a letter from his fugitive missus. There was only one enclosure – the pawn ticket for Mrs. Brownjones’s wedding ring and keeper. Not a superfluous word of explanation. That eloquent three-ball document was the whole dictionary.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 27 Oct. 10/3: If ‘fadder’ hasn’t got the article in stock, Misther Three Ball! across the street has them.
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Three ball joint, a pawn shop.
[US]Howsley Argot: Dict. of Und. Sl.
[US]Blind Boy Fuller ‘Three Ball Blues’ [lyrics] I asked that pawnshop man what them three balls doin’ hangin’ on the wall.

2. (US black) a Jew.

[US]E. Folb Runnin’ Down Some Lines 61: Other labels [...] three balls, and Mr. Money, characterized the Jew — particularly the Jewish merchant.