By Chris Bulfinch for CoinWeek …..
GreatCollections (GC) is auctioning a physical bitcoin created by Casascius Coins. Dated 2011, the 25-bitcoin coin is certified MS-67 Gold Shield by PCGS. The highest bid at time of writing was $920,000 USD; the value of 25 bitcoins stood at $1,584,650 at the same time, according to the GC listing. The auction concludes on November 14 at 8:23:16 PM Pacific Time (PT).
Between 2011 and 2013, Mike Caldwell, a Utah-based computer scientist, had physical coins bearing the Bitcoin logo struck that included the keys necessary to access unspent bitcoins. Keys for the bitcoins are printed on the inside of a tamper-evident hologram sticker affixed to coins of various alloys.
According to a 2013 Wired article, Caldwell charged a $50 fee on each coin he issued. A 2021 feature article from CoinTelegraph Magazine quotes a “Cryptonumist” Elias Ahonen, author of a book on physical bitcoins, who claimed that “I don’t think he [Caldwell] ever made any money, or any significant amount of money selling those [physical bitcoins]…”
In November 2013, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an organization within the Treasury Department charged with interpreting laws relating to money laundering and financial crime, informed Caldwell that he needed to register as a money transmission business to continue producing the Casascius coins. He ended sales of the physical bitcoins on November 27, 2013.
Roughly 27,920 Casascius coins and bars were produced according to a September 2021 Bitcoin.com article.
Coins of numerous denominations, from 0.1- to 1,000-BTC, were struck; 25-BTC coins are the second-highest denomination. Casascius bitcoin bars were also created. Three series of coins and bars were struck; the 25-BTC denomination was struck in the first and second series. As bitcoin prices rose, fractional denominations were introduced.
New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper explains in his 2015 book that “Casascius coins would… become the most widely used image of Bitcoins [sic] when news organizations needed a picture of something to accompany stories about the virtual currency.”
At the time his operation was shut down in late 2013, Caldwell’s physical Bitcoins had a combined value of more than $82 million. Today, the remaining “unpeeled” Casascius coins have roughly $2 billion in bitcoin value.
When the hologram stickers affixed to Casascius bitcoins are removed and their code used to claim the bitcoins, the physical coins are described as “peeled”. In November 2020, more physical bitcoin owners “peeled” their coins than at any point in the previous three years as values hit record highs; a similar rash of “peelings” occurred at another price spike, in December 2017. As of September 18, 2021, just shy of 20,000 (~19,920) Casascius coins remained unpeeled.
Limited initial mintages combined with peelings will make unpeeled Casascius physical bitcoins rarer, especially if Bitcoin continues to appreciate in value.
What kind of numismatic value will peeled Casascius coins have? The coin offered by GC is the first of its kind certified by PCGS.
The 25-BTC coin offered in GreatCollection’s auction is composed of a “gold-plated alloy” according to the listing.
“VIRES IN NUMERIS” (“Strength in Numbers”), the denomination “25 BITCOINS”, and the date appear on the obverse, flanking the Bitcoin logo, with a circle divided into eight sections behind. The Bitcoin logo appears in the center of the reverse, surrounded by hologram texts reading “CASASCIUS” and “ORIGINAL”. Concentric rings of 1s and 0s, binary code reading “you asked for change, we gave you coins” according to the GC listing, surround the Bitcoin symbol and hologram sticker.
At the time of writing, the top bid for the 25-bitcoin Casascius coin was $920,000, with 75 bids recorded. The page had been viewed 3,697 times and 107 GC members were tracking the auction.
GC’s President Ian Russell predicted that the 25-bitcoin Casascius coin would sell for more than $1 million, according to a recent press release.
GC’s listing explains, “Approximately 800 of the 25 BTC denomination were produced between 2011 and 2013, and more than half have already been redeemed.” The listing claims that 833 Casascius coins of that denomination exist.
PCGS has also certified a one-ounce .999 fine gold 2012 1,000-BTC Casascius coin for GreatCollections. With the bitcoins it contains valued at more than $48 million, the coin will not be offered for sale. Russell said that the coin is in an overseas vault, but may be displayed at “an upcoming coin convention.”