The Casascius Bitcoin collection can be equated to Faberge eggs in their relevance to the cryptocurrency community. The creation of Utah resident and Bitcoin fan Mike Caldwell, these early physical representations of Bitcoin were widely available until the government stepped in and called a halt to the operation in 2013, but what exactly is the Casascius collection and why is it so special?
Physical Bitcoin with a Difference
Physical interpretations of Bitcoin have been doing the rounds for years, with current iterations being cheap metallic representations, but it wasn’t always this way. Caldwell created his first round of Casascius physical bitcoins in September 2011, hoping they would be “a proof of concept, a conversation piece to help people talk to others about Bitcoin.”
What marks the early Casascius models out from all others is that they contained redeemable BTC, with the private key residing underneath a hologram layer imprinted on the coin. Only if this hologram were removed, or ‘peeled’, could the virtual contents of the coin be accessed.
Casascius Bitcoins Take Off
Caldwell’s creations took off, so much so that he produced ₿10, ₿25, ₿100, and even ₿1,000 versions, including gold bar lookalikes. Such a move may seem extreme at today’s prices, but at the time Bitcoin was trading for around $10, so it wasn’t as much of an undertaking.
Caldwell’s production line was brought to a swift halt in November 2013 when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) informed him that selling the items with the BTC inside them qualified him as operating a money transmitting business, necessitating registration at the federal level and potential state licenses.
Wisely, Caldwell opted to cease making these BTC filled versions, ensuring at a stroke that all pre-November 2013 coins and bars were afforded an extra sense of rarity, with the resultant increase in demand and value.
75% Remain Unpeeled
A tracking website, Casascius Bitcoin Analyzer, shows that 6,856 of the 27,834 items produced by Caldwell pre-November 2013 have been opened, meaning that fewer than a quarter have been utilized:
Only two of Caldwell’s five flagship ₿1,000 bars remain unopened, now worth a staggering $7.35 million each.
Caldwell’s Legacy Lives On
Casascius coins appear on the likes of eBay now and again, with the pre-2013 editions naturally going for a huge premium. Some owners however have been unable to resist the temptation to leave the coin unpeeled – in December last year a Casascius ₿100 bar made in February 2013 was peeled and the BTC, worth $700,000, split across several addresses.
With over 75% of his originals still active, it’s fair to say that the legacy of Caldwell’s first and best physical bitcoins will live on for some time yet.