Category Archives: Physical Crypto

Shiny

The Argentina-based bhCoins  have come out with their first series of DIY coins.  Although they contain no precious metals, they are available in mirror and antique  finishes in both gold and silver.

I opted for the shiny gold and shiny silver, and they look fantastic. They have a nice weight to them, and a compact size at 28mm in diameter.

Each coin kit comes with 3 holograms for securing the key in the square hollow on the reverse of the coin, and also a hologram-sealed envelope containing a set of address/key pairs, the keys being printed at the right size to fold and place in the hollow on the coin. For added security, one could always generate and print their own keys.

Let's face it: DIY is fun.
Let’s face it: DIY is fun.
BHCoins DIY coins in silvery and golden, shiny and slanty.
BHCoins DIY coins in silvery and golden, shiny and slanty.

I am really fond of the bhCoins designs. They’re simple and elegant, but unique at the same time, not quite like anything else out there. These have a funky “B” all askew and slanted, sliding right off the surface of the coin, and the mirror finish is top-notch.

And they’re a bit on the obscure side, which is always exciting for a collector. For the curious, there is more information here.

 

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Ten thousand bits

After the success of their Dogecoin design, Crypto Imperator is back with another solid-feeling, zinc-plated coin, this time with less Comic Sans and more good old bitcoin.

It’s a 10,000 bit… coin.  There’s been a shift to move to bits as the common unit of bitcoin, the thinking being that once we make the shift we won’t have to adapt again. In case your conversion skills are rusty, there are 100 satoshis in a bit. From the other end, 10,000 bits equals .01 bitcoin.

The argument for shifting to smaller units is that if bitcoin reaches a high rate of exchange and stays there, using them will be psychologically cumbersome to people. We’re not used to calculating out to three or four decimal places in our transactions, but we’re quite used to thinking with more digits on the other side of the decimal point.

Regardless of its small/enormous denomination, the Crypto Imperator 10,000 bit piece is a handsome coin, even if it lacks the precious metal that some other coins boast. It’s smooth, professional finish and nice heft give it a professional air, and it has a strong simple design on the front of a breaking chain.

The Crypto Imperator 10,000 bit piece.
The Crypto Imperator 10,000 bit piece.

The hologram on the back features the delightful rockets-and-moons of the Dogecoin piece, which was well worth revisiting.

10,000 bit piece, reverse.
10,000 bit piece, reverse.
10,000 bit piece reverse, angled for more hologram glory.
10,000 bit piece reverse, angled for more hologram glory.

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.

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BitCentimental

There have been a number of one-tenth BTC pieces, but one of the first was the bhCoin “10 bitCent” brass piece in late 2013. I’ve had some series two bhCoins for a while, but only just recently tracked down one of the series one brass coins. It delights me.

The series two coins which came out a few months later are also great, nickel-plated to create a fine silvery shine, though mine did get gently scuffed during the no-doubt-tumultuous journey from Argentina.

A bhCoin series 2.
A bhCoin series 2.
bhCoin series 2 front & back.
bhCoin series 2 front & back.

Neither series has an especially bold design, but that’s part of their charm. They’re clean, straightforward coins produced by enthusiasts in very limited numbers, only about 100 of each run.

A series one bhCoin 10-bitcent brass piece.
A series one bhCoin 10-bitcent brass piece.
bhCoin series one reverse.
bhCoin series one reverse.

There are pictures of an opened bhCoin series one here.

The folks at bhCoin have since moved on to create a 2-factor coin, and we look forward to their next project.

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.

 

 

 

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Kialara

Sometimes someone takes an idea and refines it so far that it ends up feeling like something new entirely.

That’s the case with Kialara physical bitcoins, designed and produced by Maxfield Wyatt Mellenbruch.  On a fundamental level, these coins share a lineage with other physical bitcoins, since each is a cold storage wallet with the private key sealed inside.

In practice, though, these are extremely impressive art objects, each one containing 16 separate pieces held together by eight bolts. The coin in the center is beautiful on its own, a combination of gears, lions and dragons all bolted together as if a machine was dreaming about a coin. The coin itself is then encased in an equally elaborate bar-like object and safely bolted behind clear panes.

Angle view of a Kialara physical bitcoin.
Angle view of a Kialara physical bitcoin.
Kialara physical bitcoin.
Kialara physical bitcoin.

These are truly remarkable objects, beautiful to behold, complex and glittery and with a really satisfying feeling of quality to them. They seem more like a movie prop for some steampunk fantasy film than a cold storage wallet.

The artist’s brilliance extends through to the construction, however.  It would have been far easier to make something that looked complicated and evoked machinery rather than actually devise and execute an object with so many intricate parts that it does everything but move. Blink and it might start downloading the blockchain on its own.

Rendering of construction, courtesy http://www.maxfield.me/blog/
Rendering of construction, courtesy www.maxfield.me/blog/

Mellenbruch depicts the various layers and steps of construction here, including the application of red Loctite to the tiny screws, and the subsequent drilling out of the heads to further deter tampering.

Detail of reverse.
Detail of reverse.
Detail of front.
Detail of front.

The result is like a coin from the future that suffered a detour by way of the steam age, to be hoarded and stacked like bars of crypto-mechanical glory.

Whatever madness drove Mellenbruch to over-design his creation this way, it’s our kind of madness, and we hope he never comes to his senses.

So darn pretty.
So darn pretty.

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.

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Selfies

In November 2013, Mike Caldwell stopped selling funded physical bitcoins after receiving a notice from FinCEN suggesting that his sale of such products to collectors might constitute an unlicensed money transmission business.

Asserting that selling novelty bitcoin wallets to collectors might be akin to money laundering is very silly, but whether you chalk it up to institutional incompetence or malicious machination, the result was the same: Caldwell stopped selling coins, and most others in the collectible physical bitcoin space shifted to the model of selling buyer-funded coins. What you buy is just the coin and sealed key,  and to some degree the reputation of the manufacturer, and then you fund it yourself.

Lealana finally released his brass .1 BTC design as a buyer-funded coin, and it was a great evolution of his existing artwork.  He also adapted his previous designs to the self-funded model, each now bearing a hologram declaring “Buyer funded.”

The Lealana brass .1 BTC.
The Lealana brass .1 BTC.
Lealana brass .1 BTC reverse.
Lealana brass .1 BTC reverse.
A Lealana 10 LTC piece, now with "BUYER FUNDED" designation on the hologram.
A Lealana 10 LTC piece, now with “BUYER FUNDED” designation on the hologram.

Nolacoin took a similar but more permanent tack, using his powerful laser to etch “SELF FUNDED” into the metal on the front.

Nolacoin .5 BTC piece, now designated "SELF FUNDED."
Nolacoin .5 BTC piece, now designated “SELF FUNDED.”

I was also lucky to recently acquire a couple Cryptovest physical litecoins, a CoinHoarder project, also to be self-funded.

Cryptovest 1 LTC piece.
Cryptovest 1 LTC piece.
Cryptovest 1 LTC piece, reverse.
Cryptovest 1 LTC piece, reverse.

The most fun of the lot, though, is a new .1 BTC piece from Cryptolator. While also available in copper (and in silver in a 1 BTC version), this is the “Merlin Gold” edition, a faux-gold metal which is just meant to be lovely, and it is. The pictures don’t capture the luxurious golden glow.

The design makes me giggle. Regardless of your politics, a design featuring people running out of a burning bank, dragging chains behind them has to make you smile. Are those stink lines around the edge? Maybe.

Cryptolator brings the fun.
Cryptolator brings the fun… and the fire.
Cryptolator "Merlin Gold" .1 BTC piece, reverse.
Cryptolator “Merlin Gold” .1 BTC piece, reverse. It’s much goldier in real life.

Self-funded coins aren’t entirely new, though, as Caldwell himself sold 5 BTC Casascius blanks in 2012. Unlike new coins, though, these didn’t come with key or hologram, but were simply bare nickel coins with a depression in the back.

It’s an illustration of how much things have changed, and how quickly. At 2014 rates which have, so far, hovered around $500/BTC throughout the year, a 5 BTC piece made in humble nickel and left for the buyer to assemble seems absurd, and certainly nothing that you could resell once funded. How could anyone trust that you didn’t keep a copy of the key, with so much value at stake?

Of course, 2012 started with rates around $3/BTC, so a DIY coin kit worth about $15 just seemed like good fun.

Here we are in 2014, though, so bitcointalk user OgNasty has stepped in to bridge that gap by keying, hologramming and slabbing some old Casascius 5 BTC pieces with his own holograms. It’s a hybrid solution, but since he both has experience making coins and an ironclad reputation within the community, he’s effectively putting his weight behind these coins. Should one choose to fund them, they ought to stand well beside at least the current generation of self-funded coins from reputable creators.

A Casascius 5 BTC piece from 2012, as slabbed by OgNasty.
A Casascius 5 BTC piece from 2012, as slabbed by OgNasty.
Don't let the name fool you:  Nasty = nice.
Don’t let the name fool you: Nasty = nice.

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.

 

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Gone to the Doges

I have to confess that Dogecoin used to aggravate me. It stressed me out.

My fuzzy thinking was that Bitcoin still faced a long road to acquiring public acceptance and to being taken seriously, and that a joke altcoin wasn’t helping. The sea of sketchy altcoins that existed was bad enough, but a coin that was deliberately silly was even worse.  And then instead of going away, Dogecoin became one of the most popular altcoins.

And, of course, there was the Dogecar.

But I was wrong. The genie of the blockchain-based cryptocurrency isn’t going back in the lamp, but it’s also unlikely (impossible?) that it will take just one form. Even if Bitcoin is still the primary coin in [insert time frame here] years, there will also be many others. The ideas will move and evolve under their own power, just like modern innovation in general. The future of cryptocurrency will surely be as diverse, messy and absurd as the web itself.

So, better to relax and enjoy it!

Crypto Imperator has made a 10,000 Dogecoin piece, big and heavy and made of glorious coated zinc, just as it should be.

Behold, the Crypto Imperator 10,000 DGC piece!
Behold, the Crypto Imperator 10,000 DGC piece!
10,000 DGC piece, reverse. To the moons!
10,000 DGC piece, reverse. To the moons!

The hologram on the back is great too, chock full of rockets clearly well on their way to the moon.

WOW!!

 

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DIY

Silver Wallets aren’t the first physical bitcoin kits that have been made, but they are the most beautiful. One ounce of silver in coin form, the  front features an elegant Bitcoin “B” overlaying an image of the world.  It’s the reverse that really wins me over, though,  with the simple, bold, all-caps “Silver Wallets” in raised letters around where the hologram goes. It’s so simple, yet so satisfying.

Each coin comes with three holograms, so you could spend from one of these and then start over and re-assemble later, which is a nice touch. Since there is no denomination on the coin, it’s entirely a matter of personal preference,  and style. Generate a private key, print the QR code to fit the half-inch square on the back of the coin, then seal it in and set aside some long-term savings that happens to be great to look at.

Obverse: Bitcoin rampant over the continents of Earth and a digital sea.
Obverse: Bitcoin rampant over the continents of Earth and a digital sea.
Reverse: QR code in place, ready for hologram application.
Reverse: QR code in place (face-down), ready for hologram application.
QED DIY.
QED DIY.
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Little devils

It was only last year that Casascius started making .5 BTC pieces in order to adjust for the skyrocketing exchange rate and still have a physical bitcoin that would be affordable. Then, just a few months later, Casascius, Lealana and bhCoins released .1 BTC denominations, but again, it made sense against the ever-increasing price of bitcoin.

Now MicroSoul has a .01 BTC coin. That’s one-one hundredth of a bitcoin, a bit-penny coin.  At first that seems like such a minor sum, but that’s only because my brain is inflexible and slow to adapt.  After all, at this moment a bit-penny is worth roughly 6 bucks, and if someone handed me a brand-new six dollar coin, I’d be delighted.

MicroSoul .01 BTC reverse.
MicroSoul .01 BTC reverse.

And, of course, I am.  While the design is straightforward and Casascius-esque, the gold plating makes the coins glow, and the small devil icon beside the “B” marks these as being extra-fun.

In terms of accountability and security, the creator (Matthew Rodbourne) has posted his identity online, states that the keys are generated by an offline Raspberry Pi and are only handled by either himself or his wife. They ship from France.

I opened one up, and the teeny-tiny key imported easily.

Key smudged out for your protection. It's actually quite legible.
Key smudged out for your protection. It’s actually quite legible.

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.

 

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Made with lasers

I just received these half-bitcoin and one-bitcoin physical pieces from NolaCoin in Louisiana, and they are beautiful.

They’re brass at heart, plated into different colors with a striking mirror finish. The half-bitcoin piece is a delicate rose gold/coppery color, and the one-bitcoin piece is nickel-plated to a lustrous silver. But beyond their beauty, they have several innovations over other physical bitcoin designs.

While most other designs hide the private key on an insert which is held behind a hologram sticker on the back of the coin, these have both the public address and private key etched into the metal of the coin with a 10 watt laser (according to the creator’s post here). The public address is readily visible on the front, and the private key is hidden on the back.

One-bitcoin piece, obverse.
One-bitcoin piece, obverse.
Half-bitcoin piece, reverse.
Half-bitcoin piece, reverse.

This is great not only because it makes the public address readily available for verifying the balance, but also because of the relative indelibility of the etching; if a more traditional key-printed-on-insert physical bitcoin gets caught in a fire or other calamity, it’s only as tough as whatever material the key is printed on, but with these the key is as tough as the metal of the coin.

It’s even greater that the hidden private key is not just presented as an alphanumeric string, but also as a QR code which is likewise etched into the metal and entirely scannable. Typing in letters and numbers is for suckers!

Because someone had to do it, I opened one up to see how it worked.  There are essentially three parts to the security over the key: a plastic film, a scratch-off hologram, and a gold ring sticker around the edge.

The gold ring overlaps the scratch-off hologram, making it more difficult to tamper with the hologram in the center. Once you’ve scratched off the hologram, you can make out the characters of the key, but there is an additional layer of plastic film still over the metal. Upon removing that, there was a fair amount of sticky residue which kept the QR code from scanning in, but a little rubbing with soap and warm water got the surface cleared away down to the mirror finish, and at that point I scanned the key into Mycelium easily.

This is a great design, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Opening the coin.
Opening the coin.
Leftovers.
Leftovers.
Residue makes it difficult to read the key at first.
Residue makes it difficult to read the key at first.
Cleans up beautifully and scans easily.
Cleans up beautifully and scans easily.

 Update: Arash Dini, the coins’ creator, explained to me that contrast on the QR-code etching on the nickel-plated coins is sharper and more likely to scan first-time, and though I haven’t opened one of those up yet, that certainly makes sense, as you can see the difference in the lettering on the front. He also said that if you leave the flash on your smartphone on, the reflection will help the scanning. In other words, it should be possible to scan the QR code just by scratching off the hologram, but without the (very minor) hassle of removing the final layer of plastic film and cleaning residue off the coin.

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.

 

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Delicious Bit-Cards

I received a set of Bit-Cards in the mail today, which I’d eagerly ordered last week. They look like credit cards, but work like somewhat like Casascius coins or another single-use paper wallet, with a hologram hiding the key, and they come in all sorts of denominations.

This is a very polished design, and they’re a pleasure simply to hold.  You can scan the address directly with one QR code, and you can visit a link to their site with information about your particular card with the other.

They profess to generate the keys and subsequently the cards on an off-line computer running custom software, and that they do not save the keys anywhere other than on the cards. Security features include the tamper-evident hologram as well as the multi-layer manufacturing of the card itself, so it is resistant to invasive scanning.

A black layer in the middle of the card makes it harder to discern the key without removing the hologram.
A black layer in the middle of the card makes it harder to discern the key without removing the hologram.

Bit-Card_hologram

Scratch off the hologram, and the key is readily available to either scan, or type in manually.

This one's all done.
This one’s all done.

The cards are shipped unfunded, and activated manually by the recipient through their online system upon receipt.  The web site is as polished as the cards, from ordering through activation.

The non-denominated wallet-cards are intriguing, but you just have to keep coming back to the question: Why would I trust anyone else with my private key? In the case of a shiny collectible coin, it might seem worth some risk, but for a plastic card that’s a tougher sell, no matter how pretty the card.

Of what practical utility is a premade card with a set denomination of BTC on it, or an offline wallet the key to which has already been handled by someone else? That’s not entirely clear, but Bit-Card.de is at least establishing themselves in this space, and doing so with considerable style.

Non-denominated wallet-cards. (Address obscured.)
Non-denominated wallet-cards. (Address obscured.)

Standard disclaimer: It’s always, to some degree, a bad idea to let anyone else have access to a private key which controls any of your bitcoin wallets; in a sense, it goes counter to the bitcoin system itself. Once someone else has handled the key which controls your funds, you have to trust both that they exercised adequate security procedures while handling your key, and that they have not save copies of your key to exploit at some point in the unforeseen future. While some  (such as Mike Caldwell of Casascius) have established trusted reputations, newer operators can only prove their trustworthiness over time.

 

 

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