Digital currency to tangible treasure in Otoh Collection sale

250-lot offering believed to be most significant assemblage of physical cryptocurrency ever brought to auction

One of the most elite collections of physical cryptocurrency ever assembled is poised to make numismatic auction history when the first part of the Otoh Collection of Physical Cryptocurrency crosses the block on Nov. 3 at Heritage Auctions.

The sale represents the most significant offering of physical cryptocurrency to ever come to market with a redeemable value of upwards of $5.5 million US (about $7.5 million Cdn.) at the time of publication.

The Otoh Collection – or “On The Other Hand,” named after the online handle of the consignor – features 250 physical cryptocurrency coins of two different denominations. Of the lots offered in the auction, 150 pieces are “1 Bitcoin” while the other 100 items are “0.5 Bitcoin” lots. Each one is unpeeled and unredeemed and was sent by Heritage to the Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC) for grading; they had previously been stored in their original rolls for the past decade.

“The evolution of digital currency forever changed the economic landscape,” said Cris Bierrenbach,  Heritage’s executive vice-president of international numismatics. “Part of the appeal is the fact that digital currency can be received, stored and sent without intermediaries, offering a measure of financial control that did not exist previously.”

Currency, including coins and paper money, has historically been a tactile entity, something to be touched, held and then exchanged for goods and services; however, the value of digital currencies is dematerialized into units of coded data or “bits.”

Bitcoin, which was founded by an anonymous person or persons in 2009, enjoys pre-eminent stature among digital currencies, according to auctioneers.

“The Otoh Collection was assembled by one of the earliest adopters of Litecoin, the first altcoin. This portion of the collection includes a remarkable compilation of Casascius coins. Otoh is known for his thoughtful approach and analysis of cryptocurrency trends. The collection offered in this auction is part of the legacy of our client, who is one of the early adopters of physical Bitcoin.”

The lots in this auction were minted in 2013 and are known as “Casascius coins,” a name boiled down to a combination of words standing for “Call a Spade a Spade.” Mike Caldwell, whose rise to prominence began when he minted Bitcoins into physical coins, coined the name.

They are largely novelty items, according to auctioneers, but they exist for a purpose: in the physical form, hackers are prevented from stealing the encrypted data via an online attack.

Caldwell’s Casascius coins gave physical representation – and therefore a measurable value – to a form of currency previously considered abstract or theoretical, relying on blockchain technology, which is the foundation of Bitcoin. In his personal blog, Caldwell used wordplay to qualify the development of his project.

“You asked for change,” he wrote. “I gave you coins.”

The upcoming auction’s top selections include a 2013 Casascius brass loaded (unredeemed) 0.5 Bitcoin in NGC Mint State-68 (MS-68) plus a 2013 Casascius brass loaded (unredeemed) 1 Bitcoin also in NGC MS-68.

Pre-qualification is required for all bidders in this auction.

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