Physical bitcoins have been around for years, but they are anything but mainstream and there are very few companies involved in this fledgling industry. Some try to appeal to consumers through quality and the use of precious metals, others offer good designs at relatively low prices, while some offer neither.
The market for physical coins is limited and this is a niche for collectors and diehard enthusiasts. Rather than being truly practical, physical bitcoins are usually marketed as conversation pieces, limited series collectibles or 'geek gifts'.
The limited size of the industry is a problem, as a number of firms have already gone out of business, while others never even started shipping their products. Many physical bitcoins are limited series affairs, so after a few hundred are produced and sold they simply vanish from the market. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then, while there are some truly spectacular designs, others may not impress most users.
Fraud is another concern, as cases of fake coin sales on online auction sites have been reported in the past, so please exercise caution and conduct extensive research before placing an order.
Below are 10 physical bitcoins on the market.
We will start with a familiar face and a familiar coin: Mike Caldwell and his Casascius coin. Caldwell started minting his coins a couple of years ago, but late last year he was banned from selling pre-funded coins.
The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) classified his activities as 'money transmitting' and Caldwell was forced to start selling empty coins. Sales resumed earlier this year and Casascius is currently listing three coins, along with a gold-plated savings bar. However, none of them are priced and it is unclear whether or not Casascius simply ran out of stock or stopped selling them directly altogether.
In addition to these silver, brass and gold-plated products, Casascius also sells aluminium promo coins. A bag of 500 costs 0.39 BTC.
2. Alitin Mint
Alitin Mint offers two premium coins, with a third design on the way. The first two coins commemorate economic pioneer Adam Smith and French patron saint Joan of Arc. They are pure silver coins and weigh two ounces. Both coins were designed by presidential sculptor John B Andelin.
Only 600 coins of each series were struck and the pricing reflects the exclusivity. The Adam Smith coin is priced at 2.92 BTC and it ships with 2 BTC, while the Joan of Arc coin costs 1.45 BTC and comes with one embedded bitcoin.
3. Titan Bitcoin
Titan Bitcoin is going after the premium market with the priciest Titan One Gold coin priced at $2,279, but then again it contains 1 troy ounce of 24-karat gold and one bitcoin. The Titan One Silver is a one-ounce .999 silver coin and it costs $729, with one bitcoin on board.
The company has some less expensive options too, with three more coins in triple-digit territory and denominations ranging from 0.5 BTC to 1 BTC. In addition, there is the Titan Tenth coin, which is currently on sale for $96. It is a 12g nickel-silver alloy piece pre-funded to the tune of 0.1 BTC
4. Cryptmint coins
If you're not willing to spend a small fortune on a novelty item and the Titan Tenth sounds like a good proposition, Cryptmint is also selling a $99 silver coin. This .999 silver coin measures 39mm in diameter and weighs in at 1 troy ounce.
The company also sells copper coins at $42 apiece. Customers can choose from six different QR designs on the back. The coins ship without any bitcoin preloaded.
5. Antana Coins
Antana offers relatively affordable novelty coins and the mint has a healthy sense of humour. Each batch contains network statistic data for a period and a particular theme.
Different batches have different names that should amuse most bitcoiners. There was the 'Goodbye Mt Gox' batch and the 'Transaction Malleability' batch, preceded by batches such as 'Pump and Dump' and 'Race for ROI'.
The coins sell for 0.02 BTC to 0.04 BTC and the full set of 20 Antana bitcoin statistic coins costs 0.41 BTC. Although they are not physical coins with QR codes and holograms, they still make for an unusual bitcoin-themed product.
6. Ravenbit Satoshi coin
Ravenbit is offering the Satoshi coin and the kit is priced at $25. The kit includes a coin, two security holograms, a pouch, display stand a few other goodies.
The Satoshi coin is composed of 85% copper, has a 39mm diameter and is 3mm thick. The front features an outline of person filled out in binary code that converts to 'Satoshi Nakamoto'. Each coin is individually numbered.
Staying on the more frugal side of things, CoinedBits coins are priced at $14.99 for North American consumers or $19.99 for overseas orders.
Like Antana coins, CoinedBits are novelty items with no bitcoin value and they are not physical wallets. The coins are 38mm in diameter, 3mm thick and weigh one ounce. The material is pure brass with 18-karat gold plating.
8. Lealana coins
Lealana offers a wide range of unfunded coins with prices ranging from 0.042 BTC to 0.325 BTC for the flagship gold-plated silver Lealana 1 BTC coin. A four-coin silver bitcoin set is available 0.891 BTC.
The company also offers several litecoin designs.
9. Coins that never materialised
There were a number of physical bitcoin projects that never amounted to anything. Most are either defunct or delayed. Although they never got off the ground, some them had certain features that make them stand out from the crowd.
A Chinese bitcoiner minted a small batch of one-ounce physical coins and the images were posted on the 8btc.com blog earlier this summer. The coin weighs one standard ounce (rather than one troy ounce) and is made from 24-karat gold. The 1 BTC coin was apparently supposed to ship pre-funded. The current status of the project is unclear.
Alderney, one of the British Channel Islands, considered launching a physical coin of its own. Plans for a physical coin were announced late last year, but appear to have been shelved for the time being.
10. DIY coins
There is another way of getting your hands on a physical bitcoin - make one yourself. We are not suggesting that you set up a foundry and mint in your garage; a simple 3D printer will do the trick.
There are a number of print-ready 3D designs out there and they are just a Google search away, usually on 3D print marketplaces like Shapeways.
The trouble with this approach is that most designs are relatively expensive, even before you include the cost of actually printing them. While it is relatively cheap to do a few plastic prints on semi-professional fused-filament printers, making a proper metal coin on an expensive laser-sintering printer tends to cost a lot.
In any case, 3D printing is an alternative way of producing unique physical coins by tweaking existing designs or developing your own.
One example of an affordable design that relies on nylon plastic with a matte finish is the Bitcoin Address Keeper by Ayame Deude. The 3D model costs €8.50 and, if you have access to a printer, the actual cost of printing a single coin should be low.
3D printing fulfilment services are another option, but in many cases the cost of shipping a single coin would be higher than the cost of printing it.
Disclaimer: This article should not be viewed as an endorsement of any of the companies mentioned. Please do your own extensive research before considering investing any funds in these products.
Featured image via Titan Bitcoin