UPDATE (27th March 22:40 GMT): More information, and coins.
This year has seen a new, if predictable, trend in altcoin development: nation-based digital currencies. There are at least eight coins currently circulating or in development, with more surely to follow. Here is the CoinDesk guide to the main players and their current status.
Unlike the world's other altcoins, which seek to either improve on bitcoin technology or merely copy it as part of 'pump and dump' schemes, national cryptocurrencies claim higher purposes, such as establishing sovereignty or building patriotism – or at least using those emotional themes to bootstrap the currency's value and newsworthiness.
They appear in places where the national currency is uncertain in value or status, subject to strict capital controls, or not that country's own. Interestingly, at least five of the coins mentioned here are from countries in the Eurozone. Many use the term 'airdrop' to describe distribution to the population, suggesting a national emergency.
Most comforting among all this activity, perhaps, is the fact that if any or all of them fail in the long run, they can still use bitcoin.
'Rank' refers to where the national coin sits among all available cryptocurrencies, including #1 Bitcoin and #2 Ripple. Data source is coinmarketcap.com and was current at the time of publication.
Auroracoin (AUR): Iceland
Current USD Value: $4.45
Market Cap: $47,331,148
The fiat Icelandic króna has performed unimpressively since the 2008 Financial Crisis, suffering a one-day attempted peg to the Euro, a collapse in value, and even attempts to abandon it in favor of the Canadian dollar. Strict capital controls prevent most normal citizens from trading their króna for something more stable, even bitcoin.
Those conditions, plus a well-educated and Internet-friendly population of only 320,000, seemed perfect to try out a national cryptocurrency called Auroracoin.
Created by Baldur Friggjar Óðinsson, 31.8 Auroracoins are available as a 'gift' to all valid Icelandic permanent residents, which began with the initial 'Airdrop' at midnight on 25th March.
The total number of coins available to residents is 10.5m, of which 5.52% have been claimed in the few days since the launch. Auroracoin's value has slumped somewhat on exchanges like Cryptsy, however, going from a high of 0.0285 BTC two days before the Airdrop to a low of 0.0075 BTC on 26th March, its heaviest trading day. It has since regained slightly from there, and is currently trading at 0.0096.
Spaincoin (SPA): Spain
Current Value: $0.085
Market Cap: $ 2,214,458
Currency Rank: 25th
Spaincoin, the national cryptocurrency of ... yes, Spain, launched on 12th March and its creator promised to wait one month for the price to stabilize and services to be developed before beginning distribution to Spanish citizens. The coin makes Spain, with a population of 46.7m, by far the largest country to have its own national cryptocurrency.
The motivation behind the coin was "indebtment" and "mismanagement" by the Spanish government during Spain's economic slump of the past six years, plus the fact that other cryptocoins were "less accessible for the general population".
The developers promise to give 50% of the coins to "people who don't have access to, or don't even know anything about cryptocurrencies", hoping the rollout will be an educational experiment as well as an economic one.
The first 50,000 people will receive 100 SPA each, the next 50,000 50 SPA each, and so on until the last 7m recipients receive just 1 SPA. The developers have promised to be transparent in their operations and have published a list of addresses where premined coins will be stored before distribution.
Pesetacoin (PTC): Spain
Current USD Value: $0.024
Market Cap: $446,014
Currency Rank: 42nd
As well as being the largest country with a national cryptocurrency, Spain may be the only country to have two (actually no, please see below). Pesetacoin is also a grand national project, albeit with a slightly different approach to the others, and bears the nostalgia-inducing name of Spain's currency before it adopted the euro.
There will be a total of 166m PTC, described by its creator 'CryptoMP' as "[not] an explosive coin, but a modest currency that slowly finds its way into the community". Apart from giving away 50 PTC amounts on a casual basis, there is no scheduled 'airdrop' and it is hoped Pesetacoin will spread organically via its users, as did bitcoin.
CryptoMP has increased the competitive stakes by referring to rival Spaincoin as "a classic pump-and-dump scam" that would make money for a few early on, before disappearing.
Current USD Value: $0.012
Market Cap: $1,933,087
Currency Rank: 26th
Announced on 15th March, Greececoin comes with a similar tale to Spaincoin. Greece's economic and sovereign debt crisis has been far more severe than that of other places in the developed world, resulting in occasional riots, bank burnings and a seemingly endless cycle of bailouts.
"This new currency will bring confidence and belief back to the people of Greece so that they can continue to prosper in our so ever changing world," said the launch announcement on Greececoin's homepage.
There will be 32m total Greececoins mined, and 50% will be premined. 40% will be distributed to citizens initially in lots of 32m and 10% to Greek businesses at 96 each, one month later. Unclaimed coins will be used "for promotion and continual development of Greececoin", with the remaining 50% going to those mining them.
Current USD Value: N/A
Market Cap: N/A
Currency Rank: N/A
Scotcoin's homepage features tartan, a kilted man and a ruined castle, so you know it's the real deal. The altcoin was created by Derek Nisbet, an Edinburgh native and bitcoin fan with years of experience in the finance/technology world.
Nisbet says his motive was to "create a thriving digital economy in Scotland, where the Scottish people are offered an alternative medium of exchange."
There will be a billion Scotcoins, 980m of which will be premined and distributed directly to Scottish residents, while the other 20m will be a reward for those who continue to mine. The rollout favors Scottish charities, who will receive 10,000 coins each, 5,000 to any participating business and 1,000 to individual residents, all on a first-come, first-served basis.
Nisbet does not plan to promote Scotcoin on any exchange or develop any services around it, saying the free market will decide if such things are necessary. Wallet downloads began on 1st March, and distribution is planned to happen via Scotland-based Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, followed by an Android app.
Aphroditecoin (APH): Cyprus
Current USD Value: $0.28
Market Cap: $6,281,042
Currency Rank: 12th
Cyprus' banking crisis of early 2013 was so effective at turning people off traditional finance that it helped launch bitcoin to its highest value ever, $266 on Mt. Gox in April 2013.
Since then, the former financial services powerhouse has looked for ways to regain its prestige, and many have grumbled about the island country's absorption into, and regulation by, the Eurozone.
Cyprus even looks set to become a bitcoin center, with the first bricks-and-mortar bitcoin savings institution and a seemingly friendly regulatory environment. Thus the country seems ripe for its own altcoin as well – hence Aphroditecoin.
Following a script similar to that of Iceland's Auroracoin, Aphroditecoins will be 75% premined and distributed to those on a national ID database in lots of 25.4 APH per person, starting 21st April.
Some have questioned, though, how serious Aphroditecoin is. Its website (which looks very similar to Auroracoin's) manifesto is signed 'Costa Themistocleus', but no further details are given, and the site's only contact detail is an address for developers, a message to which immediately bounced. The coin's reddit page is also quite lean.
The website is also available in English-only. While English is commonly spoken in Cyprus, the country's primary and official language, Greek, is not represented.
Aphroditecoin's value has also taken a beating. It hit highs of just over $5 shortly after its began trading on 22nd March, but after a day or so of volatility began a long slide to its current value of $0.33.
Gaelcoin (GAC): Ireland
Current USD Value: $0.0034
Market Cap: $24,523
Currency Rank: 148th
With Gaelcoin, another of the Eurozone's bailed-out economies is looking to reclaim some of the sovereignty it lost by giving up its own fiat currency, the punt, in 2002.
Gaelcoin's website is higher on technical detail for miners and exchanges than it is on lofty patriotic statements, though, making such sentiment a short three-sentence paragraph at the bottom of the 'About' page. This, and a seemingly high difficulty upon its launch on 8th March, raised scepticism among miners on bitcointalk.
The developers have updated Gaelcoin's FAQ page to address some of those concerns, and say the 1%-only premine will put the coin into more hands overall, rather than favoring a select group of early adopters.
Otherwise, Gaelcoin promises 50 GAC of a 650m total to each Irish citizen "in the Republic and the North", with 1% of coins pre-mined for promotional purposes.
Special mention: Mazacoin
Current USD Value: $0.0017
Market Cap: $300,377
Currency Rank: 58th
Though technically not designed for use by a sovereign country, Mazacoin gets some credit for being a genuinely serious economic experiment, and the first altcoin claiming to represent a nation.
It was designed by Payu Harris for use by the sovereign Lakota Nation, starting with the Oglala Lakota Nation, in the hope of demonstrating greater fiscal autonomy for native American communities. The Mazacoin project has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
Mazacoin is a fork of the Zetacoin project, itself a fork of the original bitcoin, and features multi-signature transactions. There is no airdrop or handout and coins must be acquired through trading, acceptance via a business, or mining.
Pre-mined coins will be used either as a reserve to stabilize prices, or put into a tribal trust fund. Unusually for a cryptocurrency, there is also no cap on the total number of coins.
Along with Auroracoin, Mazacoin is probably one of the best organized and maintained sovereign cryptocurrency projects out there, with plenty of information on how to use the currency, regular news updates, and business tools.
It also has the backing of company Kimitsu Asset Management, which keeps trading deliberately slow in the hope of avoiding pump-and-dump accusations and price volatility through speculation.
Rest of the world
Commenters below the original story have pointed out a few other national cryptocurrencies that deserve a mention, in various stages of development and release. Here they are, with coinmarketcap.com rankings where available and links to homepages and bitcointalk threads.
Deutsche eMark (DEM, #106) has really showed us up. Launched on 15th October 2013, the eMark may actually claim the title of first national cryptocurrency. Being first, it seems to have no need for patriotic sentiment, presenting itself merely as a sturdy altcoin bearing the name of one of the latter 20th century's most favored fiat currencies.
eKrona (KRN, #112) is named after the traditional currency unit of "the most developed European countries: Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Those are best places to work and live according to many global surveys. Let this coin name be a tribute to all what what achieved there". It is designed to be used by anyone in the world.
eGulden (EFL, not ranked) Another nostalgically named national cryptocurrency, eGulden is from the Netherlands and like others of its kind, seeks to restore pre-Euro economic independence. There will be a giveaway of 50% of the 21m total to Dutch citizens, which began 30th March. The bitcointalk thread is here.
CryptoEscudo (CESC, not ranked) named after the pre-Euro currency of Portugal, CryptoEscudo seeks to create an international community of users beginning with a 15 CESC handout to Portuguese citizens beginning on Freedom Day, 25th April. Its developers have set a goal for 1 CESC reach €1000, saying "Appreciation of CESC shall be enough to pay our national public debt, which is about €220b at the moment."
Isracoin (ISR, not ranked) is from, you guessed it, Israel, which began public mining on 26th March and has an airdrop scheduled for 6th May at midnight. There is a 10% premine of the total 4.8b coins, which will be handed out to the Israeli population. Isracoin, according to its developers, aims to disrupt Israel's stagnant banking sector which hasn't seen a new bank enter the market since 1962, and its economy which has centralized wealth to a greater degree than any other country.
Maplecoin Even Canada, the country whose fiat currency is desired by a majority of Iceland's population, has its own cryptocurrency. Using a version of Scrypt "specifically designed to mimic the value curve and rarity of precious metal commodities", Maplecoin will have absolutely no premine and reflects its country's fortune-seeking and pioneering history with this "klondike-style" distribution.
Irishcoin Sorry Spain, you're not the only country with two after all! Gaelcoin has a competitor in Irishcoin, with a rollout planned for "early April", but that's about all we know at this stage.
In other news, New Zealand's favorite adopted son Kim Dotcom has announced he's launching a local Internet Party, and has plans for a national cryptocurrency (yet to be named).
World image via Shutterstock