Bitcoin, Bullion and Beauty: The physical bitcoins with a difference

Sunday 10 August 2014

When brothers, JR and Richard Forsyth started learning about bitcoin in 2010, they were instantly excited by the potential of cryptocurrency. Less than four years later they are running their own business minting physical bitcoins with a difference.

Despite starting out in the credit card payments industry, as soon as JR and Richard became aware of cryptocurrency, they began branching out, establishing related businesses to advocate the advantages, build education and help grow the movement. They became lifetime members of the Bitcoin Foundation and earlier this year had founded Alitin Mint.

The Investment

Physical Bitcoin by Alitin MintIt is back to basics for the brothers who run the small startup in Springfield, Missouri, with the help of close family and friends, but they are hoping what they create is not only going towards improving security, but will also become a collectible with long-term value.

Their new approach to physical bitcoins combines the speculative value of bullion (the current series is pure silver) and bitcoin, as well as a unique sculpted design on each run of coins. Courtney Pinkham, paralegal and marketing specialist with Alitin Mint told BitScan:

“This makes our coins more collectible because, over time, the certainty that they will in fact carry the value of the cryptocurrency advertised is more certain… Precious metals speculators generally see silver and gold rising in the near and long term future. Bitcoin is a more uncertain financial product, but many respected financial analysts expect a 5-figure bitcoin by end of 2015.”

Alitin Mint are not a firm offering investment advice, in fact they are not registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). However, they do see future value in their coins and Pinkham says they market them as collectible art pieces.

“People these days who buy crypto are speculating about future value.

The sale of a limited edition art piece struck in a pure precious metal also carries a high degree of probability that buyers will see our products as investment opportunities.”

She adds, “Each case is individually signed and numbered by the artist himself, and we have so far not done a release of more than 600 coins in an edition. With limited numbers like that, these coins are rare indeed.”

The Security Bit

As well as a collector’s item, Alitin Mint say the coins are particularly suited to be used as cold storage.

The security features they boast include a tamper-proof hologram and a specially-engraved private key, which is hidden from view in the casing. “Most physical cryptocurrency makes use of holographic stickers to hide private keys or access codes to such keys. This works for the most part, but stickers can be lifted clean without evidence of tampering, making such coins extremely vulnerable to fraud and theft of the underlying cryptocurrency attached,” says Pinkham.

She adds, “Alitin Mint coins rely on a security casing—in the numismatic industry, called a shatter proof “slab.” Our casing cannot be opened without showing signs of tampering. All our private keys and public addresses are engraved in to the metal of our coins, with the keys being hidden by an insert in the coin casing. Thus, the only way to access the underlying bitcoins attached to our product is to smash the case open and show proof of redemption.

"This means that when one of our coins enters the secondary market, buyers can be certain that the private keys have not been accessed. We literally destroy our records of private keys once we have sold our coins, so if the coins are lost, the crypto is gone too.”

She assures BitScan that only one person, Richard Forsyth, ever gets to see the private keys before they are engraved and the records are permanently destroyed.

Alitin Mint bitcoin security cold storage

The Process

Along with the Forsyth brothers, Alitin Mint works with John Andelin, a physician and presidential sculptor. He has been the artist for all Alitin Mint’s designs to date. The process of creating one of their coins starts with him; he sculpts the designs initially in clay, and then scans it into a 3D editing program. He then converts this data into a file format that is sent off for minting.

The firm uses Northwest Territories mint for stamping. They produce several mockups and once a design is agreed upon, the mint creates dyes for the stamping, which are used for a pre-determined run and then destroyed. Once minted, coins are sent to Alitin Mint’s processing center in Springfield Missouri where they are engraved and packaged.

The codes are acquired offline through a javascript application and are never exposed to the internet. Once engraved and packaged, coins are inventoried in an undisclosed, secure location. Depending on customer preference, crypto is loaded on to the products at either the time of shipment, sale, or upon receipt.

The Art

There are currently only two, limited edition coins available, containing either 1BTC or 2BTC. They portray the images of Jeanne d’Arc and Adam Smith respectively.

Pinkham explains that the characters they use are always chosen carefully:

“Our intention is to honor great figures in human history who stood for ideas

that are parallel to the cryptocurrency movement: liberty, courage in the face of tyranny, free markets,

freedom of speech, technology innovators, and so on.” 

“We have taken several polls at bitcoin conferences and have also engaged individuals in talk forums and by email in order to get a sense of what the community wants.”

They are now gearing up to release a third product featuring Isaac Newton and a fourth is in development. “We are considering Cicero, Alan Turing, and Hannibal Barca,” Pinkham tells BitScan. “Suggestions are welcome.”

Louise Goss

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