The Story Behind This Popular Photograph
J Thoendell stashed this in Cryptocurrency
Indeed, dozens of media outlets, including Bloomberg News, have published Frey’s pictures. The image used here -- dated April 26, 2013 -- happens to rank as the most popular bitcoin photograph onGettyimages.com. But if a bitcoin isn’t a physical object, what exactly are we looking at in Frey’s photographs?
They’re called Casascius bitcoins, and they were minted, in a variety of metals, by software engineer Mike Caldwell at his home in Sandy, Utah. An early bitcoin adopter, Caldwell wanted to help popularize the cryptocurrency -- but he, too, grappled with its intangibility.
“No one is going to get this if I can’t show them something,” Caldwell remembers thinking.
So in September 2011, he began making physical coins as vessels. Inside of each, he embedded a piece of paper that contained a bitcoin private key, which he protected with a tamper-resistant hologram sticker. As for the word casascius, it was half acronym (derived from the phrase “call a spade a spade”), half Latin-sounding suffix (“cius”).
As of Nov. 27, 2013, however, Caldwell no longer includes digital bitcoins in his physical bitcoins. A letter from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, stopped him in his tracks: FinCEN considered his activity to be money transmitting and informed him that he lacked the necessary license.
Since then, Caldwell has sold only aluminum promo coins via his website, Casascius.com. A bag of 500 costs 0.39 bitcoin -- about $150, as of yesterday. All told, Caldwell minted about 60,000 Casascius bitcoins. Bitcoin enthusiasts consider them collectibles -- especially the earliest ones, which have fetched as much as$2,500 each on EBay because of a typo in the hologram.
Not that much of this matters to Frey, whose photos continue to be downloaded via Getty. Frey says he’s made more than $10,000 off the images, which he shot at Caldwell’s home.
Unlike Caldwell, he accepts only U.S. currency for his work.