In June 2013, Matthew Rodbourne of the UK began selling a 1 BTC physical Bitcoin, and six months later released a new batch as he branded his business ‘Microsoul’. Finding demand, he went on to release a total of six different coins, and remains active. His coins have clearly been heavily inspired by Casascius’ classic designs, to such an extent that a casual observer taking a quick glance at both might not realize that two independent producers are involved. With coins in 0.01 BTC and 0.05 BTC, Microsoul very much worked on the same scale of value as Casascius did originally, with the 0.01 BTC and 0.05 BTC coins very closely resembling the equivalent dollar values of the 1 BTC and 5 BTC Casascius coins only two years earlier. With the motto of ‘Microsoul coins for the masses’, the stated purpose of the venture has been to deliver reliable, cost effective, and interesting physical Bitcoins to all who might want them.
Microsoul does not aim to make a substantial profit, and is very much a personal hobby rather than a for-profit enterprise. He has collaborated with Crypto Imperator, another producer, to assist in making the 1,000,000 DOGE Gold Coin a reality.
Matthew has been very active in the crypto-currency community outside of producing physical coins. In 2014 he participated in the release a free mobile game called ‘The Ponz’ in which a superhero named ‘Ponz’ must avoid hitting aircraft and central banks as he flies forward while collecting bitcoins and World Aid Coins in the sky. These ‘World Aid Coins’ tie in with another project headed by Rodbourne: the creation of a new crypto currency in which 50 percent of the ‘mined’ coins go into a fund to be put towards various humanitarian causes. The currency would function by having a few dozen designated ‘guardians’ from various backgrounds who vote upon the causes that should be supported. The aim is that if ‘WAC’ gains a large user-base, its use would have a humanitarian benefit on the world at large. A designated Internet forum was created for the concept, and Microsoul designed special ‘guardian’ silver coins to be given to the ‘trustees’ of the currency. As of printing, World Aid Coin does not appear to have any active user base or market value.
‘Zombie error’ coins and other setbacks
In 2014, Matthew discovered an error in the program that was used to create the bitcoin addresses of the coins, causing some faulty ‘zombie’ 0.01 BTC coins that did not actually contain any redeemable BTC to be sold to unsuspecting buyers. Though the coins had technically been ‘funded’, the font of the private keys was incorrect and caused some characters to be missing, making them un-redeemable. Matthew’s quality control procedure of peeling and redeeming every 100th coin proved useful in this situation, as otherwise thousands of coins could have been spoiled and tens of bitcoins lost.
As soon as the error was discovered, buyers were contacted and a quiet recall took place. The vast majority of coins were successafully returned to Microsoul for replacement, but around 20 are still believed to be in private ownership. Had this critical issue been discovered by a buyer instead of Microsoul, a very significant backlash from the Bitcoin community may have taken place, and serious reputation damage to the entire physical Bitcoin market may have followed. The incident is an important reminder of an important caveat regarding most physical Bitcoins: the owner of a coin must have faith in the producer. The truth is that with coins functioning as pre-funded ‘bitcoin wallets’, it is virtually impossible to verify that the producer did not keep a copy of the private keys to each coin, be the copy in a digital, printed, or photographic format. To downplay these fears, the majority of manufacturers selling physical Bitcoins have been purposeful in making their identities public knowledge, in a sector that generally puts a high value on anonymity. Matthew himself actually displayed a scanned copy of his passport on his website to convince buyers that he had no intention of keeping private keys of his coins.
Another major setback happened during the production of silver coins in China. Upon receiving the initial batch of coins, he was unsatisfied and sent back 90 percent of them to be fixed. Receiving the improved coins sometime later, he was still unhappy with the quality of work. Upon sending them back to the manufacturer a second time, the coins were confiscated by Chinese customs, causing Microsoul a loss of about 10,000 USD.
Below: ‘The Ponz’ featuring the World Aid Coin logo, and a sample design for the silver ‘Guardian Coins’ to be distributed to the ‘trustees’ of the new currency.