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Fanciful Bitcoin Banknotes Show How Digital Currency Might Look in the Real World

There’s a lot of information embedded in this artist’s colorful renderings.
A Block Bill design
A Block Bill designMatthias Dorfelt

Bitcoin isn’t like traditional currencies, and not just because it doesn’t exist as actual coins or paper banknotes.

Unlike traditional currencies like the dollar or euro, Bitcoin isn’t controlled by a single government or central bank. Instead, every transaction involving the popular cryptocurrency is logged in a computerized public ledger called a blockchain. This collection of receipts is maintained on millions of devices around the world in individual collections called blocks. Each time there’s a transaction involving Bitcoin, an anonymous data “fingerprint” appears in a block recording the exchange.

This key innovation is the basis for "Block Bills," a collection of paper banknotes that bring the virtual payment system into the real world. As works of art, the whimsical bills have no monetary value. But they provide a “map” to the inner workings of the Bitcoin system—and they have a subtle beauty all their own.

Block Bills is a series of 64 banknotes generated from the Bitcoin BlockchainMatthias Dorfelt

“In some way, the project is a loose data visualization, but I mainly wanted to make the bills be interesting on their own as artworks,” says Matthias Dörfelt, the Los Angeles-based artist who made the notes.

One of the 64 Block Bill designsMatthias Dorfelt

Each of the 64 bills in the collection represents a single block in the blockchain ledgers. The colors vary according to the volume of transactions. A less colorful bill represents low volume, while a more color bill represents high volume.

In some way, the project is a loose data visualization, but I mainly wanted to make the bills be interesting on their own as artworks.

Matthias Dörfelt, artist

At the bottom of each bill is a white bar with symbols that represent the specific address of the Bitcoin. On the left is a series of dots that encode the history of all the transactions. The timestamp at the bottom-right corner of each bill indicates the moment when that block of transactions was created.

Another Block Bill DesignMatthias Dorfelt

Lastly, the centers of the bills feature an indistinct image of a human being or imaginary creature. The idea here, Dörfelt says, was to create “something that reflects all the supposed privacy and anonymity connotations that Bitcoin has."