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Bidding on bitcoin in a U.S. auction

Bitcoins

A pile of Bitcoins are shown here after Software engineer Mike Caldwell minted them in his shop on April 26, 2013 in Sandy, Utah. 

The U.S. Marshal’s office is holding an auction, and those who wish to register are required to send the government $200,000 by wire transfer.

What's for sale? $18 million worth of bitcoins previously stored on the computer servers of Silk Road, an illegal drug website.  

Auctioning off invisible, virtual currency is just like any other U.S. Marshal’s auction, says Andy Schmidt, research director with CEB TowerGroup, a financial services research group.

“From a practical standpoint, there’s no difference," says Schmidt. "You’re breaking up an asset into lots to get the best possible price at auction.”

Schmidt says because this is bitcoin, and the assets to be auctioned were seized from an online drug marketplace, there’s a bit more mystique. But the sale is also just business, says Jaron Lukasiewicz, CEO of Coinsetter, a bitcoin exchange based in New York.

"The auction is a rare opportunity for someone who makes a particularly huge purchase of bitcoin to enter the space at a great price," says Lukasiewicz.

Which is exactly what Lukasiewicz notes several hedge funds are hoping to do.  

Andy Schmidt says it’s unlikely the auction will affect the price of bitcoin. But he says a sale run by the government may have a chilling effect on potential buyers who may not wish to register their names with the U.S. Marshal’s office. Especially after it accidentally leaked email addresses of parties interested in the auction.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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