What Would A Bitcoin Look Like? The Answer Is Surprisingly Beautiful

One artist uses code to envision what the cryptocurrency would look like in bill form.

Bitcoin doesn’t exist in physical form–and that’s precisely the point. But one artist has created a series of bitcoin bills, translating the digital currency into a far more recognizable form.


In a project called Block Bills, the Los Angeles-based artist Matthias Dörfelt created visual representations of a randomly chosen 64 blocks on the bitcoin blockchain by using each block’s individual hash–the number that uniquely identifies it.

[Image: Matthias Dörfelt]
When that number is put through the program that Dörfelt wrote, it creates eye-catching visualizations that resemble currency bills, but are fundamentally different. Instead of a number denoting how much the bill is worth in the top right corner, there’s a number that represents the transfer volume–how many transactions occurred during a particular time span that were stored in that block.

Meanwhile, instead of a signature from the treasurer of the United States, Dörfelt hand-signs the name “Satoshi,” the still-anonymous person or group of people who invented bitcoin. In place of serial numbers, Dörfelt created a series of visual symbols that stand for hexadecimal numbers, the numbering system used for the hash: The symbols representing the individual bitcoin’s hash in hexadecimal run along the bottom of each bill. Numbers in a typeface Dörfelt created himself run along the bottom right, representing the time that the bitcoin was mined. Each bill is entirely generated by code (except for the Satoshi signature).

[Image: Matthias Dörfelt]
But most striking is the abstracted, shadowy figure in the center of each bill. While each bill’s pattern is different, the presence of the figure endures. Dörfelt says that the figure could be seen as a creature celebrating the amount of money on the bill–or it could be interpreted as something darker. The hooded figure whose face is hidden points to the privacy features of bitcoin–like its anonymity, which has led to it being used to buy drugs and other contraband on the Dark Web.

Why design a bill for bitcoin now? “From a technology standpoint, the blockchain, which was invented through bitcoin, is one of the most groundbreaking things that came along in the past couple years,” Dörfelt says. “Bitcoin itself is worth so much money, and it’s so important nowadays that it was something on my mind.”

While Dörfelt claims that the project has entirely artistic aims, Block Bills also helps to make bitcoin and the blockchain a little more accessible.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.