Every form of currency, since the very beginning of its earliest forms, had to do with power. It is the establishment of a sovereign and its glory that justify the shared trust into a symbolic form of value circulation. Since money is not anymore backed by a material value in metal, its glorification and the representation of commonly recognized symbols becomes an even more important issue.
Bitcoin is not exempted from dealing with such dynamics: while it represents a technical innovation (an epic one, I’d argue) of how symbolic and material values can be bound together, the symbolism it will use has to be carefully choosen to reflect a meaningful imaginary and stimulate people to look beyond its mere market value and, once more cryptographic currencies will be there, even beyond its functional innovation.
If we look back in the history of icons used on money, we’ll find a long stream of symbols of leadership: heads or bodies of humans or animals that address or signify the power of a single ruler or that of a nation-state, symbols of the hierarchy that governs the minting and authentication of the currency, as well symbols of wealth and geographical maps. Far from engaging a complete analysis of such symbols used in the past, in this article I’m trying to look (briefly, still) into the future of Bitcoin regarding possible semantic associations: the symbols that can glorify this currency and at the same time signify its extremely innovative nature.
Seriously: besides the simple alphabetic (B) letter, we need something that tells more about it. If the iconography of Bitcoin should reflect its nature, its salient characteristics, the shared values of the community behind it, then it will be much easier for anyone to relate to it, remember it and distinguish it.
Some readers might remember that one of the early symbols of Bitcoin was an Alpaca, for instance the mockup presented here comes from an old forum’s thread “bounty for mascot drawing” which in its own way was already raising the issue I’m presenting here, while celebrating the first artisanal products that were ever marketed for Bitcoins.
We should dare to imagine more powerful symbols and to promote this call I’m hereby starting a series of articles on the topic. Today, my first suggestion is the empty throne.
The image of an empty prepared throne (ἑτοιμασίᾳ τοῦ θρόνου) can be found in several ancient texts of the Old Testament and even back to those comprising the Upanishad. The empty throne does not symbolize the absence or the advent of a ruler, but it is itself a sacred icon whose value “…is never so powerful as when the throne is empty” as commented by archaeologist Charles Picard.
The use of this icon is documented in writings about the Augustan era, when it was indeed used on minted currency, while sculpted exemplars are still found on the island Knossos as well in Rome at the Villa Medici or in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore – and of course, how can we ignore its presence on a rare Magic The Gathering card :^)
Starting with an empty throne provides the opportunity for a graphical theme that can still host more symbols. As it happened, many ancient representations where the throne carried objects, tools and symbols of wisdom, represented such powers in total absence of an individual person.
I’m proposing this icon because it points out a characteristic of Bitcoin: the intriguing mystery on the identity of its disappearing author Satoshi Nakamoto. In addition, Bitcoin has no single monetary authority, no hierarchy (ἱεραρχία): literally meaning there is no sacred origin. No single ruler. Bitcoin is the medium for an economy based on participation, not the edict of a king, a central bank, or their authorized intermediaries.
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