What are the oldest cryptocurrencies?

Thousands of crypto coins have emerged over the past decade and some have survived a long time

A gold bitcoin                                 
Bitcoin is over 10 years old, but is BTC the oldest crypto?
                                

Contents

There are more than 8,000 crypto coins in existence, according to CoinMarketCap, and the vast majority are only a couple or so years old. Some, however, are positively ancient in crypto terms, which raises the question: what are the oldest cryptocurrencies?

Bitcoin, often called the ‘father’ of crypto, is normally considered the oldest crypto but is this correct?

Bitcoin

Founded in 2009, Bitcoin is considered by many investors as the very first cryptocurrency. tcoin was created by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, who, through his/their white paper is credited with making possible the previously impossible: the creation of a decentralised, secure system for a global financial payment system.

So is BTC the oldest crypto? Not necessarily: there are earlier examples of cryptocurrencies, back in the 20th century. 

Crypto predating BTC

According to a report in Bitcoin Magazine, petrol stations in the Netherlands, more than 20 years before the emergence of BTC, began using electronic cash. Fuel retailers were suffering night-time thefts, so developers came up with a solution whereby money was linked up to smartcards. Drivers who wanted to buy petrol could carry these cards rather than cash.

In the mid-1990s, David Chaum, an American computer scientist and cryptographer, experimented with electronic cash, developing a ‘blinding formula’ to encrypt information passing between two parties involved in a transaction. Despite DigiCash going bankrupt in 1998, long before the emergence of BTC, Chaum’s work is important because it established some important principles that were later absorbed in the crypto phenomenon.

B-Money, Bit Gold & Hashcash

In the late 1990s another American computer engineer, Wei Dai, developed B-Money, a distributed digital cash system. In the system he proposed, digital pseudonyms would be used to transfer currency through the network. The project never took off properly, making it arguable whether it can go in for competition as being one of the oldest cryptos. However, Satoshi Nakamoto referenced B-Money in his Bitcoin white paper in 2008.

Bit Gold, developed at a similar time, was another early iteration of a digital currency. Developed by Nick Szabo, one more American computer scientist and cryptographer, the Bit Gold system worked via an early version of a Proof-of-Work system. Despite failing, it too helped lay the groundwork for the emergence of cryptos as we know them today.

Hashcash, designed by the (then) young British cryptographer Adam Back, which also emerged in the mid-1990s, was one of the most successful pre-bitcoin examples of digital currency. Designed to stop cyber attacks and reduce email spam, Hashcash used a Proof-of-Work algorithm to secure the system. Towards the end of the 1990s, Hashcash was confronted by a range of issues, including unsustainable power requirements. However, its system laid down the core principles seen over a decade later in Bitcoin.

So, is Hashcash the oldest cryptocurrency? Many would argue, that while Hashcash was profoundly influential, Bitcoin remains the father of crypto.

Aside from bitcoin, what are the other oldest cryptocurrencies?

Oldest cryptocurrency

Litecoin was one of the original spinoffs of Bitcoin. Released in late 2011, Litecoin is very similar technically to Bitcoin. This makes litecoin the second-oldest surviving cryptocurrency. 

Another Bitcoin spin-off was Peercoin, launched in August 2012 by two pseudonymous developers, software developers Sunny King and Scott Nadal, and the first digital currency to use a combination of Proof-of-Stake and Proof-of-Work algorithms. It is still running today, although with a market cap of only $17m (£12.6m) and a daily volume of just $20,000 or so, it is one of the smallest cryptocurrencies around.

Ripple Inc’s XRP cryptocurrency was also launched in 2012 as part of a drive to construct an alternative interbank payments system, and XRP remains one of the largest cryptocurrencies, as well as one of the oldest.

The following year, 2013, saw a flurry of cryptocurrency launches, with survivors including one of the biggest coins of today, dogecoin, created originally as a joke by two software engineers, Jackson Palmer and Billy Markus, from Adobe and IBM respectively.

The last of the early giants, Ethereum, was conceived in 2013 by programmer Vitalik Buterin, although the coin was only released in 2015. Today ether is the second-largest coin by market cap, after bitcoin.

With such a saturated market emerging, the early coins have benefitted from being among the first. This helped with network effects and has helped them differentiate themselves from all the subsequent coins.

Bitcoin is often considered the first cryptocurrency. 

Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto. However, there were many precedents to Bitcoin, including Hashcash and Bit Gold, where many of the core principles of BTC were developed. It is thus not clear-cut who invented cryptocurrency. 

Cryptocurrency, if you believe Bitcoin was the first real crypto, was invented in 2009. However, as mentioned, previous developers created early iterations of crypto. So it could be argued crypto was invented in the 1990s. 

Further reading

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