Nelson Mandela’s Golden Hands get its $10m value in Bitcoin

After more than a decade in what has been termed an unusual art deal, an Alberta businessman has finally found a buyer for his collection of gold castings of Nelson Mandela’s hand.

Attempts to sell the hands back in 2007 by Malcolm Duncan who bought the art pieces from Harmony Gold Mine, were impeded by controversy over provenance and a possible missing charitable donation destined for Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. He’s had better luck this time, albeit with an unusual buyer – for the final price of ten million dollars worth of bitcoin.

One of the four castings of Nelson Mandela’s hand that have been sold to a cryptocurrency company. Courtesy: Malcolm Duncan

The hand was sold to an Ontario-based cryptocurrency company, Arbitrade, of which little information is available about. The Chairman, Len Schutzman, says this is about to change though, and according to Bloomberg, the company is “weeks away” from doing an initial coin offering and is building a facility in Waterloo, Ontario, to mine its own cryptocurrencies with plans to trade others. Its key selling point, Schutzman says, is that it will back all its virtual coins with some percentage of physical metal—including gold.

Although Nelson Mandela’s solid gold hand would seem to fit the bill, Schutzman says he’ll seek to acquire gold bars or coins rather than art. “Their real value is one of publicity, as a means of educating millennials about Mandela—and Arbitrade—through a global “Golden Hands of Nelson Mandela” tour the company plans to launch”, he said.

The hands aren’t the first examples of “Mandela Art” to prove tricky to buyers and sellers. After the anti-apartheid revolutionary was released from prison, thousands of pieces of art bearing his name began flooding the market. Various scandals, including allegations of forgery, put a stop to the menace.

Mandela himself had instructed Harmony gold mine, the casting company to destroy works of art bearing his likeness after a fall out with his lawyer, and art publisher Ross Calder—the originator of the idea, over selling his art work and as such, Duncan believes he owns the only four surviving casts of Mandela’s hand, palm and fist, tucked into bespoke imbuia wood boxes, which, according to PressReader, he acquired between 1990 and 1994.

“He cut his thumb quite badly on Robben Island, his right thumb, and you can see it,” Duncan said.

Mandela sitting for the castings, which were made by a defunct division of Harmony Gold Mining Co. in 2002. Courtesy: Malcolm Duncan

As a condition of being allowed to buy the artifacts, Duncan says he paid double the 1.8 million-rand purchase price with the understanding Harmony would give half to Mandela’s charities. Whether that happened remains unclear.

Harmony has “supplied Mr. Duncan with the necessary paperwork verifying the provenance as requested by his attorneys,” Harmony Investor Relations Manager Lauren Fourie said by email, declining to comment when asked about the status of the donation.

So far, Duncan has been paid a bitcoin deposit that has been converted to $50,000, while the rest is due to be delivered in quarterly installments of at least $2 million per extremity, starting April 30 according to Bloomberg.

“They take possession when I have the dollar amount in the bank,” says Duncan, who has insisted Arbitrade guarantee the value in U.S. dollars, and handle the conversion. “At two-and-a-quarter million at a time, they take one hand at a time.”