For now, though, more stable cryptocurrencies, like gold-backed versions, are receiving the most attention.
"Bitcoin is too volatile," said Campbell Harvey, a professor of finance at Duke University. "This is why alternatives are springing up." Redeemable gold-backed cryptocurrencies may help solve that problem by being pegged to volatility of the bullion, which has been used for centuries to back currencies. "That's an advantage," Harvey said. Meanwhile, cryptocurrencies backed by commodities such as fertilizer or rice can be driven by less-predictable events, like blight or famine, and wild swings in commodities, Harvey said.
In theory, anyone can create a cryptocurrency, because it's based on an open-source code that anyone can copy. "It only costs $40," said Carl Mullan, author of "The Digital Currency Challenge." But he added, "People may not even buy them. They're like penny stocks."
Mullan favors redeemable gold cryptocurrencies. "I would buy them first," he said.
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Van Cleef said the redeemable gold concept only works if investors can trust the provider to actually back up their promise—no sure thing in a period of market experimentation. Mullan pointed to the gold-backed cryptocurrency Minacoin, which he said has disappeared. A lot of other digital currencies have come and gone, too, and once they fail, there hasn't been a way for investors to get their money back, Mullan said.
"How do you know the cryptocurrency's value is really there? What happens if something goes wrong? Can it be sold or redeemed?" Van Cleef said. "The value of these cryptocurrencies is only as good as what backs them."
Not all cryptocurrency concepts will be well-structured as market offerings. So the key to buying these crypto-coins is knowing where the gold—or any commodity—is being held.
"Any good company should be audited," Anthem Vault's Blanchard said. "And you should know who the operators are." In Anthem Vault's case, gold bricks are housed in Salt Lake City.