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(left) South African anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela waves to the press as he arrives at the Elysee Palace, June 7 1990, in Paris, to have talks with French president Francois Mitterrand. (right) At the auction of Nelson Mandela's artwork from Robben Island, his former prison, a solid fine gold casting of Mandela's right hand was auctioned. A Johannesburg carpet dealer, Shraga Vidavsky, bought the hand for Rands 425,000 (approximately US$53,000.) The hand, 3 kilograms of pure gold, bears his signature and one of the years of his imprisonment on the back. The hand was cast by South African Harmony Gold Company. Twenty-seven hands will be made for auction, one for each year of imprisonment. The proceeds from the auction of the gold hands and of Mandela's artwork will benefit the  Nelson Mandela Trust  and the charities it supports.
(left) South African anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela waves to the press as he arrives at the Elysee Palace, June 7 1990, in Paris, to have talks with French president Francois Mitterrand. (right) At the auction of Nelson Mandela's artwork from Robben Island, his former prison, a solid fine gold casting of Mandela's right hand was auctioned. A Johannesburg carpet dealer, Shraga Vidavsky, bought the hand for Rands 425,000 (approximately US$53,000.) The hand, 3 kilograms of pure gold, bears his signature and one of the years of his imprisonment on the back. The hand was cast by South African Harmony Gold Company. Twenty-seven hands will be made for auction, one for each year of imprisonment. The proceeds from the auction of the gold hands and of Mandela's artwork will benefit the "Nelson Mandela Trust" and the charities it supports.
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It’s one of the more unusual deals in the art world. After more than a decade, an Alberta businessman has finally found a buyer for his prized collection of gold castings of Nelson Mandela’s hand. The final price? Ten million dollars — in bitcoin.

Attempts by Malcolm Duncan, formerly of South Africa, to sell the hands back in 2007 were scuppered by controversy over provenance and a possible missing charitable donation. This time he’s had better luck, albeit with an unusual buyer.

Little information is available about Arbitrade, an Ontario-based cryptocurrency company, something Chairman Len Schutzman says is about to change.

The company is “weeks away” from doing an initial coin offering and is building a facility in Waterloo, Ontario, to mine its own cryptocurrencies and plans to trade others. Its key selling point, he says, is that it will back all its virtual coins with some percentage of physical metal — including gold.

Nelson Mandela’s solid gold hand would seem to fit the bill, although as a general rule Schutzman says he’ll seek to acquire gold bars or coins rather than art. Weighing 20 pounds, the value of the gold is a fraction of the artifacts’ purchase price. 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 deluge.

Under Mandela’s own orders, many works were destroyed and the subject remains a touchy one in South Africa to this day. Duncan believes he owns the only four surviving casts of Mandela’s hand, palm and fist, tucked into bespoke imbuia wood boxes. “He cut his thumb quite badly on Robben Island, his right thumb, and you can see it,” Duncan said.

Photographs show Mandela sitting for the castings, which were made by a defunct division of Harmony Gold Mining Co. in 2002. 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. The rest is due to be delivered in quarterly installments of at least $2 million per extremity, starting April 30.

“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.”

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Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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