How much is the Mona Lisa worth?

This post isn’t about the Mona Lisa, but if you are curious, $1 billion seems to be as good a guess as any.

Let’s change the question slightly. How much would YOU pay for the Mona Lisa?

This probably depends on how much money you have, your appreciation for art by Da Vinci, how much you love the history around the Mona Lisa, how much you appreciate the painting itself, etc.

Personally I wouldn’t pay very much, for both practical and aesthetic reasons. For a world famous painting, security and insurance wouldn’t be cheap. I don’t know where I would put it. And… maybe worst of all, I don’t find it a particularly interesting painting. The painting directly across from it, Veronese's Wedding Feast at Cana, at 10 m wide, is more impressive. In terms of eye-catching beauty, I can personally vouch that Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait at the Musee d'Orsay across town is far more striking. If you ever have the opportunity, definitely go see it in person. The pictures online do not do it any justice.

But... I assume most people would be willing to pay at least something for the Mona Lisa, if only for the story.

The Mona Lisa is a collectable. And for collectables The Story drives most of their value. The Mona Lisa spent hundreds of years in relative obscurity until it's theft in 1911 and later return. This story was reported worldwide and it became famous to a worldwide audience. It has also been the focus of numerous attacks and protests, which have further driven it's notoriety. That is to say, the painting is famous not because of the quality of the work or the beauty of the painting, but because of The Story of everything it has suffered and yet survived despite of. While the painting arguably does have some intrinsic value as a piece of artwork, and in it's ability to drive revenue to the Louvre, I think The Story of the Mona Lisa is the biggest driver of its value.

Why did I start a post about Bitcoin talking about the Mona Lisa? It is because whenever I try to understand the value of Bitcoin, my mind drifts to the Mona Lisa. Similar to the Mona Lisa, the main value of Bitcoin is in it's Story. Bitcoin is best understood, not as a currency, or a commodity, or a security, but as a famous collectable.

Bitcoin is the first decentralized cryptocurrency. I am not going to dive into what it means to be a "decentralized cryptocurrency". First of all it is too complicated for this short blog post and second I think this description is mostly irrelevant to the value of bitcoin.

Since it's creation in 2009 till today, Bitcoin has been the largest blockchain by market cap (currently at $1.4 trillion dollars). Why? I would argue that it is because it has a great Story. It was born in the depths of the Great Financial Crisis, a non-state issued currency serving as a counter reaction to bank bailouts by an anonymous founder who disappeared without being identified. It has a kind of "immaculate conception" that cannot be duplicated.

Early users of the network added significantly to it's notoriety. Many bitcoin fans celebrate Bitcoin Pizza Day, where an early user spent 10,000 bitcoin on Papa Johns pizzas (an amount currently worth $715 million). Early uses of bitcoin for black markets like silk road on the darkweb and the enforcement actions that followed in the early 2010's only served to increase the profile of Bitcoin worldwide. China has banned bitcoin more times than I can count. These stories are an interesting echo of the Mona Lisa's own connections to theft and political controversy.

Bitcoin has also inspired 1000's of blockchain projects, which take the basic concept of a decentralized cryptoeconomic network and add functionality, performance, and sometimes funny dog memes. If any of these projects achieve success they tend to increase the Story value of Bitcoin as the original blockchain which inspired them. Many Bitcoin enthusiasts will point to Bitcoin's 4 year halving cycle as a key driver for Bitcoin's value. But this ignores the overlap of Bitcoin's price rises with innovative technologies built on blockchains. The development of fungible tokens and initial coin offerings (ICOs), decentralized finance, non-fungible tokens, and other market mania inspiring technologies have often driven bitcoin awareness even when the technologies were not themselves built on the bitcoin network. Another interesting echo of how the image of the Mona Lisa has been replicated and reused in 1000's of art and marketing projects in the past century.

So I will ask then, how much would YOU pay for 1 Bitcoin?

This probably depends on how much money you have, your appreciation for blockchains, how much you love the story around decentralized non-state money, how much you enjoy using the Bitcoin network itself, etc.

Personally I wouldn’t pay very much, for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Managing another crypto wallet for bitcoin is kind of a hassle. Investing in collectables doesn't fit my personality or investment goals. And.. maybe worst of all, I don't find it to be a particularly interesting blockchain.

But... I assume most people would be willing to pay at least something for 1 Bitcoin, if only for the story.

This post is about an investable asset. As of the date of this post's publication I do not own any bitcoin. Nor do I intend to in the future. These are my personal thoughts on bitcoin and should not be taken as advice of any kind, for investment or otherwise.

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