Ordinals: A Tale of Trading in the Virtual Underbelly

By: PhoenixxDown


A week or so back, our Voice of the Citadel, Shamsi, reported on a curious trend occurring – Bitcoin NFTs Are Here To Shake Up Your Reality. Essentially, a man named Casey Rodarmor has found a way to ‘attach’ any file to individual satoshis and these are called “Ordinals,” which you can buy, trade and sell, just like any other token.

Ordinals are NFTs on Bitcoin, and the creation of Ordinal tokens has divided the community into two factions. On one hand, some see it as an exciting innovation that will help change the perception of Bitcoin as an “orange boomer coin.” On the other hand, others view it as a passing fad that detracts from the core values of BTC.

I won’t be getting into all that here though. Let me caveat with this; I’m largely illiterate when it comes to understanding the technical aspect of Ordinals – although I’m keenly gathering knowledge. I learnt enough two nights ago to be able to receive an Ordinal with the view of hold it for mid-to-long term, so I can share with you that much. If you’re looking for anything beyond that, such as how to inscribe, I regret to inform you, you have come to the wrong citizen. This is more a journaling of my very intense onboarding and baptism of fire into Ordinals, which I hope will help anyone who is curious themselves. 

Initial Research & Wallet Download

I read Shamsi’s article last week, and as is tradition, didn’t take action until days later; an improvement on my usual delay of weeks. Again, as is tradition, I decided to begin my crash course close to midnight to ensure I’m playing life on the maximum difficulty. 

My first recommendation is to do exactly the opposite of both of those things.

First, I followed both @dotta and @dazza9x – recommendations from highly revered ENS big brain, businessman.eth, who you should follow also. These two accounts have written informative threads educating newcomers on how to get into Ordinals. Two of the best ones are below, which I read thoroughly before moving forwards:

Some key takeaways:

  • There is currently no marketplace for Ordinals. All buying and selling is done OTC in Discord servers. Good projects will have the dev or founder acting as intermediary.
  • You do not need a full BTC node to buy and receive Ordinals, but you do in order to sell and transfer them. This is highly crucial to take note of, as attempting to sell or transfer without the right wallet will lead to you losing your inscription. 

As someone who was simply looking to get in and purchase a sub-10K Ordinal inscription to hold, I explored what a Sparrow wallet is and how to set one up using this guide: https://gist.github.com/windsok/5b53a1ced6ef3eddbde260337de28980

Once that step – which I thought was the hard bit – was out of the way, I then realised I needed to find a Discord server where trades were taking place. As luck would have it, I remembered Ordinal Penguins were launching that night with their Discord opening to the public at 15:00 PST – I checked the time and it was 15:03. The Ordinal Gods were on my side there – but you can check OrdinalHub for a more ordered approach to seeing what’s happening and going live day-to-day.

Deep In The Trenches

As I entered, I went straight to the WTB channel and walked into a scene of beautiful chaos – hyped up Ordinal maxis throwing out offers for freshly minted Pengus at an average price of 0.07 BTC. For context, the mint price was 0.01 BTC. This felt like the Wild West of the early Bitcoin days I’d only read about!

To touch on mints briefly, these work differently on Ordinals than what we’re used to on ETH. There’s a reservation system in place, where the early birds will pay to reserve their inscriptions. The inscriptions are held by the project and then distributed later on to the reservists. This process may vary, but it’s the only one I’ve seen so far.

My beloved Ordinal Penguin #69

Back to the WTB channel, and I’ve put a message out saying I want to buy and have funds available for immediate payment. I get a FR and DM from a holder saying hello and informing me of his asking price of 0.109 BTC. It’s a clean 10x for this savvy gent, but I’m happy to pay it to get in as I feel it’s a fair price.

We agree on the terms and a group DM is set up with the Ordinal Penguins founder, who will act as the escrow for the deal. It’s at this point where alarm bells start ringing in my head. Neither the holder nor the founder have given me a reason to be wary of them, they’re both extremely pleasant and haven’t called me ‘fam’ once (my red flag word when detecting scammers). But I’ve spent the past 18 months being cautious when it comes to DMs, so this feels off nonetheless.

I’m too deep in the trenches by now anyway, and I really want this Pengu. I’m a gambler at heart, so I tell myself: “Worst case scenario, it’s another expensive lesson,” as I nuke every good security practice rule I’ve adhered to from a great height.

The Deal Is Done

The founder is already holding the asset and so I am to transfer the payment to the holder, and once that’s received, they will transfer the Peng. Transfer completes a few moments later, and I inform them of my receiving address.

The founder asks if my address is an “Ord or Sparrow wallet”, to which I confirm it’s a Sparrow. Upon realising this, they say they think it’s best if they hold the Penguin for me, as Sparrow’s can’t move Ordinals safely. 

To put it very bluntly, I shit the bed here and thought I was done. I explained I wasn’t planning on trading or moving any time soon, and was in it for the long hold until the tech catches up. The founder replies Okay that works, when a new Ordinal wallet comes in the future you will be able to import your Sparrow wallet. All of my worry dissipated instantly and I thanked them for looking out for me.

The asset was transferred and I tipped the founder for facilitating the trade. More than anything, I was blown away at the OTC experience, which left me with a bit of a rush.

Yes, it felt like an illicit deal done in a dark cyber alleyway, albeit with two non-threatening individuals. But it warmed the heart to have executed this on trust alone with two complete strangers, especially in this day and age where, sadly, it’s hard to trust many. 

Again, it felt like the Wild West, but certainly there was a pang of a bygone era in this exchange where people were dealing with each other in good faith and pure intentions. 

It made me nostalgic for a time which I was never a part of.


I’m personally fascinated by Ordinals and am intrigued as to where this Bitcoin innovation will lead. 

Others aren’t as convinced, and there’s been lively discussion in Purgatory Club and Angie’s today where you can get a view of both sides. Although, I can say from experience that fading things purely because you don’t understand/don’t jam with it can lead to pain down the road.

I am convinced however that even if you currently hold no Ordinals but are reading about them, you’re very early. There is no marketplace or working wallet at present – and although that’s troublesome to navigate, that is also precisely the reason why you should be at least looking into it.

Twitter Space and Further Reading

On that note, it just so happens that Neo Tokyo’s weekly Twitter Space, Interlinked, will be diving deep into Ordinals tomorrow with the OGs of the space! Set your reminders and come join us for what promises to be a great discussion: https://twitter.com/i/spaces/1OwGWwnBqmVGQ

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more, here’s some additional useful resources I’ve discovered along the way:

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