The price of bitcoin, the most widely used virtual currency, rose above $10,000 on Wednesday for the first time, breaking a symbolic threshold in what has been a vertiginous ascent this year.
The cost of buying one bitcoin as measured by the website coindesk.com was at $10,673 by morning trading in Europe - up from about $1,000 at the start of the year.
Virtual currencies have been the subject of much debate this year, with the CEO of JPMorgan Chase calling bitcoin a "fraud" but other executives saying it should not be dismissed.
Bitcoin was created about a decade ago as an alternative to government-issued currencies. It and other virtual currencies were initially used primarily as a method of payment, particularly to buy illegal goods and services online. In recent months, they have become a hot investment among speculators.
In a move that gave further credibility to bitcoin, the U.S. exchange operator CME Group said in October that it plans to open a futures market for the currency before the end of the year, if it can get approval from regulators.
Daniele Bianchi, an assistant professor of finance at the Warwick Business School in England, said that the price increases are due to rising demand as trading becomes more professional and open to the general public. He believes so-called cryptocurrencies are "here to stay" and that that awareness among investors is making it more than just a method of payment online, but an investment in itself.
"The increasing demand pressure from investors and speculators makes the case for an even further increase in bitcoin prices in the near future," he said.