In 2008, a person named Satoshi Nakamoto published a paper called Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. The paper discussed a peer-to-peer version of electronic cash, which could be used in a transaction without the interference of a middleman. In 2008, Bitcoin was still just a small and widely unknown currency. However, fast forward to today, and it is one of the most sought-after products in the world. One man spotted the trend before the “Bitcoin Boom” and collected thousands. However, one dire mistake caused him to lose that multimillion-dollar fortune.
Met James Howells
James Howells is an IT technician, who lives in Wales. Howells had always been interested in computers and learned about Bitcoin early in its existence. He took an interest in the new cryptocurrency and began looking into it more. With a mind for computers, he discovered he was easily able to “mine” for Bitcoins. Howells was one of the first Bitcoin miners.
Pioneer Bitcoin Miner
Howells was one of the first people to begin mining for Bitcoin. His search began in 2009, shortly after the open-source software was released to the public. The concept peaked Howells’ interest, and he began searching for Bitcoins on his handy-dandy Dell laptop. According to The Independent, Howells used “his computer to solve complex mathematical problems to earn rewards.”
What Is Bitcoin?
For those people who do not understand IT terms, Bitcoin may be a little hard to comprehend. Bitcoin is a digital currency. As stated by coindesk.com, “Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems.” Used strictly electronically, Bitcoin allows the user to bypass any formal institutions. Therefore, there are fewer fees.
The First Bitcoin Transaction Was For Pizza
Developer Laszlo Hanyecz has been given the credit of completing the first ever bitcoin transaction. In May 2010, he wrote on a Bitcoin Forum, that he would like to offer 10,000 bitcoins to pay for 2 pizza. “I’ll pay 10,000 bitcoins for a couple of pizzas.. like maybe 2 large ones so I have some left over for the next day,” he wrote. A deal was made, and he gave 10,000 Bitcoins for two pizza worth $25. Today, those 10,000 bitcoins are worth over $113 million.
His Girlfriend Made Him Stop Mining
Howells would spend hours on the computer mining for Bitcoins. It became a hobby for him. However, one day, his girlfriend at the time got fed up with it. According to Gizmodo, she was “fed up with the noise of block-mining hardware” and “made him stop.” At the time, Howells was happy to oblige as Bitcoin was still worth little money.
He Collected 7,500 Coins
Howells had no problem putting his “scavenger hunt” aside. He worked on computers all day, therefore, it wasn’t necessary to keep working on a computer all night, especially for something that wasn’t worth much money. Since the beginning of his search, he had mined 7,500 bitcoins. The key to access the coins was stored on his hard drive.
Broke His Computer
One day Howells accidentally spilled lemonade on his computer. He told Telegraph, “After I had stopped mining, the laptop I had used was broken into parts and sold on eBay. However, I kept the hard drive in a drawer at home knowing it contained my Bitcoin private keys so that if Bitcoin did become valuable one day I would still have the coins I had mined.”
His Hard Drive Remained Untouched For Years
When Howells originally broke his computer, he was smart enough to hang onto the hard drive. He had a feeling one day Bitcoin would explode. He left the hard drive in his drawer for 3 years. It was a safe place for his stored information, which included the Bitcoins. However, 3 years is a long time, and things can easily be forgotten.
Moves On With His Life
Life went on for Howells. As he had other matters to deal with, the hard drive remained in the drawer collecting dust. “I kept the hard drive in a drawer in my office for three years without a second thought – totally forgot about bitcoin all together,” he told BBC. “I had been distracted by family life and moving house.”
A Forgotten Hard Drive Found
Three years had gone by since Howells had even touched the hard drive. Like many people do after collecting years of stuff, he decided it was time to get rid of some old equipment. Howells said to BBC, “Fast forward to 2013 which is when I had a clearout of my old IT equipment – I hadn’t used this drive for over three years, I believed I’d taken everything off it… so it got thrown in the bin.”
Bitcoin Surges In 2013
Up until 2013, the price of one Bitcoin remained relatively low. The highest worth it had ever reached was $266. However, that all changed in 2013 and by the end of the year, Bitcoin saw a surge in worth. In November 2013, the price of one bitcoin rose to $1,242. The price leveled out to $1,000 by the end of the year. However, the craze had caught on, and the price was only going to continue to rise.
Howell Researches Bitcoin Price & Has Immediate Regret
“I had been hearing a few stories of a chap from Norway who had bought a number of coins for a very low price and had sold them for a high price,” Howells recalled to BBC. “That’s when I got back into checking the price and seeing what I’d done.” Howells saw the surge in price and felt immediate regret. He realized his 7,500 Bitcoins, which were now worth a substantial fortune, were now in the trash and gone from his possession.
Frantically, Searches For a Possible Backup
With the discovery of his possible lost fortune, Howells did whatever he could in hopes of finding his coin. He believed he may have backed up his hard drive on random files. Sadly, that search ended quickly as he found nothing. “There was not a lot I could do,” he said. So he made his way to the only next possible option he could think of – the landfill.
Landfill Causes Him To Lose Even More Hope
After not having found any backup files on his computer, Howells headed to what could be the next best step, the landfill. Unfortunately, when he arrived, any hope he had left quickly vanished. He recounted his arrival to BBC. He said, “When I went to the tip the manager took me up to the current landfill site and when I saw it – it’s about the size of a football field – my first thought was ‘no chance.'”
“He Confirmed My Worst Fears”
After further investigation of the landfill with the manager, Howells learned that anything that had been thrown away a few months previously was most likely 3-5 feet deep.”He confirmed my worst fears,” Howells said. The manager further explained that it is possible to search for things in the landfill. However, a team of upwards of 20 people with full-protective gear normally work on the dig.
Didn’t Have The Funds For Such A Search
Howells was understandably upset. He did not have the money in order to fund such an undertaking. Unfortunately, he also couldn’t just dig as landfills are filled with dangerous chemicals and gases. It was back to the drawing board. How could Howells finance a dig in search of his lost fortune?
Today, His Coins Are Worth $80 Million
Its been nearly 4 years since Howells realized his big mistake. Every day the regret of that mistake grows larger and larger. Over the past few year prices of Bitcoins have more than exploded. His 7,500 Bitcoins that are currently sitting in a landfill somewhere are worth approximately $80 million. However, despite the long timeline, Howells never gave up hope and recently came up with a new plan.
Appeals To The City Council
Along with the risk of just digging, it is also illegal to dig in a landfill. Therefore, Howells began seeking permission from the local city authorities. He believes he could estimate the hard drive’s location as well as depth based on the date it was thrown away and records from the landfill. However, the council turned down his request for permission. Therefore, Howells came back with a rebuttal to their response.
Offers 10% Of Fortune To The City
According to news.au.com, Howells has offered the city council 10% of his fortune if given permission to dig. “How can they leave $100 million (USD) in the ground when making cuts to services left right and center?” he said. “My investors have even offered to put a sum of money into a bank ‘bond’ just in case we mess it up, the council can access this money to fix it properly themselves.”
Council Turns Down His Offer
The Newport City Council released a statement in response to Howells offer. A spokesman said “The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds — without any guarantee of either finding the hardware or it still being in working order. The council has told the individual concerned on several occasions that excavation is not possible under our licensing permit, added to the fact excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area.”
The Landfill Is Growing
The landfill has grown exponentially since Howells first visit. Although Howells sees this as another reason for the City Council to jump on board, the council sees it as the opposite. In their statement, the council spokesman said “The landfill contains around 350,000 tonnes of waste with an annual input of 50,000 tonnes…It is likely that the hardware would have suffered significant Galvanic corrosion due to the presence of landfill leachates and gasses.”
Howells Knew Bitcoin Was Worth It
In 2009, Bitcoin was worth almost nothing. Today, experts estimate that one coin is worth approximately $11,000. Howells said he knew his time spent in 2009 would pay off. “Accidents happen. I just get on with it. I’ve always known Bitcoin would go this high and I’ve always known the value of the hard drive would go up,” he told Wales Online. “In the future I easily see it being worth anywhere from $500m (£270m) to $1billion.”
Not Giving Up Yet
Understandably, Howells has not given up yet on finding his fortune, despite being turned down by the City Council. Howells told the Telegraph, “The higher the value goes, the more chance I have to recover it so it’s just been a waiting game for the past few years – waiting until the bitcoin price was high enough to make the drive a juicy enough treasure to hunt.”
Potential Treasure Hunters Beware
Most people may now be wondering if they can somehow find the landfill and search for Howells lost hard drive. Unfortunately, the answer is no. You would be committing a criminal offense. Furthermore, even if one did find the hard drive, it is encrypted. “If they [Howells’ bitcoins] ever moved I would know,” he said to WIRED. “It’s a little like looking at your bank account containing millions of dollars but not being able to spend it.”
He’s Not The Only One
Howells is not the only one who threw away his fortune. Campbell Simpson, an editor at Gizmodo, recently proclaimed, he too threw out a hard drive with over 1,400 bitcoins. Simpson tweeted, in May 2017, “In 2010, when the Bitcoin price was like 1.5 US cents — if you could find a place that would even sell them to you — I bought $25 worth.” After doing the math, Simpson has calculated that his trashed bitcoins are worth over $7 million.