When the price of bitcoin hit $10,000 on Wednesday, many in the cryptocurrency community celebrated the milestone. But for one man in Wales, bitcoin’s boom has a taken on a very different significance.
James Howells, 32, made headlines in 2013 after it emerged he had accidentally thrown away a computer hard drive containing 7,500 bitcoins, worth around $4 million at the time. The hard drive now sits buried beneath trash in a landfill site near his home in Newport, Wales.
Following bitcoin’s recent price surge, the contents of the IT specialist’s missing hard drive are now worth $108 million at the time of writing, if other cryptocurrencies on the hard drive are also taken into account.
“I’m always aware of the bitcoin price,” Howells told Newsweek. “I always knew this [the price rising] was going to happen.... In my opinion, bitcoin hasn’t had its Facebook moment yet. Imagine the price when it does. That would make my hard drive worth $1 billion or more.”
Howells first mined the bitcoins—a process of using computing power to confirm bitcoin transactions on bitcoin’s public ledger, the blockchain, in order to generate new units of the currency—on a Dell laptop in February 2009. The following year, he disassembled the computer into parts and stored the hard drive in a drawer at his home. It remained there until 2013, when he mistakenly threw it into a general waste bin at his local landfill site.
More than four years of trash have since been dumped on top of the hard drive, meaning any salvage operation would be both costly and time-consuming. Despite making several requests to the local council, Howells has yet to be granted permission to look for the missing treasure.
“It’s a case of convincing the local authorities and environmental agencies to permit me to search,” Howells said. “As long as the price continues to rise, which due to the math involved I think it will, then my chances become greater and greater, because at some point the local council must give me a shot at searching because it will be valued so high.”
It is estimated that around 2.78 million bitcoins have been lost since the cryptocurrency was created in 2009. At today’s prices, that amounts to nearly $30 billion.
If Howells ever does retrieve the lost treasure, he says he would use the money to fund cryptocurrency start-ups, buy property and treat himself to a Lamborghini. He said he would offer the local council a “chunky reward” for their assistance in the search.
Howells is still active in the bitcoin space but these days focuses on an alternative cryptocurrency called Bitcoin Cash, which has experienced stratospheric price rises similar to bitcoin.
Despite casually misplacing a sum equivalent to the gross domestic product of a Pacific island nation, Howells said he remained “pretty Zen” about the whole matter. He said his greatest regret wasn’t that he accidentally threw out the hard drive; it's that he stopped mining bitcoin in the cryptocurrency’s early days—a decision forced upon him by his girlfriend at the time, who didn’t like the whirring noise of the computers.
“I was one small decision away from walking out of my house with $10 billion in my back pocket—that’s what I regret most, the fact I stopped mining when I knew how big this was going to be,” Howells said.
“I have good days and bad days, but overall I’m good.... Anyway, no point crying about it.”