I've posted this story a few times on here dating back to 2014, but as it slowly recedes into history, I like to occasionally post it again to keep the story from fading away.
The Stone Man posted on bitcointalk.org in August 2010 after accumulating 9,000 bitcoins. He sent 1 bitcoin to himself, but shut down his system before the 1st confirmation. When he re-opened his wallet later, he had only 1 BTC remaining, as the other 8,999 was returned to a change address to which he did not have the private keys. For whatever reason, the private keys to the change address were not saved in his backed up wallet file.
Here is his change address, with the 8,999 BTC still there:
I always feel terrible for this guy, every time I think about it. I cringe when thinking of how his experience must have felt. This was 2010. Only the earliest of early-adopters knew about Bitcoin, and at that time users did not have the infrastructure that we all enjoy today, including plenty of good hardware wallet & mobile wallet options.
The Stone Man's story to me is a lesson in 3 ways:
1) While it's always fascinating to daydream about what might have been if we had knowledge of Bitcoin back in 2010 and if we had the foresight to buy thousands of bitcoins back then, we should all remind ourselves that anyone who bought in the early years did not have it so easy. You couldn't just sign up with coinbase or binance, fund your account & buy bitcoins. Moreover, once you had bitcoins it was not as easy to safely store them as it is today. Even up until the Mt. Gox failure, buying & storing bitcoins was not easy. Mt. Gox was by far the largest exchange from 2011-2013, and many (if not most) people who had bought bitcoins at that time bought & held on Mt. Gox, and lost all of their coins when it failed. At the very least, it was exceedingly easy for users to make mistakes and lose their coins.
2) No matter how bad a situation involving loss of crypto funds might seem at the time, years down the road looking back at it, you'll probably always see that you should have just brushed it off, learned from the experience, and then re-bought (some at least) and simply focus on improving your storage security measures. At the time this happened to The Stone Man, 1 BTC was worth around $ 0.10, but to him at that time it seemed expensive. It was around $900 worth of Bitcoin, but compared to a few months earlier when it was worth less than a cent, it seemed expensive.
3) Despite the fact that The Stone Man lost 99.98% of his bitcoins in one fell swoop, even if he did not re-buy at all, and just suffered through the loss, his investment in 2010 was still by far the best investment he could have made in any mutual fund, stocks, bonds, precious metals or other traditional investments over the same period of time. He said he acquired the 9000 bitcoins from exchanges (plural) over time, so his average cost basis was probably around $0.05 per BTC (possibly lower). Let's say he spent $400-500 acquiring the bitcoins before he lost 99.98% of them. The 1 single BTC he had left, if he did nothing but hold onto it, with an initial cost of around 5 cents, would today be worth USD 29,300 or around 29,800 with the forked coins he would have earned as well. That's still a return on investment of around 600,000X even after losing almost all of them.
I still wonder what happened to The Stone Man, and still pray that at some point following this accident, he had the courage to re-buy some bitcoins & hold onto them. If you're out there Stone Man, God bless you.