"You know when you put something in the bin, and in your head, say to yourself 'that's a bad idea'? I really did have that," James Howells says. And boy, was his intuition right: Howells tossed a hard drive that held millions of dollars' worth of Bitcoins, the currency whose value has skyrocketed this year.
Howells' story is emerging on the same day Bitcoin rose above the $1,000 mark for the first time on the Mt. Gox exchange, as CNET reported. At that exchange rate, Howells' stash of 7,500 Bitcions would have been worth $7.5 million today. (Because there's no central exchange for Bitcoins, prices can vary.)
The Bitcoins were in a digital wallet in a hard drive that was sitting in a desk drawer in Newport, Wales. It contained the unique access key that would allow Howells to control the money. Howells, who reportedly works in IT, did not make a backup file.
As Howells tells The Guardian, it was months before he realized he had tossed the Bitcoins along with the drive, the survivor of a Dell laptop he had used to "mine" the currency in 2009.
"I don't have an exact date, the only time period I can give – and I've been racking my own brains – is between 20 June and 10 August," he tells the newspaper. "Probably mid-July."
His attempts to find the missing hard drive have been stymied by the epic size of the local landfill. Its operators told Howells that his hard drive was probably about four or five feet deep, in an area the size of a soccer field. And with no guarantee of finding the Bitcoins, he can't take on the expense of an excavation.
"I'm at the point where it's either laugh about it or cry about it," Howells says. "Why aren't I out there with a shovel now? I think I'm just resigned to never being able to find it."
At least Howells has company. As we reported this past spring, a man named Stefan Thomas told Der Spiegel that he lost 7,000 Bitcoins because of a hard-drive failure. Back then, the currency made headlines for hitting the $200 mark.
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