UPDATE: The addresses featured in this post were all liquidated within 24 hours of each other on the 3rd and 4th of December 2018. The beauty of Bitcoin is that transactions are visible, so anyone can trace the movement of this coin. The owner has spread them over numerous addresses each containing 8000 BTC, he/she/it used segwit mixing to do it. Bitupper.com is a block explorer that allows you to explore segwit transactions.

Take a look at The Top 100 Richest Bitcoin addresses and you’ll notice that the Top 5 belong to the exchanges Binance, Bitfinex, Bittrex, Huobi and Bitstamp. These are their cold (offline)wallets and together account for 3.24% of all Bitcoin.

The rest are unspecified. Most of the addresses listed aren’t more than two years old, yet interestingly of the first 10 non-exchange addresses 8 were created between 2011 and 2016. Compared to the rest of the list, this is a relatively high proportion of older addresses. In addition, 7 of them have never made a pay out. This is also above average.

If you have a poke around you might notice something interesting about about a few of these.

Dead Whale

The richest 10 non-exchange addresses contain three very interesting examples:

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As you can see all of these addresses were first used within 24 hours of each other, either on 22 or 23 Nov 2013. For the next year after that, they averaged deposits, several times a month, of 658, 602 and 581 Bitcoins respectively, until 15 Nov 2014. This was the last date all three wallets received such significant amounts. Since then all further deposits have been negligible (on average approx 1/10000 BTC) yet fairly regular.

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The changing balances of the three ‘dead’ addresses show almost 1-to-1 correspondence with each other. All received their first deposit over a one day period in 2013 and none of them have ever made a payment.

To my mind the above table and chart make it clear these addresses belong to the same entity! This is further confirmed by plotting the running average of the deposit amounts over time.

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Running average of deposit amounts for the three addresses. The dashed line represents an assumed projection based on naive symmetry considerations.

Interestingly, they have contained close to 200,000 Bitcoins since the end of 2014 and not once have they been touched. Not even during the Mania last December. In fact at a nominal BTC price of $20k, the holder of these addresses would have controlled assets valued at close to $4bn at the last All Time High. Yet this whale did not sell any! Why?

How to explain this? You might think the owner is simply playing a very long game, but surely even the most ardent Bitcoin maximalist would have taken profit at this point? Another reason might be that the owner has passed away or has lost their private keys (both of which a tragedy).

Perhaps they too then are cold wallets. In which case it is very unlikely that they belong to an exchange, because if you look at The Top 100 Richest Bitcoin addresses again you’ll notice the first five addresses make periodic payouts, as one might expect from a working exchange. But for all intents and purposes, these addresses have been inactive for almost 4 years!

Inactive, that is, except for periodic deposits in the intervening years totaling less than 0.5 BTC. These micropayments, sometimes as little as 0.000001 BTC, have been received several times a month since Nov 2014 on seemingly random days. Could these be payments sent by Bitcoin developers testing their apps? Unlikely. But whatever the nature of these deposits, their small size makes it clear they are neither investments nor sales from any successful business. What’s more, looking at the last chart with the average deposits, there seems to be a trend forming (dashed line). This is being painted by these small deposits that I just mentioned. They are obviously getting less with time. But why?

More mystery then…

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