When Ethereum was first launched as a cryptocurrency in 2014, it was first offered for sale as part of a pre-sale. At the time the ETH price was just 30 cents.
According to specialist researchers in the digital assets field, some 7% of the ETH bought in the pre-sale has never left the original wallets it was deposited in. Ethereum is now trading at around $2,800. That makes the value of the static ETH still held in those original wallets a staggering $1.6 billion in value. Buried treasure?
What was the Ethereum pre-sale?
The Ethereum presale was literally a sale of Ether to investors before Ether existed. Investors could buy Ether with Bitcoin, even though the Ethereum blockchain did not yet exist, and the genesis block had not yet been mined. Following weeks of speculation, Vitalik Buterin, the Ethereum founder, posted an announcement on the Ethereum Foundation Blog announcing the sale.
In his announcement, Buterin tells the story of the substantial hardships his team had faced: “We certainly miscalculated the sheer difficulty of navigating the relevant legal processes in the United States and Switzerland, as well as the surprisingly intricate technical issues surrounding setting up a secure sale website and cold wallet system.”
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Buterin also informed potential investors that Ether (his company’s transactional token) would be available in the presale at a discount price of 2,000 Ether (ETH) per Bitcoin (BTC). “The sale will last 42 days, concluding at 23:59 Zug time September 2 ,” he wrote.
Buterin’s message was very clear to anyone that wanted to participate in the presale, also called the premine, crowdsale, and genesis sale. He wrote, “If you purchase Ether, DO NOT lose your wallet file or your password, or you will never be able to access your ether.”
Sometimes things went wrong during the presale. For instance, a Washington DC family claims that it’s struggling to access about $6 million locked away in an Ethereum presale wallet. ABC’s News 7 reports that Art and Yuki Williams claim that even though they created a password for the wallet, the “very important JSON file which acts as a private key to open a crypto wallet never completely downloaded online.”
While the Williams’ claims have received quite a bit of press attention, many Ethereum presale wallet passwords were lost.
This really does sound a little like finding lost American Civil War gold in your attic. According to researchers at CryptoAssetRecovery.com, when determining the amount of ETH Lost in the presale there are a number of factors to consider.
How to determine if a wallet is truly lost
Is a wallet considered lost if it received payment from the genesis block and sent out 50 – 80% of the funds immediately? What if a wallet received its genesis block but did not move funds until 2018 – is that considered a lost wallet or a HODL wallet? For our purposes here, an Ethereum presale wallet is only considered “lost” if funds have never moved since they were received from the genesis block. It’s literally a virtual hole in the ground with millions in ETH sitting in it.
After determining the criteria for a “lost” ETH presale wallet, the remaining work comes down to searching for every ETH wallet that received funds from the genesis block. This can be easily accomplished as the genesis block is block number 0 and holds a record of every transaction mined in that block. With a basic scraper researchers were able to extract a list of 8,893 wallet addresses that received Eth in the genesis block.
Now, with the list of participating addresses in the ETH presale, it became a matter of writing a script to walk the blockchain and check each address for its transaction history.
As we are only considering a wallet “lost” if it has never moved funds, the process became checking each address for those which had only 1 transaction – incoming payment from the genesis block. One short script later and we had a list of wallets that can reasonably be considered “lost”. Since the genesis block, 630 of the 8,893 addresses – representing just over 7% of the presale wallets – have never moved. While 7% of these wallets may seem small, the amount of Eth stored away in these wallets is staggering. Locked away are 532,426 Eth, valued at roughly $1.6 Billion at current market prices (April 2022).
These numbers become more interesting as you dig into the value of each wallet. Of the 630 wallets that have never moved, the average wallet value is just over 845 ETH (roughly $2.6 million at current market price). The largest of these wallets holds more than $60 Million in lost ETH.
It is a fascinating story. In this case there is also a treasure map. CryptoAssetRecovery.com has published a list of the top 10 wallet addresses which qualify. Using a reference price of ETH of $3138 this means the top treasure trove is worth over $62m in untouched ETH!