This becomes painfully obvious when an address moves $1 billion dollars in bitcoin, which has happened on more than one occasion in the recent history of the cryptocurrency. As our list of the five biggest transfers in bitcoin history reveals, such large transfers are actually quite common, particularly if you’re a crypto exchange.
Not only do these transactions indicate the concentrations of wealth Bitcoin has helped create, but they also provide clear examples of Bitcoin’s strengths. Because with billions of dollars’ worth of BTC being moved quickly, cheaply and (often) anonymously, they show that Bitcoin is highly trusted as a reliable payment rail.
1. The Largest Bitcoin Trade: $1.1 billion (161,500 BTC) on April 10, 2020
Taking the top spot, one bitcoin wallet moved 161,500 BTC on April 10, 2020. At the time, this bitcoin was worth roughly $1.1 billion, making it the biggest bitcoin transaction of all-time.
Keen observers of the Bitcoin blockchain quickly noticed the transaction. What was interesting about it was that 146,500 bitcoins out of the total amount was returned to the sender’s address, while 15,000 BTC was kept in another wallet.
The mystery was quickly explained: the CTO of Bitfinex, Paolo Ardoino, tweeted that the crypto-exchange had used the transaction to refill its hot wallet, while returning the remainder back to one of its cold wallets.
Aside from the huge sum of bitcoin involved, what’s noteworthy about this transaction is the fee. At only 0.00010019 BTC (then about $0.68), it was shockingly cheap.
2. February 2020 – $1.033 billion (106,857 BTC)
The second biggest bitcoin transfer of all-time can be traced to a series of other big transactions, beginning with a transfer on June 27, 2020.
On June 27, 2020, 101,857 BTC was moved from one unidentified wallet to another. This was worth $933 million at the time of the transfer, and resulted in the sending wallet address being emptied of all of its funds.
No one knows who this address belonged to, but at least one careful observer noticed that the exact same amount of bitcoin was also transferred on April 1, 2020.
If you look at the blockchain record of the April transaction, you’ll notice that the 101,857 BTC was sent to the very same address that sent 101,857 BTC on June 27.
What does this mean? Most likely it indicates that an exchange is moving its funds around from one wallet to another, possibly to ensure that it never stays in the same place for too long. Because if you follow the address that sent the 101,857 BTC in April, you’ll find that it received 106,857 BTC on February 25, 2020. This is the second biggest bitcoin transaction to date, worth about $1.033 billion at the time, but our story doesn’t quite end there.
On October 14, 2019, the address that sent the Feb wallet 106,857 BTC received 111,857.25 BTC, from another address that has over 59,000 transactions to its name. In other words, it’s almost certainly an exchange, and a web search for this wallet address (“3ECJwvx9VgfotcUuEJMVNvmWnTGVMk179L”) turns up a GitHub page that links the address to Blockchain.info (now Blockchain.com).
3. September 2019 – $1 billion (94,504 BTC)
Technically, the June 2020 transaction mentioned above is the third biggest transaction of all-time, but since it’s connected to the second biggest transaction ever, we’re going to give third place to a separate transfer, which happened on September 6, 2019. It involved the transfer of 94,504 bitcoins, which at a price of $10,654 per bitcoin, just passed $1 billion.
Blockchain analyst Whale Alert promptly reported the transaction.
Others noted that the wallet address wasn’t associated with any crypto exchange, indicating that it may have been a private user moving funds to another private user (or to themselves).
One unconfirmed theory was that the transaction was trading platform Bakkt moving bitcoin in preparation for accepting client funds. Bitcoin commentator Max Keiser suggested that the transfer involved a financial institution.
No one has come forward to claim the transaction. However, it may be worth pointing out that bitcoin fell steeply soon after the move, from $10,654 on September 6 to $8,140 by October 6.
4. October 2019 – $894 million (107,848 BTC)
Crypto exchanges don’t only store their bitcoins themselves. They also transfer them to dedicated storage companies, which is what happened on October 14, 2019, when Bitstamp transferred 107,848 bitcoin to custody provider Xapo. This was equal to $894 million at the time, and came as part of a single transaction that transferred 112,027 BTC to a number of addresses.
Bitstamp CEO Nejc Kodrič highlighted the fact that the fee was about as much as a cup of coffee, while one replier noted that the size of the transfer indicates a huge amount of trust in the Bitcoin network.
5. February 2020 – $491 million (48,952 BTC)
On February 16, 2020, a wallet sent 48,952 bitcoins, worth $490.5 million at the time.
The wallets involved were unknown to Whale Alert, yet the address used to send the amount appears to have links to addresses used in the past by Bittrex. According to a tweet from cryptocurrency researcher Larry Cermak on similarly large transactions, it’s possible that Bittrex has been moving its own store of bitcoin around in order to boost on-chain volume metrics.
As with the other big transactions on this list, the fee for this transfer was impressively low: 0.00006700 BTC, which then converted to about $0.66.
One Honorable Mention
It needs to be mentioned that, while the above five transactions are the largest (so far) in terms of value in US dollars, they aren’t the largest in terms of the absolute number of bitcoins transferred.
Taking total BTC involved as the metric, the largest bitcoin transaction of all-time actually happened in 2011, when the price of bitcoin was much lower. On November 16, 2011, 500,000 bitcoin were transferred in a single transaction. It’s not known who was involved in this transaction, but whoever received it would have inherited a large amount of money: the 500,000 BTC was then worth around $1.13 million.
Of course if that transaction was performed today it would be worth a whopping $5.3 billion!