UPDATE 25th November, 12:16 GMT: We contacted Bitstamp CEO Nejc Kodrič to ask whether there was any truth in the rumour that the transaction was made by his company, but he declined to comment.
Bitcoin internet hangouts were buzzing today after noticing someone had shifted 194,993 BTC (over $147m on CoinDesk's BPI) in one transaction.
The transaction, tagged "Shit Load of Money!" by its mystery originator*, appeared on Blockchain.info early in the evening of 22nd November. It is one of the largest transactions in bitcoin's history, by far the largest under bitcoin's recent high prices, and represents 1.6% of all bitcoins now in circulation. (*Correction: as pointed out in the comments below, the tag was attached to the receiving address and not by the originator.)
Bitcoin's distributed nature ensures all transactions are visible on the public record, though users are identified only by 30+ character addresses (and any tags they choose to add). If the address is not already known and the user does not identify themselves in an obvious way, they remain anonymous without analysis or detective work.
Unsurprisingly, a transaction of that size has prompted the bitcoin community to do some analysis and detective work. The transaction involved a large number of sending addresses, with some of them from blocks mined in February 2010 or even earlier, prompting excited speculation they might be from Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin's absent (and likely pseudonymous) founder.
Or was it Richard Branson, who caused his own digital currency frenzy today by announcing his company Virgin Galactic would accept payment in bitcoin?
Satoshi Nakamoto is unlikely to reveal him/herself in such an ostentatious manner, and early coins may have changed hands several times. More possibly the lucky owner is a miner from bitcoin's early days, or a business moving the amount to a more secure form of physical storage. The Washington Post's detective work, done by a researcher into how much block chain information may reveal about users, speculated the transaction might be exchange Bitstamp moving its own funds between addresses.
While 194,993 BTC was moved, it's important to note it has not been exchanged for any fiat currency... that we know of. 'Dumping' such a large amount at once would probably have a negative impact on bitcoin's value.
On the bitcointalk forums, some users were less interested in the owners' identity and more impressed by the infrastructure that allowed such an amount to be transferred without any regulatory hindrance, lawyers, or fees (the user paid no transaction fee at all). Even handing over that amount in hard cash would be a logistical challenge.
"Beautiful, so effortless to move so much money... I'm sometimes involved with very large cross-border transactions and the logistics of making payments of this size are, more often that not, a complete PITA, with timezones and banking hours getting in the way," wrote user runam0k.
Image credit: Timothy OLeary