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A few years ago I sent my BTC from Coinbase to Electrum on windows PC. That apparently went fine because Electrum showed the correct balance. Then I received 12 keywords and a hash (starting with 17) which I always thought was my bitcoin key. I saved these on paper and deleted Electrum, thinking OK I have all I need on paper.

Now want to transfer my BTC back to Coinbase. I entered my 12-seeds in Electrum and the balance was right. I hit {Receive] in Coinbase and I get a window giving me the Coinbase(?) address to send my BTC to from Electrum. But this address is the same as what I thought was my private key (starting with 17). This is weird especially because 1) How would Coinbase still know this number and 2) Electrum says [Pay it] to (what I thought was) my private key. What am I missing here. I don't have many bitcoin but the price is too high for me to make a mistake and get an education.

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Tl;dr: what you have is

  • a seed-phrase for a Bitcoin wallet (where you look after your own cash)
  • a receiving address associated with a Coinbase account (where you let Coinbase have ownership of your cash in return for an IOU)

You don't have a private key (and you don't need one so long as you keep that seed-phrase written down somewhere safe - not on a computer)


I received 12 keywords

That is almost certainly a seed phrase, also called a recovery-phrase or backup-phrase.

Your master private key is generated from that seed phrase.

In a hierarchical deterministic (HD) wallet, that master private key is used to generate many pairs of private keys and public keys.

For the most common types of Bitcoin transaction, a public key is used to generate a bitcoin address to which money can be sent.

and a hash (starting with 17) which I always thought was my bitcoin key.

A string of around 32, 33 letters and digits starting with a "1" is an old-style of Bitcoin address that is still valid and popular. It is a Bitcoin address, not a private key.

To see some examples look at some reference pages such as

Note that the same private key can be shown to you in several different ways (encodings, display-formats).

From the above you should be able to reassure yourself that what you have is a 12-word seed-phrase for your wallet and an unrelated bitcoin address for your Coinbase account.

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  • Thanks RedGrittyBrick. I believe I understand it all now--and it explains what I have observed. I had been thinking that what was really the Coinbase destination address for my account was co-equal with the seed phrase, ither woud work m
    – Cab
    Mar 3 at 2:51
  • Thanks @RedGrittyBrick. I believe I understand it all now--and it explains what I have observed. I had been thinking that what was really the Coinbase destination address for my account was co-equal with the seed phrase, either would work to access my coin. Thanks for taking your time to answer my beginner question.
    – Cab
    Mar 3 at 3:11
  • @Cab: If you find any answer helpful, consider upvoting it by clicking the up-arrow at top left of answer - that will help other people with the same problem find helpful answers. If any answer solved your problem you can click the tick-mark next to it to mark the answer as a solution and to mark the question as solved. Mar 3 at 11:30

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