Don't you just need the recovery phrase to get your bitcoins back if your computer is lost or damaged?

I don't understand these stories of people trying to find old computers with wallets on them at the dump.

5 Answers 5


Are you talking about the people who mined or bought bitcoins in 2009 - 2011 and are surprised that the price is that high now?

HD-wallets (wallets with such a recovery phrase, it's called seed) are available since BIP 32 and that was around 2013.

So they don't have such a wallet and can't recover anything. That's why they search their old hardware.


The wallet file may be encrypted with a passphrase however the wallet file contains the private keys associated to addresses in that wallet. Without the private keys you can never spend the bitcoin in those addresses.

It is all the magic of asymetric cryptography and digital signatures. A private key is used to sign data, and a public key is used to verify the data was signed by the appropriate person.


Basically because they did not created a recovery phrase !

Otherwise they might be saving all wallet login information into the hardware itself and don't have another copy of it :) even there's some people create special email address for the wallet and save it in text inside the hardware.


It sounds like maybe you've been using a wallet like Electrum, which allows the recovery of the wallet from a passphrase if the wallet itself gets lost/destroyed. This works by using the randomly generated passphrase as the seed to create the keys used for 'storing' bitcoin. Not all wallets support this functionality, instead generating the seed completely randomly instead of generating it from a passphrase. Back when these people had a large number of bitcoins there may have been no wallets with this feature.


Recovery phrases are just one of the ways of recovering a wallet. Private keys can also be contained in (encrypted) files.

People go looking for old hardware because finding these files might give them access to old wallets that have been abandoned.

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