September has been a wild ride for bitcoin owners: the digital currency began the month nudging an all-time high of $5,000 before losing nearly 40% of its value in a spectacular crash. Now, a recovery has seen bitcoin pop back over $4,000 as of Monday morning.
To put this in context, Fortune offers a closer look at this month's crash and four other major price shocks—as well as likely explanations for all of them. Taken together, this account can provide some insight into why bitcoin is so volatile, and whether it can survive in the long run.
(The data is from the Winkelvoss index, which blends prices from different exchanges. Note this survey doesn't include crashes from the early days of bitcoin, which journalist Tim Lee recounts here).The Meltdown of April 2013
What happened: In the spring of 2013, a ghastly collapse saw the price of bitcoin fall from $233 to $67—overnight! That's a 71% drop. It would take seven months to recover.
Why it happened: The crash of April 2013 came after bitcoin's first big brush with the mainstream. The currency had never crossed $15 before 2013 but a flood of media coverage helped drive it well above $200. The crash, which followed two smaller jolts in March, reflected in part a correction to speculator exuberance. Some also attribute it to an outage at Mt. Gox, the most popular (at the time) exchange for buying and selling bitcoin.Pop Goes the 2013 Bubble
What happened: Bitcoin spent most of the rest of 2013 around $120. Then prices jumped ten-fold in the fall: Bitcoin hit a high of $1,150 in late November and then the party ended abruptly, and prices tumbled below $500 by mid-December. It would take more than for years for bitcoin to reach $1,000 again.
Why it happened: The crazy price run up of late 2013 appears to have been a classic bubble as amateur investors rushed into bitcoin for the first time. The frenzy was hel...