Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have since last year made headlines in unlikely circles for crypto assets, such as art, music, sport, animation and more. This is no accident- NFTs offer a compelling use case for many industries to bestow real-world value to the digital ownership of assets. This guide explores what NFTs are and the most record-breaking NFT sales of all time.
What are NFTs?
NFTs utilize smart contract technology to assign and protect the ownership rights to digital and physical assets such as painting, digital artworks, music tracks or albums, and merchandise. Most NFTs exist on the Ethereum blockchain in the form of the ERC-721 token standard, or ERC-1155 multi-token standard. Other blockchains also have the capacity to produce NFTs. Most recently, the Binance Smart Chain (BSC) has started minting BEP-721 and BEP-1155 NFTs.
The term non-fungible means that the tokens are unique and non-interchangeable. So, unlike NFTs’ fungible crypto counterparts like Bitcoin or Ethereum or fiat currencies like the US dollar, British pound, or euro, one NFT cannot be exchanged for another because each one has a different value.
In 2021, NFTs exploded in value, with several sought-after collectibles reaching record prices at esteemed auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Here is a list of 10 such NFTs, but do note that this list is by no means exhaustive and will likely be outdated in short order as prices continue to swell. All estimates below are in US dollars unless otherwise stated.
10. $1.5 Million - CryptoPunk #6965
CryptoPunks are a series of pioneering NFT images created by LavaLabs. The collection comprises 24x24 pixel art images of social misfits and eccentrics. There are 10,000 CryptoPunks, each with their own varying degree of uniqueness, which determines their value.
Punk #6965 is an “Ape” type Punk with a ‘meh’ expression on its face and wears a fedora. There are only 24 Apes and 186 fedora-wearing CryptoPunks, which makes it quite rare and increases its value. Punk #6965 was sold for 800 ETH, which was equivalent to about $1,540,063.96 at the time.
9. $2.9 Million - The First Tweet - Jack Dorsey
An NFT of the first tweet ever made by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey was sold for $2.9 Million on the NFT marketplace Valuables. The tweet, which was posted on March 21, 2006, states “just setting up my twttr”.
The NFT was bought by Sina Estavi, the CEO of Bridge Oracle. Dorsey converted the proceeds of the sale into Bitcoin and donated them to a charity in Africa called Give Directly.
The tweet will remain on the Twitter platform, but Estavi now owns the metadata associated with it, as well as a digitally signed and verified certificate of ownership from Jack Dorsey, which includes other information of the tweet, including its content and posting details.
8. $4.1 Million - Replicator - Mad Dog Jones
Replicator is the first-ever multi-generational NFT. It was created by Canadian multidisciplinary artist Michah Dowbak, more popularly known as Mad Dog Jones. The NFT is an image of a photocopier machine in a dimly lit room. What makes Replicator different is that it’s designed to print out new NFTs every 28 days, making its holder the owner of 180 to 220 NFTs over time.
The auction was held by Phillips with 16 bidders competing for the piece. The winning bid eventually came from an unknown bidder who is new to the NFT space.
7. $5.4 Million - Stay Free - Edward Snowden
Stay Free is an NFT of an image of Edward Snowden’s face overlapping court documents that ruled that the National Surveillance Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs violated US law.
Edward Snowden is a well-known American computer intelligence contractor who blew the whistle on these surveillance programs in 2013.
All the proceeds of the sale were donated to the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
6. $5.4 Million - The World Wide Web source code - Sir Tim Berners Lee
The source code that was the start of the internet that billions of people around the world use every day was auctioned off as an NFT by its creator, Sir Tim Berners Lee, on June 30, 2021. It was sold for £3.9 Million, or the equivalent of $5.4 Million. All the proceeds will be donated to charity.
The NFT included stamped source code files, a video animation of the code’s creation, a letter by Sir Tim Berners Lee, as well as a self-designed digital poster of the source code, by Berners Lee.
5. $6 Million - Ocean Front - Beeple
Ocean Front is an artwork created by digital artist Mike Winkelman, professionally known as Beeple. The piece features a tree on top of some trailers and shipping containers on a beachfront.
Ocean Front forms part of the “Everydays” series and it portrays the dangers of climate change. Beeple committed to donating all the proceeds from the sale to the Open Earth Foundation, a non-profit organization that tracks the global progress of and improves the management of the Paris Agreement.
Ocean Front was purchased by TRON founder Justin Sun for $6 Million in an open bid on the Nifty Gateway marketplace.
4. $6.6 Million - Crossroads - Beeple
Crossroads is another artwork by digital artist Beeple. The piece was the first NFT that Beeple ever minted and was created in anticipation of the 2020 US elections. Crossroads features two possible images, one of which would be published, depending on which presidential candidate won the election.
When the election results were announced, the relevant artwork was locked in: an image of Donald Trump’s naked body, scrawled with defamatory words, lying face down near a sidewalk where people are walking by. The NFT sold for $666,666,66.
3. $7.57 Million - CryptoPunk #7804
CryptoPunk #7804 was sold in March 2021 for 4,200 ETH, which, at the time, was the equivalent of $7,566,173.88.
Punk #7804 is an extremely rare Punk because it’s an “Alien” type. There are only 9 of these types of CryptoPunks. It also wears 3 accessories, further adding to its rarity and value: a pipe; of which only 378 Punks use, cap; of which only 254 Punks wear, and sunglasses; o which only 317 Punks wear.
2. $7.58 Million - CryptoPunk #3100
As you can see, CryptoPunks feature quite prominently on this list and are one of the most popular and valuable digital assets.
CryptoPunk #3100 was purchased at the same time as CryptoPunk #7804, in March 2021, for 4,200 ETH, the equivalent of approximately $7,584,485.82 USD.
CryptoPunk #3100 is another “Alien” type Punk. Adding to its rarity is the fact that it wears a headband, as only 405 CryptoPunks wear this accessory.
1. $69.3 Million - “Everydays - The First 5000 Days” - Beeple
This record-breaking NFT is the most expensive NFT ever sold. It was created by Beeple, and sold at renowned New York-based auction house Christie’s on February 16, 2021.
The artwork is a collection of 5000 smaller digital artworks that Beeple created and posted online every day for 14 years. The images include numerous figures from popular culture, including Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos and are arranged in chronological order. Some of the pieces that make up the artwork are deemed quite offensive.
‘Everydays’ was sold to a Singaporean programmer who goes by the pseudonym MetaKovan for 42,329 Ether and is one of the most expensive pieces of artwork ever sold by a living artist.
As NFTs continue to grow in popularity and see an increase in adoption it will be interesting to see how the space evolves and what new pieces emerge as part of this exciting new technology.