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By now, we have probably all noticed the NFT mania that commenced at the beginning of the previous bull market. It started with presenting an innovative technology that can directly link artists to its fans in a decentralized manner, and it ended in cult-like communities and a picture of a rock selling for $1.7 million. Ultimately, the real economy started struggling, the bubble popped, and most collections turned out to be worthless, quickly plummeting to being worth only a fraction of their initial selling price. However, some communities turned out to be economically well-structured clubs capable of holding their value (Bored Ape Yacht Club, CryptoPunks). We have also seen a rise of artists like Beeple and Pak, who have created truly impressive pieces of art.
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So, what is an NFT?
A non-fungible token, or an NFT, is a cryptographic asset on a blockchain, identified by a unique code which makes it different from all the other digital assets. Other cryptocurrencies are fungible, meaning we can always exchange or trade one bitcoin for another without losing its value or identity. NFTs are, however, always made to be one of a kind. At its core, NFTs represent an advanced technology, which, in the future, can provide various innovative use cases. For example, real economy assets, like real estate, can be tied to an NFT, thus creating a contract which proves the ownership of the asset. Such use can have huge implications, especially in developing countries, where people struggle with safely acquiring land or real estate.
However, the market has so far centred mostly around collectables. The trading of NFTs truly skyrocketed during the most recent bull market. Just this January, marketplaces like Opensea saw more than $4 billion in monthly sales volume. The rise of NFTs was accompanied by plenty of speculation, which is one of the reasons why signs of overpricing occurred. So, let’s look what was the most people were willing to hand over for NFTs.
A quick disclaimer: We decided to alter the list a bit to make it a little more diverse. Otherwise, 7 out of 10 NFTs would be just CryptoPunks. The original list can be found here.
10. Stay free (Edward Snowden) – $5.4 million
Edward Snowden is a famous whistleblower, who, in 2013, leaked thousands of documents from the National Security Agency (NSA), exposing how the agency had been spying on millions of its own citizens. The US government charged Snowden with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and revoked his passport. The Russian government gave Snowden asylum and he has been living there since. Just this September, President Vladimir Putin granted Snowden Russian citizenship. The NFT is made out of the US court decision, which ruled Snowden’s leaked documents a violation of US law. In its centre, we can see Snowden’s face. The proceeds from the sale did not go to Snowden personally, but rather to the Freedom of the Press Foundation of which he is a president. The piece was bought by PleasrDAO, a community focused on buying culturally significant works with charitable features.
9. Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection (freeross) - $5.9 million
Similar to the one before, this piece is also in the pursuit of freedom of expression, though this time it is probably a bit more controversial. Ross Ulbricht is a 38-year-old physics graduate who created the notorious darkweb marketplace, Silk Road. We don’t want to get too much into the details, but the aim was to create a purely free marketplace where government or any third-party organization cannot interfere. Despite its nature, the place still had rules (no child pornography, no stolen credit cards etc.) and using some solid cryptography, the market ran smoothly even without an intermediary. Ulbricht, under the name of Dread Pirate Roberts, was the leader of the community and very well respected among its users. Unfortunately, Silk Road was also one of the largest drug marketplaces in the world. Ulbricht was caught, and in 2015, he was sentenced to a double life sentence plus forty years without parole. Many consider it to be a very harsh sentence. Hence, the reason for creating the NFT, which was supposed to raise money in support of Ulbricht. The NFT was purchased by a FreeRossDAO organization, which raised 2836 ETH from 4000 different contributors.
8. Ocean Front (Beeple) - $6 million
This one comes from the most famous artist in this industry, Beeple (Michael Winklemann). The work is aimed at fighting climate change, as is depicted by the tree atop a platform full of human-made products. The NFT was auctioned with a charitable aim, and the proceeds went to the Open Earth Foundation. The buyer was Justin Sun, the founder of a well-known crypto project, Tron.
7. Crossroads (Beeple) – 6.6 million
Another one from Beeple’s collection. The artist made this one as a response to the 2020 US presidential election. The NFT is actually a 10-second video; the picture above is only a snapshot. Supposedly, the figure on the ground should be former president Donald Trump after losing the election.
6. TPunk #3442 – $10.5 million
This one is not a CryptoPunk yet, though we wouldn’t blame you for thinking otherwise. TPunk is based on a similar, pixelated face, but sits on the Tron blockchain. This Joker-faced TPunk was sold for 120 million TRX to Tron’s founder, Justin Sun. It is also the most expensive NFT ever sold on Tron. Justin did not keep the NFT though; he donated it to APENFT right after the purchase.
5. CryptoPunk #7523 – $11.75 million
CryptoPunks are one of the most successful NFT projects. Launched in 2017 by LarvaLabs, they were inspired by the London punk scene and the cyberpunk movement. In total, the project released 10,000 CryptoPunks. In 2022, the IP rights to the project were acquired by Yuga Labs (a company behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT series). This particular CryptoPunk is from an extremely rare alien collection which consists only of 9 NFTs. It was auctioned at Sotheby’s and bought by Shalom Meckenzie, the largest shareholder of a sports betting company, Draftkings.
4. CryptoPunk #5822 – $23.7 million
The most expensive CryptoPunk ever sold received a mind-boggling price tag of 8000ETH. Similar to the previous one, it comes from the extremely rare alien collection. The NFT was purchased by Deepak Thapliyal, CEO of a startup blockchain company, Chain.
3. HUMAN ONE (Beeple) - $28.9 million
It really seems like Beeple was able to figure out how to become an NFT millionaire. This piece is also his first hybrid of physical and digital artwork. The NFT is in a four-wall box displaying an astronaut endlessly strolling through places. The NFT includes a smart contract, which lets Beeple remotely control what is displayed in the background. The fact that the piece is always changing is another factor which makes the work so valuable. The NFT truly captures Beeple’s creativity even beyond the digital world. He dubbed it “the first portrait of a human born in the metaverse”.
2. Clock (Pak and Julian Assange) - $52.7 million
Another NFT dedicated to a social cause. Titled Clock, the piece was created by the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange and a digital creator Pak. The NFT displays a digital counter of the days that Assange has spent behind bars in London. Wikileaks was created to serve as a clearinghouse for leaking classified documents. In 2010, Assange released several confidential records and videos about the US Army Intelligence (Collateral murder video, Iraq war logs, Afghanistan war logs etc.). As a result, he was accused of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and is awaiting extradition to the United States, where he faces up to 175 years in prison. The NFT was sold to AssangeDAO, which gathers supporters of Assange’s cause. The proceedings will go towards his defense.
1. The First 5000 Days (Beeple) – $69.3 million
The peak moment of the NFT saga was made possible by no other than Beeple. This piece truly does deserve the price tag it received. The NFT consists of 5000 other Beeple’s digital pieces, which he made every day for 13 years. The result is an impressive collage of pictures, representing mostly sociopolitical problems often set in a post-apocalyptic land. The NFT was bought by a Singapore-based crypto investor Vignesh Sundaresan. It was also the fourth most expensive work sold by a living artist.
Bonus: The Merge (Pak) - $91.8 million
We decided to add this piece as a bonus because it is not a single work bought by a single person. It is actually a collection of digital art split into 312,000 shares for people to buy. Almost 29,000 people decided to participate, and the eventual price reached eye-watering levels. Pak is a renowned digital artist who, to this day, remains anonymous. We don’t even know whether it is a person or a group. Ultimately, The Merge has made Pak the most valuable living artist.
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