How the CryptoPunk OGs Lit the Fuse for the NFT Boom


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In 2017 Canadian software developers, Matt Hall, and John Watkinson debuted what would become a landmark project in the early crypto art movement, the CryptoPunks. Released through their company Larva Labs, the CryptoPunks consisted of 10,000 unique collectible characters whose chain of title would be tracked on the Ethereum blockchain. Each punk is a 24 by 24 pixel avatar whose individual traits were generated algorithmically. From Mohawks to shaved heads, from eye patches to colored eyeshadow and even from human men and women to apes, zombies, and aliens, every punk is one of a kind, but all would look perfectly at home intimidating a businessman in a classic eight bit Nintendo game. Although Hall and Watkinson kept a thousand CryptoPunks for themselves, the duo released the other 9,000 punks for free to any Ethereum users willing to pay the gas fees to claim them back in 2017. But the punks value on the secondary market and their presence in popular culture have exploded in the years since.

In June 2021, a single alien punk sold at Sotheby's for $11.75 million. Two months later, Visa paid $150,000 to acquire a CryptoPunk for its corporate collection and at this September's Met gala Reddit, co-founder Alexis Ohanian wore a badge depicting a CryptoPunk he bought for his wife, tennis superstar, Serena Williams, because he thought it resembled her. But the crypto punks have also brought together a tight knit global community who see the project and the wider crypto art space as so much more than driver of record sales and red carpet moments. As part of art Artnet’s effort to bridge the gap between the crypto community and the world of fine art, Artnet’s Director of NFTs, Jiayin Chen, recently held a round table discussion with three early collectors of Crypto Punks, also known within the community simply as OGs.

They are B, one of the only known women among the original crypto punk claimants, Claire Silver, who is now a renowned crypto artist in her own rights and Mr. 703, who originally claimed well over 700 crypto punks and currently ranks as the fifth largest collector of the series worldwide. Jiayin connected with the trio over zoom a few days before the third annual NFT NYC conference kicked off in Time Square.

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