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CryptoPunks: The Ultimate Guide

BY Langston Thomas

September 16, 2021

In NFTs, there’s nothing quite as punk as owning a CryptoPunk. A status symbol, a piece of Internet history and an unspeakably valuable asset, Punks may truly be the most important NFT project there is.

The CryptoPunks journey to non-fungible stardom intertwines with not only the history of NFTs, but of the Ethereum blockchain itself. Collectors want them, millionaires can’t get enough of them and mainstream media doesn’t understand them. The rise of popular generative avatar projects like Bored Ape Yacht Club can be traced directly back to the CryptoPunk mold.

So for those of you who aren’t in the know, we’ve tapped investor, advisor and all-around futurist GMoney for an ultimate guide to CryptoPunks: the collection of 10,000 uniquely generated pixel art characters that are some of the most expensive NFTs that money can buy. 

CryptoPunks: Born on the Blockchain

Launched in June of 2017 by product studio Larva Labs, CryptoPunks is one of the first NFT collections on the Ethereum blockchain, consisting of 10,000 unique 24×24 pixel art images depicting humans (male and female), apes, zombies and aliens. Each Punk can exhibit a combination of 87 unique attributes, or, as most call them – traits. Some can even have 0 traits, but the max amount a single punk can have is 7 traits.

As the NFT space was a far cry from the robust market we see today, Punks initially started out slow – garnering a group of collectors that believed in the technology that the Ethereum blockchain had to offer. They were given away for free at the start to whoever wanted them. Because you needed an Ethereum wallet to collect one, supply was limited to those who were already invested in crypto.

“What makes CryptoPunks important is that a community grew around them organically,” explains GMoney. “There is a provenance around them because they are one of the first NFT projects on Ethereum – and they were free to claim at the start.”

Unlike the more recent projects it inspired, CryptoPunks didn’t initially set out to create a community – it didn’t even have a project roadmap. The project was an experiment conceived by Canadian software developers and Larva Labs founders Matt Hall and John Watkinson.

GMoney says early supporters of CryptoPunks, such as now top-tier influencers Pranksy, DaveDave and SeedPhrase, “realized earlier than most that digital ownership was going to be spreading more and more on-chain. Being able to own and claim stuff on-chain was going to be very valuable.”

Since 2017, CryptoPunks has grown from a simple, niche internet fad into the end-all-be-all of NFT projects. While it was not technically the first NFT project on Ethereum, it is undoubtedly the most influential. Many of those patient enough to hold have become multi-millionaires, and those lucky enough to get in before the 2021 craze are regarded as some of the most forward-looking people in the NFT space.

Bullish on Punks: The 2021 Craze

Those new to the NFT space will inevitably come across CryptoPunks sooner than later. And when they do they’ll immediately understand one thing: Punks are an invaluable asset.

Let’s put the pricing in perspective:

On July 6th, 2017, Alien Punk #3100 sold for 8 ETH ($2,127). At the time this would’ve seemed like an absolutely ludicrous price to pay for a JPEG. Yet, almost four years later on March 11th, 2021, that same Punk sold for a staggering 4,200 ETH ($7.58M).

Although we’re talking about the highest Punk sale to date (for now), 100x flips were far from uncommon during the duration of the 2021 CryptoPunk bull-run. Throughout the year, the NFT community saw Punks sell for as low as 7 ETH, only to explode towards the fall, making the price of even the cheapest available Punks ~100 ETH.

Auction house Christie’s has to be given a great deal of credit for the development of the Punk marketplace by exposing those in more traditional art spaces to Punks. As a follow-up to the major auction house’s $69 million Beeple sale in March, Christie’s presented a collection of nine CryptoPunks in May that sold for a whopping $16.9 million.

However, it’s not just the price that makes Punks so valuable. CryptoPunks have grown to be seen as not only art, but an investment and a status symbol. 

Considering their history of growth and development alongside the Ethereum blockchain, owning a Punk, some would argue, is like placing a bet on the importance of NFTs and the Ethereum blockchain. The early supporters of Punks, for the most part, didn’t just chance upon the project. As GMoney put it, “you had to be around in crypto early on to get involved with CryptoPunks.”

On social media, Punks are often seen as builders and visionaries, and are given the presumption of trust and status. We’ve seen collectors create entire personas, projects, communities and brands around a single Punk. 

Whatever the ratio of social to financial value may be, celebrities, venture capitalists and even hedge funds have been joining the CryptoPunks race in droves. It’s hard to discount a project that turned collectors to millionaires nearly overnight.

The Future of CryptoPunks

At only a few years old, CryptoPunks is already a legacy project in the NFT space. All need-to-know information about the project has been out in the open for a long time. Punks were born, and will continue to live, immutably, on the Ethereum blockchain – so it’s safe to assume nothing will change with them. 

With the NFT space growing as fast as it is, Punks will always be a landmark endeavor – which is fantastic for both its creators and collectors. As stated by GMoney, “CryptoPunks will continue to be a very big pillar of the NFT community. They don’t need to evolve and nothing needs to happen for them to cement their place in history.”

Yet, innovation within the Punks ecosystem is still a new concept. Prominent figures in the community like GMoney, Beanie and Punk4156, have created their own cohesive brands around their Punks. While these three have leveraged their Punk personas to create clout, there are a few considerations that have to be made when monetizing a CryptoPunk itself.

The application of copyright law within NFTs is still new territory. Creators can easily set their own threshold for collector usage depending on where and how they mint an NFT, and most opt to obtain an NFT license – including Larva Labs. 

Under the NFT license, Larva Labs gives no intellectual property, copyright, or trademark to Punk owners, but Punk owners are able to use the art for their own personal, non-commercial use. 

Furthermore, Punk owners can also commercialize merch of their Punk and make up to $100,000 in profit per year. This agreement’s catch is that owners are not allowed to modify the 24 x 24 Punk’s art or sell third-party products with it.

Beyond the utility that is still to be imagined, the most interesting part of the CryptoPunks journey is that it’s still too early in the game to truly make sense of the ecosystem. Blockchain technology is disrupting the financial infrastructure of the world, and NFTs are shifting how we think about art, media, community and even the broader concept of consumer ownership.

With NFTs often looked down upon as a niche and temporary movement, it seems very fitting that the mascot of the space would be a Punk. And if the future is to be run by crypto degenerates, being called a Punk might just be the best compliment you can receive.

Additional reporting by Alex Yates.

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