These rocks, which derive from the same public-domain piece of clip art depicting an unremarkable, rough-contoured hunk of stone, sell for chunky prices; on Feb. 10, one sold for 160 ETH, or about $410,000.
As interest builds for the sealed Sotheby’s auction, EtherRocks has become the subject of a lively debate on NFT Twitter–spurred by a since-revised description on the auction lot’s page and socials calling EtherRocks a crucial part of NFT history. Let’s look at the history of EtherRocks and the nature of the ongoing debate.
First of all, there are one hundred rocks, and they are from the early days of Ethereum: they are NFTs, but they predate the ERC-1155 and ERC-721 standards, just like CryptoPunks. To buy or sell your Rock for an (enormous) amount of money, you have a few choices: you can list, buy, and sell on their inbuilt marketplace that comes as part of the smart contract, or you can get a rock wrapped as an ERC721 token on NFT marketplaces.
The instructions on wrapping and unwrapping and a front end to the inbuilt marketplace are available on the EtherRock website.
No Utility Whatsoever
The rocks are a play on the famous “pet rock” fad of the 1970s and have no utility other than the capacity to be bought and sold. They’re all based on the same 2013 clip art of a rock, varying only in their color. There are browns, greys, and tans… all rock colored!
Rediscovered in 2021
EtherRocks were rediscovered in the NFT bull of 2021. They were minted on a bonding curve, starting at 0.01 ETH, and the historical NFT hunters found them in August 2021. When they finally minted out, the price for the last Rock was 10 ETH.
Owing to their easily memable nature, EtherRocks has inspired many copycat projects, including Bitcoin Rocks on Ordinals.
Sotheby’s, as a world-class auction house, writes descriptions of the things it’s selling, and as part of their description for this sealed auction, they said the EtherRocks “played a crucial role in shaping the NFT movement.” The NFT community got a little salty about this.
“My take on Sotheby’s EtherRock auction:
1. EtherRocks are old & scarce. Strong narrative.
2. Let people buy & sell what they want if they like the meme. But:
3. Don’t push false narratives like “EtherRocks shaped NFTs.” EtherRocks are a 2021 meme, happened to mint in 2017,” said NFT history writer and artist ChainLeftist on X.
“I WAS THERE DURING THAT TIME..NOBODY KNEW OR CARED ABOUT THEM ROCKS YO,” posted OG crypto artist Rob Ness.
The auction page and Sotheby’s Metaverse thread on X about the auction have since been updated with a rephrasing: “EtherRocks mark a pivotal moment in digital collectibles.”
Artists in the NFT space are riffing on the moment. Over the weekend, Beeple posted an everyday of a monumental EtherRock being sold by a Sotheby’s auctioneer in front of a crowd.
The Memes creator Punk6529 posted a thread on the controversy, arguing that those getting annoyed at Sotheby’s for calling the Rocks crucial are missing the point.
“If you are buying NFTs in the hope that Sotheby’s crafts a narrative to some 169-year-old TradArt collector to finally validate your thesis, well, good luck to you,” he wrote on X. “If you spend too much time worrying about if Sotheby’s, the Whitney and Gagosian fully appreciate your NFTs, it is no different than spending too much time worrying if JP Morgan Chase, Vanguard and the ECB love BTC,” he continued.