Rare Pepe Pioneer Joe Looney on Paving the Way for NFTs
Before the dawn of NFTs, there was crypto art. And before crypto art lived the legend of Rare Pepe. So what does mechanical engineer Joe Looney have to do with the most popular frog meme on the internet? He founded the Rare Pepe Wallet.
Established in 2016, Rare Pepe Wallet is one of the earliest blockchain tools that made it possible to buy, sell and trade digital artworks. Although these tradeable artworks live a very different life today as NFTs, a clear line can be drawn between contemporary non-fungibles and Rare Pepe, a meme that lived within the crypto community for years.
Centered around Pepe the Frog, a character created by Matt Furie in 2005, Rare Pepes are a scarce digital asset born from the community that surrounded a peer-to-peer financial platform called Counterparty. Looney tells nft now that the first Rare Pepe, a trading card rendition of Satoshi Nakamoto (the creator of Bitcoin), came about randomly.
“Everyone was sick of talking about the price [of Bitcoin] because it had just been going sideways for almost two years at that point,” says Looney. “Then someone — “Mike” — dropped the Nakamoto card … and from that point forward, everybody wanted to make Rare Pepes. Once they saw Mike made one, they all said, ‘Hey, we can make them too.’”
On this episode of the nft now podcast, Looney touches on his journey from Bitcoin to creating the Rare Pepe Wallet, the historical significance of Rare Pepes and more.
NFTs have exploded over the last year, achieving exponential growth alongside the booming crypto market. But Looney, an early Bitcoin adopter and avid member of the greater crypto community, has a rightful claim to fame as one of the earliest NFT pioneers.
“NFT mania has definitely been very validating,” says Looney. “We knew we were onto something, but I definitely didn’t think it would get as crazy as it did as fast as it did.”
With 2017 projects such as CryptoPunks, Crypto Kitties, and more continuing to gain popularity, discontinued legacy projects have become a widely sought-after asset within the NFT ecosystem. But because Rare Pepes live on Counterparty — a Bitcoin-based platform outside of the widely used Ethereum blockchain — Looney believes Rare Pepes haven’t received the recognition they deserve.
“Earlier this year, I was frustrated seeing CryptoPunks being branded as if they invented [NFTs],” says Looney. “We created the first NFTs, you know? Even the term [NFT] was created later.”
Recently, auction-house giant Sotheby’s started teasing the possibility of a Rare Pepe auction, leading to a single Nakamoto Card Rare Pepe being sold for over $500,000. As things can change drastically day-to-day within the non-fungible ecosystem, a Sotheby’s auction could provide some interesting insight into how this legacy meme project might continue to evolve alongside the NFT market.
Be sure to hit subscribe and stream our full conversation with Joe Looney here.