Historic NFTs Inevitable Ascent: The Critical Factors Driving Historic NFT Valuations

March 17, 2022 - 24 min read

Special guest ZeroG.eth speaks about his perspective of historical NFTs and their place in the NFT space.

Historic NFTs Inevitable Ascent: The Critical Factors Driving Historic NFT Valuations

Introduction

This article was written by special guest and historical NFT collector ZeroG.eth. If you like his perspective you can find him on Twitter and drop him a follow or gm.

I want to share why I think blue-chip, vintage NFTs are one of the best long-term investments financially and will become some of the most significant and sought-after cultural artifacts.

I have been involved with cryptocurrencies since 2012, and am an active collector of vintage NFTs. This is not financial advice, do your own research.

Global Movement Towards Decentralization

I point to the year 2008 as the catalyst for the global peaceful revolution towards the decentralization of money, finance, and other aspects of society. The Bitcoin whitepaper was published amid the unprecedented global financial chaos during that year (Nakamoto, 2008). While the legacy financial system was able to secure public money to avoid immediate collapse, the optics and consequences of this crisis compelled many to question the purpose and legitimacy of the systems based on government fiat money, issued by private central banks. Many who tried to decipher and understand how the global financial system operates quickly discovered it is designed, owned, and favors the few while subjecting the many to inequitable treatment. In his terrific 2021 article, Fighting Monetary Colonialism with Open-Source Code, Alex Gladstein gives both historical and current overview of one example of the legacy financial system being used to openly victimize entire countries https://bitcoinmagazine.com/culture/bitcoin-a-currency-of-decolonization.

Upon this realization, it has acted as an inspiration for many to work towards designing and building new systems, systems not under the control of the government or the rich. Bitcoin proved that a decentralized system could not only work but be secure and offer new advantages and true financial freedom to its users with truly fair and transparent rules.

From the earliest recorded systems of money, we have witnessed a level of centralization or trust is required for everyday usage. From the cuneiform systems used when most people were illiterate, to the advent of precious metals coinage to deposit banking, these systems are rife with that trust being broken. Examples range from the continued and sophisticated debasement of the content of the coinage in the Roman era to the collapse of numerous fiat currencies, bank runs, and the abandonment of a gold or silver standard for the US dollar and its subsequent inflation (STFC, 2019). It is clear that where trust is required in monetary affairs, it will be abused.

Self-Custody, Cryptographic Verification Instead of Trust

The advantages of the cryptocurrency model of self-custody without reliance on trusted counterparties are becoming alarmingly apparent and can no longer be ignored. We have reached the stage where it is now a prudent risk mitigation strategy for any individual to hold a small amount of crypto in their portfolio. As we have seen with the Cyprus bank bails-in, in the event of a banking crisis, there is a real risk of a loss of capital, even of deposits in checking and savings accounts (Lewis, 2013). We have seen a growing risk of political persecution leading to a loss of access to your legacy financial banking accounts. This was first highlighted by the US government putting Wikileaks/Julian Assange’s UK bank accounts on a watchlist and the Australian government putting them on a blacklist, and his Swiss bank seizing his account (Carney, 2010) (Wikileaks, 2011). These actions were taken without any charges being filed against Assange. A more recent and chilling example is the Canadian government freezing the bank accounts of protesters and citizens that donated to protesters in February 2022, all without being charged with or convicted of a crime (Passifiume, 2022). Cryptocurrencies can hedge the risk of losing access to your legacy banking accounts and funds without committing a crime. Cryptocurrency offers individuals a prudent risk mitigation strategy, giving owners the ability to maintain custody of assets in their portfolios that cannot be seized. Maintaining cryptocurrency assets in your own wallet is an essential financial safety and risk mitigation measure.

I believe that we will see this theme of decentralization continue to gain strength throughout our lifetime. Many large centralized institutions are corrupt or coopted. A way forward is to build new open systems and move our attention and resources there. The peaceful movement towards developing and adopting these open systems will disempower the old systems and empower those who participate in the new.

No fiat currency has stood the test of time. Now, the incentives to hold crypto have never been more significant or urgent. Rapacious inflation, governments openly printing money to fund perpetual war and corruption, all while disregarding the wishes of the citizenry. Crypto as hard money will have an even more significant role across the globe as a means of preserving purchasing power and as a censorship-resistant medium of payment.

I believe this trend will continue to gain momentum, as citizens worldwide will realize the massive incentives to hold crypto as savings. Few would argue that an individual’s behavior is influenced by incentives. Recent history shows clearly how much better Bitcoin and Ethereum have performed versus fiat currencies and even gold. The increasing awareness and acceptance of cryptocurrencies’ significant advantages will drive their public adoption over the coming years.

As new adopters embrace this movement, the historical NFTs will have additional significance. They are the only digital relics or artifacts of this historic shift in human systems and development. They will have even more relevance and value beyond art and will drive those with special significance or are the first of their kind to have an even higher valuation from the rest of the vintage NFTs from this perspective. Some examples include the 2011 punycode namecoin NFTs as the first implementation of the elements of an art NFT, Curio Cards #1 Apple as the first art NFT minted and sold on Ethereum.

Shifting Wealth

It’s common knowledge now that an early investment in cryptocurrencies has led to enormous fortunes by those investors (Chong, 2019). However, even late adopters have enjoyed sizable gains and even sizable airdrops such as the token airdrop by Ethereum Name Service, ENS. Participation in and adoption of crypto rewards investors, adopters, and creators in the space. Airdrops for NFT holders are another source of increasing wealth; owning a CryptoPunk or BAYC entitles owners to significant rewards in 2021.

Entrepreneurs and large enterprises in the cryptocurrency and NFT space are spawning a new wave of extremely wealthy individuals. Sam Bankman-Fried, founder and CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, with a net worth of over 8 billion dollars is one example. As cryptocurrencies and NFT markets continue to grow, we will see an increasing number of multi-millionaires and billionaires deriving their wealth from the sector.

Currently, the cryptocurrency and NFT space are the sectors with the most growth opportunities. Individuals and groups anywhere can access these platforms and tools to potentially create value and generate wealth. Fortunes have been made by artists, coders, and other contributors, bypassing the old intermediaries such as music publishers and art galleries to instead reach buyers directly. There are numerous examples of artists who have gone from making their first NFT sale to surpassing a million dollars in sales in the same year. Drifter Shoots is a great example in the photography NFT space, going from his first sale to releasing one of the most popular collections in less than a year (Tomaino, 2022).

What is the implication? Many of these new crypto millionaires and billionaires will have a greater appreciation for the history of the technology and the sector. I think many will purchase significant historical NFTs as an appreciation of the history of the space. These individuals made their fortunes from crypto, and historical NFTs are some of the most scarce and coveted artifacts in crypto culture. I believe some will get drawn into the love of collecting, and the fit for collecting high-value digital artifacts is natural considering their background. For others, these artifacts will be another Veblen good, a status symbol, and an indicator of wealth and credibility in the crypto sector.

A great example of this very recently occurred. As I was writing this, news came out that an individual, Deepak Thapliyal, the CEO of Chain.com, bought an alien CryptoPunk, #5822, for 8,000 Eth (CryptoPunks: Details for Punk #5822, n.d.). Alien CryptoPunks are the rarest type in the collection and are extremely desirable, with only 9 in existence. This marks one of the largest single NFT purchases in history and the largest historic NFT purchase to date.

Deepak Thapliyal’s CryptoPunk #5822

Deepak Thapliyal’s CryptoPunk #5822

Another great example is Taylor Gerring, one of the early developers of Ethereum. Given his efforts to help shape Ethereum in its early days, he has a special appreciation for its history. He recently became one of less than 20 owners of a complete set of the very first art collection on Ethereum, Curio Cards. His set was purchased at Christie’s Auction House for 393 Eth (1.267$ million), and this sale was also the first live auction denominated in Ethereum (Davis, 2021). A full set of Curio Cards is one of the most important and prestigious NFT collections you can own on Ethereum. Curio Cards helped lay the groundwork for later NFT projects on Ethereum, it was the first project to implement IPFS, and was referenced in the ERC-721 standard commonly used today.

Curio Card #26

Curio Card #26, Education

Another consideration is that with such a limited supply of these scarce assets, these wealthy buyers will be buying to hold long term. They are not buying to speculate or make a profit, making them strong holders. They are taking this supply off the market long term, further exhausting the limited available supply. As the market price of these assets goes up, so does the prestige of owning them, which is more important than monetary value for these owners.

There are now more than 2700 billionaires worldwide, which is an increase of over 600 from a year ago (Dolan, 2022). With the increasing number of multi-millionaires and billionaires, the scant supply of the most desirable NFTs will quickly disappear. There clearly isn’t enough supply to sustain even a minute interest from this class of collector.

Another interesting avenue of demand emerging for vintage NFTs is as a form of reserve asset and investment by decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). The first DAO was recently formed exclusively to pool funds for investing in vintage NFTs, LaoDAO.io. EggsDao is a great example of another DAO that has been investing in historic NFTs as part of its portfolio. It has shown impressive performance since its inception in December 2021, almost tripling in value (EggsDAO, 2021). I think other wealthy DAOs will put a portion of their reserves into blue-chip vintage NFTs in order to diversify their portfolio from strictly cryptocurrency exposure.

Shifting Values

During the 2016–2017 bull run with cryptocurrencies, most community activities took place in online chat programs such as Discord. In the chat, it was common to see people fantasizing that they would buy a Lamborghini when they made a considerable profit from their coin mooning (going up in value). This ended up becoming a meme, with people asking, “when Lambo?” frequently. I saw this starting to shift during the 2020 bull market. It is now much more common to see people stating that they want to buy a CryptoPunk or BAYC as an aspirational purchase instead of a car or house.

I expect this trend to continue in society as more people become exposed to NFTs and vintage NFTs from celebrities and other influencers. We now have celebrities including Jimmy Fallon, Paris Hilton, Jay-Z, Serena Williams, Snoop Dog, Gary Vee, and Steve Aoki among others who own a CryptoPunk, BAYC, or both. Displaying NFTs have become a part of the online identity, signifying wealth and status. One could argue it is more impressive and relevant to have a CryptoPunk for your Twitter profile than owning a Ferrari.

Jay Z's Cryptopunk

Jay-Z’s CryptoPunk, #6096

With a greater percentage of our work and personal time online, the utility value of NFTs grows as well. For many, their digital identity is a core part of their personal and professional persona. This can make owning and displaying a high-value NFT a way to elevate their status and appeal online.

Increasing Value and Relevance as a Market

In recent years, digital collectibles (non-NFT) have grown into a significant market force, becoming commonplace in the gaming industry. This older style of digital collectibles differs from NFTs in two ways. First, they are tied to a corporate platform and are lost when the game or platform is no longer available. Secondly, the corporation determines the terms and restricts and controls their trading. Centralized control is inherent with these types of systems.

Driven largely by the gaming sector, digital collectibles have become such a big factor in the space, that games and gaming monetization are commonly designed around them. For certain games, they are the main source of revenue for the publisher. One example is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, released in 2012 and still one of the top 10 most played online pc games (Gray, 2021). This game features skins, collectible and tradable cosmetic textures that change the look of the items in the game. Since their introduction to the game in 2013, their collective value has grown to the estimated market cap of approximately one billion dollars (Investing, 2021).

2021 is the year that NFTs started to enter mainstream consciousness and witnessed a significant influx of capital. It took almost a decade for CSGO to build up its digital collectible market cap to reach a billion dollars. But in less than a year, we have seen a single NFT collection, Bored Ape Yacht Club, hit a market cap of over three billion dollars. Recent analysis shows more than 40 billion dollars was spent on NFTs in 2021(Chainalysis, 2022). This is versus the traditional total global art and antique market sales in 2020 of 50.1 billion (McAndrew, 2021). It is clear that NFTs are on track to overtake the traditional art market.

Corporations have shown increased interest in the NFT market due to its incredible rise in popularity. Visa Inc. bought a CryptoPunk, and Arizona Iced Tea purchased a Bored Ape Yacht Club ape, and have advertised their acquisition. I believe these purchases symbolize NFT's acceptance as bonafide financial investments and as embracing alternatives to the status quo. Airdrops in the NFT community have delivered an incredible amount of money to users for participating in the space. As an example, ENS domains give the equivalent of thousands of dollars to over 130,000 eligible users, just for utilizing their service. Many owners of NFTs have become wealthy from either trading or just buying early. This rise in the market cap of NFTs and the wealth of NFT owners makes them an attractive target that will continue to attract corporate attention.

Size of the NFT Market is Growing Rapidly

The NFT market is in its infancy. 2021 brought significant growth in the number of active wallets and number of users for the biggest NFT marketplace, OpenSea. Even with the increased media coverage and growth of the NFT community, less than 1 million unique registered users on OpenSea had performed a transaction at the end of 2021 (Chen, n.d.). This incredibly small statistic vs the global internet population of over 4.7 billion users foreshadows the potential for staggering growth in the coming years (Kemp, 2021).

Coinbase is the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States, due primarily to making buying and selling easier for new and casual users. They announced last year that they are going to launch their own bespoke NFT marketplace. It is widely expected that with the resources and expertise behind Coinbase, it will be a significant improvement over OpenSea. As Coinbase currently has the ability for users to purchase cryptocurrency from their bank accounts, logic suggests that this should also apply to NFTs. This will make purchasing NFTs much easier and simpler for many new users.

Immaturity of the NFT Market

The NFT market is very young, reminiscent of the 2016–2018 cryptocurrency markets. There are constantly numerous new projects being launched. These projects vary from serious endeavors to outright scams. However, many buyers do not have the skills and experience to avoid scams and fraudulent projects. Even if an honest project is chosen, there are very few that end up becoming successful. As in most markets, there will be a small number of winners with outsized gains and market share as the market matures.

Scarcity is one of the fundamental concepts in economics that impacts NFT markets. There is essentially no barrier to entry or costs for new NFTs being produced, leading to an astounding amount being minted daily. By contrast, one of the greatest strengths of the vintage NFT market is its limited supply. When you look at an established vintage project like Curio Cards, CryptoPunks, Rare Pepes, etc, there is no risk that additional NFTs from that vintage will be minted. Some of the most valuable examples also have a tiny surviving supply, such as Curio Card #26 with 105 left, RAREPEPE with less than 300 surviving copies.

Due to scarcity, historical value, and demand, I believe we will see the market develop and drive prices for the high-quality historic NFTs to extraordinary levels. As buyers and collectors become more sophisticated, they will recognize the scarcity inherent in the vintage NFTs. I believe they will be the safest store of value in the space. The limited supply versus the incoming demand from collectors will ensure a series of supply and price shocks. Currently, the Nakamoto Card RAREPEPE has only 9 listed for sale, with the lowest at 391,000$, and the highest at 1.58 million. Any serious amount of buying will send prices into orbit. Similarly, there are less than 106 complete full sets of Curio Cards possible and only 85 2011 punycodes in existence. Any serious buying pressure will permanently reset the floor for these relics. Longer-term, I see a future where many of the most significant examples don’t have a single example listed for sale!

Long term, I think that quality vintage NFTs are one of the most exciting investment opportunities. I could see significant examples go for shocking amounts, as I expect the first card of the Rare Pepe project, the Nakamoto Card aka RAREPEPE to trade for between 100–250 million dollars in the next 10 years.

The first Rare Pepe, the Nakamoto Card, RAREPEPE

The first Rare Pepe, the Nakamoto Card, RAREPEPE

Metaverse

One of the main narratives in the digital space that is developing is that of the metaverse, virtual worlds, often 3d, where users can interact. Facebook believes it is so crucial that it committed at least 10 billion dollars to its efforts with its metaverse division in the last year alone (Kastrenakes & Heath, 2021). As more people are exposed to and utilize a metaverse, it would also make sense that ownership of digital goods will increase with familiarity and use. This will be another long-term factor driving the adoption and growth of NFTs.

In many of the existing metaverses, people can buy a plot of land or a building and create their own space. Commonly this will include displaying their collection of NFTs in their virtual property. As early adopters display their most prized NFTs, it will expose others to them for the first time. I believe this is a perfect fit for driving more demand and recognition of significant NFTs long term.

I could also see special benefits given to owners of the most significant and valuable NFTs in several metaverses. This would be a similar tactic we have seen with different projects giving airdrops and benefits to blue-chip NFT owners to get exposure and potentially buy-in by some of the most influential NFT owners into their platform.

Critical Counterpoints

Just as there are still critics of cryptocurrencies that still don’t believe in their value or the benefits they provide, there are critics of NFTs as well. Some of the common criticisms of NFTs are that the cryptocurrency platforms that NFTs use require a lot of energy and that transactions are expensive. Another complaint is that there is no inherent value in the NFTs and that you can easily copy them.

The largest cryptocurrency used by NFTs is Ethereum, and it currently does use a power-intensive system called Proof of Work to secure the network. However, it is currently scheduled to move to a newer consensus mechanism called Proof of Stake that is very power efficient and should allow for much cheaper transactions in 2022. This is part of a major upgrade to Ethereum, called Ethereum 2.0, that will bring many additional features to the platform.

While the cryptocurrency underpinnings have been criticized for power and cost, they bring an important feature that art hasn’t had before, a cryptographically verifiable provenance. This is a major improvement over the traditional art market, where there have been numerous scandals over the legitimacy of expensive art over the years (Sims et al., 2019). In addition to having cryptographically verifiable integrity and provenance, the cryptocurrency underpinnings allow for sophisticated digital rights management, including licensing, loaning, usage rights, etc.

The idea that all NFTs have no value is obviously false and is the same criticism that was leveled at cryptocurrencies. First, vintage NFTs have the two fundamental aspects of the Austrian concept of value, scarcity (which can be verified cryptographically with NFTs) and desire, as collectors are already buying them (Harper, 2006). The record 69-million-dollar sale of Beeple’s ‘The First 5000 Days’ NFT in 2021 at Christie’s was a major inflection point, making it foolish to attempt to dismiss the legitimacy of NFTs as a medium for art (Kinsella, 2021).

The ability for people to copy an NFT (right-click save) devaluing the original is an argument without merit. In the traditional art world, it is possible to order a print of almost any famous painting cheaply. Does the availability of a cheap print of a Da Vinci painting render the original less valuable or equal to the reproduction? Of course not, in fact, it can be argued that the greater the prevalence of copies of a work in society, the greater the significance and therefore value the original piece has. I would happily buy an original Renoir from any owner that doesn’t believe it is worth more than mere reproduction.

Just as there are still critics calling Bitcoin a scam today, usually from those who have an ideological attachment to gold, fiat currency, or central banking we will continue to have naysayers about NFTs. I think its bullish, as it’s a demonstration of how early we are in the adoption cycle. Once the majority of NFTs are traded cheaply with almost no power, what reason will there be to fight against the inevitable adoption of this exciting technology?

Conclusion

There are many factors that will continue to drive growth in exposure, demand, and ultimately prices of historic NFTs. For long-term ownership, historic NFTs are a fascinating asymmetric opportunity right now, with a scarce supply versus what I predict is an enormous demand in the coming years. Beyond art, they truly are the artifacts of the biggest global shift humanity is making in our lifetimes, the first steps in realizing the promise that cryptocurrencies and decentralized systems can help deliver. Historic NFTs are the artifacts of the financial, technological, and cultural movement towards decentralization. I believe we have a relatively small window to acquire these assets before we are priced out forever. As awareness of the significance of and demand for historic NFTs grow, supply and price shocks loom. Long term, many of the best historic NFTs will become some of the most prized and expensive assets in the world. For blue-chip vintage NFTs, the future is now, don’t be left behind.

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References

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