People like to think of NFTs as a recent phenomenon, but many of today’s priciest crypto collectibles date back at least a few years. CryptoPunks, a collection of pixelated NFT avatars that’s generated over $1 billion in secondary sales, launched back in 2017, as did the similarly cutesy CryptoKitties and MoonCats. The general public may not have been on board until last year, but now that money is flowing, the collections that survived this long are getting a second wind.
Two weeks ago, crypto-savvy media personality Gary Vaynerchuk tweeted about an NFT project called EtherRock—100 discrete images of the same cartoon rock, each tinted a slightly different color. The image itself was pulled from a royalty-free clip art database, and looks like it could have been whipped up in MS Paint. The underlying code was developed in 2017, but hadn’t seen much action since then. Up until the recent resurgence, there were still a few fresh tokens available to mint from the site.
Crypto being a fundamentally influencer-driven market, the value of the tokens immediately shot up in the wake of Vaynerchuk’s shoutout: the lowest listed price for a single EtherRock is now 95.2 ETH, or about $300,000. And of the 761 total EtherRock transactions, 581 have happened within the last two weeks. The current highest price paid for an EtherRock is 96 ETH.
25-year-old Maximilian Zim, who picked up EtherRock #62 for 9 ETH two weeks ago (around $25,000 at the time), said he initially thought the concept was “stupid.”
“Then I saw that the last ones were being minted, and the FOMO kicked in,” he said. “I checked the Wayback Machine—people are saying this is from 2017—the site was up in 2017. I looked at the Reddit posts, they were dated four years ago. I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is checking out.’”
“In a way it's like looking at a caveman painting, but being able to have every piece of the puzzle verified,” he explained. “Really a permanent piece of history.
The anonymous developer behind EtherRock is still actively maintaining the project. “I was a complete amateur when I built it,” they said in an interview with Motherboard. “It was originally intended as a) a joke and b) an exercise for me to learn [the Ethereum coding language] Solidity.”
They said they would’ve “spent a lot more effort” on the NFTs had they known they were going to get this expensive.
“Rocks are about flexing”
You could be forgiven for thinking it’s “stupid” to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on tokens tied to royalty-free clip art, but EtherRock owners figure they’ll get the last laugh. Prominent token-holders include Bitcoin advocate Meltem Demirors and former BitMEX executive Arthur Hayes (the latter of whom is still facing federal prosecution for allegedly violating the Bank Secrecy Act).
Demirors said she’s become attached to her rock—she named it “Grug”—though she declined to reveal which of the 100 minted tokens is hers.
“Rocks are about flexing,” she said. “There are only 100 rocks, and people who try to pretend they own one get called out quickly. Because the data is all public domain, you can see when a rock is moved to a new wallet address.”
As for Zim, the appeal is transparency: the entire history of EtherRock is available for perusal on Etherscan, a dedicated website for browsing the blockchain.
“This is the stupidest or the most incredible decision of our lives,” said Zim. “Right now it's playing out pretty well.”
Update: Price floor for EtherRocks has been updated.