Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs had an explosion of growth and interest; 2021 was an important year for cryptocurrency-based art projects, utility NFTs, and the communities that have grown up around them. Some NFTs sell for (comparatively) very little. Others sell for incredible sums.
What are some of the most expensive NFTs ever sold? One NFT artist, Beeple, has multiple NFTs on the list, and Yuga Labs (creators of Bored Apes Yacht Club) also claims multiple top slots for certain “rare” CryptoPunks NFTs.
NFTs are digital tokens stored in the blockchain. Each of these tokens represents one individual asset. Newcomers to crypto can get a crash course in how the ecosystem works by purchasing an NFT. Non-Fungible Tokens aren’t just digital artworks, videos, or other media that are minted and traded on the blockchain.
They can also be designed as game avatars, in-game tools or accessories for playing in virtual worlds or metaverses, and NFTs can function as membership cards or all-access badges for events in real life or in a metaverse.
Purchasing an NFT requires you to obtain a virtual wallet, purchase cryptocurrency (or pay by whatever means you agree on with the seller), and participate in a transaction on the blockchain. If you’re new to purchasing NFTs, it’s a good idea to start with something small and leave the aspirational NFT purchases we list below for when you feel fully confident navigating crypto transactions.
The key to understanding why the expensive NFTs we list below sold for those prices? It’s all about investor enthusiasm.
In an art market, the confidence of the buyer is key. That confidence can be assured by scarcity, the reputation of the artist involved, and other variables. Think about the value of NFTs in a similar way to first edition books, rare vinyl records, or other collectibles. As long as there is an enthusiastic market for the NFTs, they may thrive.
Some of the most expensive NFTs ever sold were created by the same person or team. Mike Winkleman, also known as Beeple, is responsible for what was thought to be the most expensive NFT art ever sold–at one time.
His prices are impressive in any case; the artist would earn a high-profile price tag for the sale of HUMAN ONE, at roughly $29 million. This is discussed in some circles as a “hybrid” NFT since there is a real-world aspect to the work in addition to the NFTs. Beeple’s biggest NFT sale is Everydays: The First 5000 Days. It sold for just under $70 million in a Christie’s auction and is a collage of Beeple’s previous work. It is not a hybrid IRL/NFT project.
But the artist known as Pak brings in a much higher price tag and a bit of controversy for good measure.
Pak is responsible for an NFT project called The Merge. Instead of minting 10,000 NFTs with variants on a basic design (think CryptoPunks or CoolCats here), Pak took a single artwork and divided it up into more than 300,000 pieces sold to nearly 29,000 individual buyers. The Merge was sold in “masses” for just over $91 million.
It’s said to be the most expensive NFT ever sold. But can this work even qualify as a single NFT for the purpose of ranking it? If a strict interpretation of the notion of a single NFT is applied, the answer is likely no.
Pak returns to the list with Clock, which sold for over $52 million. This NFT artwork is political; it is essentially a timer showing the number of days Julian Assange has “spent in prison”. The project is meant as a fundraiser for Assange, who is said to have collaborated with Pak on the project.
CryptoPunks And Art Blocks
There are multiple variants of CryptoPunks on this list, selling for between $7 million and $23 million. One, CryptoPunk #5822, is said to be the most expensive with a 8,000 ETH price tag.
Why was this one so pricey? It was said to be from the “rarest alien edition” in the collection (fewer than ten made) and features a CryptoPunk with a bandana (only 333 made). CryptoPunk #7523 brought in some $11 million; crypto enthusiasts say this one was desirable because it was the only version of the Alien CryptoPunks wearing a mask.
Art Blocks is an art project on the Ethereum blockchain. The work includes a series of generative art such as the Ringers series by Dmitri Cherniak. That project included one high-dollar NFT sale worth $7.2 million USD in 2021. Art Blocks got its start in 2020 and has grown to hundreds of generative art projects worth approximately $300 million by August 2021.
This Changed Everything sold in 2021 for just above $5 million in a Sotheby’s auction. The artwork itself is a depiction of an early version of the source code used for the World Wide Web. The buyer of this NFT got some perks including a letter written by one of the founding figures of the Internet, Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee.
Beeple returns to the list with a political artwork called Crossroad, which went for $6.6 million. It’s an animated NFT featuring the one-term President Donald Trump lying face-down in a field while being ignored by those passing by.
XCopy hit a home run with Right Click And Save As Guy; this NFT was sold in a decentralized auction for $7 million, with plenty of speculation that Snoop Dogg was the buyer in this particular case.
This is one “political” NFT with a twist; this work seems to have much to say on NFT culture and its detractors; the title itself refers to the criticism that anyone can save a copy of a digital image and that NFTs are thought to be superfluous as a result. How disposable is NFT artwork? In this particular case, $7 million worth. And that price tag is more impressive when you learn that Right Click was valued at below $200,000 the previous February.
XCopy didn’t just hit it big once. The animated NFT, All Time High In The City hit the big time with an initial sale for just under $3 million in 2021, with a 2022 resale for around double that price.
Joe Wallace has covered real estate and financial topics, including crypto and NFTs since 1995. His work has appeared on Veteran.com, The Pentagon Channel, ABC and many print and online publications. Joe is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.