The record auction closed for a single artwork sold publicly by a living artist is $91.1 million, set by Jeff Koons’s 1986 sculpture Rabbit in 2019. The Non-fungible tokens (NFT) market is quickly catching; at press time, the most expensive NFTs sold for $91.8M.
CryptoPunks dominate the most expensive NFTs list. Cryptopunks is an Ethereum-based ERC 721, non-fungible token. The collection was created by the Larva Labs studio, a two-person company consisting of Canadian software developers John Watkinson and Matt Hall, who debuted in June 2017.
The cyberpunk movement, the London punk scene, and electronic music artists Daft Punk influenced the experimental endeavor. The most valuable NFTs have been featured in The New York Times, Christie’s of London, Art|Basel Miami, and The PBS NewsHour.
An NFT is a unique digital asset. NFTs are actively sparking the early signs of Web 3 activity. Each of these popular NFT collections has a story behind it that we will explore.
What makes an NFT valuable?
It’s difficult to nail down the exact value of a valuable NFT or what may make NFT sales valuable. However, noting the recent NFT price trends, some factors make NFTs valuable. An NFT’s value is defined by the market forces of supply and demand.
It’s usually easier to evaluate an NFT when it’s created to represent a physical asset. But most NFTs only exist on-chain, in the digital realm.
Each NFT collection is unique, with each NFT having special attributes. But several other factors can determine how much an NFT is worth. Limited series NFTs with specific utility tend to be more valuable. The founding team and the artists and community can affect demand.
In other words, the value of an NFT could be related to the digital artist, its value in play-to-earn games, or simply community and market sentiment. There are many cases of successful NFT sales, but there are even more that have failed. Make sure to research before trading or investing in NFTs, and don’t use the money you can’t afford to lose.
Other factors include:
An NFT’s transaction history is recorded, thanks to blockchain technology. Traders can see when transactions took place, the public address of the previous owner, and more. If a celebrity or notable collector had owned a specific NFT, that NFT’s value may appreciate or hold its value.
Established artists and creators may create new pieces in the digital realm that may already come with a high price tag. Consider Beeple, or their work is coveted in the space, so any new art they create may automatically be valuable.
Membership NFTs, Gaming NFTs, or domain NFTs are great examples of utility in this space. Some NFTs are just meant for collecting, but a gaming trading card NFT can be used in a blockchain game, making it more valuable depending on the audience.
There are millions of NFTs now, but not all of them are guaranteed to be successful. Trending collections and overall consumer interest are two of the most significant predictors of value in NFTs and crypto. The more popular a collection is, the more likely the NFTs will appreciate it.
If you decide to invest in NFTs or crypto NFTs, know that the value of any given NFT isn’t guaranteed. Values fluctuate every second, so it’s a speculative investment.
12. CryptoPunk #7804: $7.56 million (4200 ETH)
CryptoPunk 7804 is one of the Alien punks easily notable with its forward cap, small shades, and smoking pipe. Dylan Field, CEO of Figma, sold the NFT.
Here is how it played out. A few years ago, Dylan started telling people he owned the digital Mona Lisa. Pretty much everyone, he told thought felt he was nuts. After all, the digital artwork in question was a low-res, algorithmically generated picture of a blue alien wearing a hat and puffing on a pipe. Its name is “CryptoPunk #7804,” It doesn’t exactly scream “high-end crypto art.”
Seemingly, Field’s proclamation seems a lot fewer nuts. (But maybe a little nuts.) CryptoPunks’ NFT project gained huge admiration as early players in the NFT space, helping pioneer the kind of digital, scarce goods buyers worldwide are clamoring to get. Later, Field sold the pipe-smoking Mona Lisa for 4,200 ETH, or about $7.5 million.
11. CryptoPunk #3100: $7.57 million (4200 ETH)
CryptoPunk #3100 is a CryptoPunk with alien skin and a single attribute, a headband. CryptoPunks’ NFT collections are expensive because they have tremendous historical value within the NFT space. CryptoPunk 3100 is position 7 in rarity, according to the NFT rarity tool.
The NFT sale happened on 11 March 2021 for 4,200 ETH -$7,584,485.82 breaking the record set by Punk 7804 the previous day. 3100 is owned by an anon owning the Ethereum address 0x7b8961f67382c51c389726667ef7dd7cf95fefd3. The original minter Straybits. eth, who still owns another 3 more CryptoPunks, sold CryptoPunk 3100 for a measly 8 ETH on 6 July 2017. The new owner held the NFT for nearly 4 years until he sold it to the current owner at a whopping 4,200 ETH (valued at $7.58 million). CryptoPunk 3100 was later listed for sale at 35,000 ETH, more than $100 million.
10. CryptoPunk #5577: $7.7 million (2501 ETH)
Cryptopunk NFT #5577 stands out as a cowboy with a dark complexion and a hat.
The NFT art was purchased by Robert Leishner, the founder of Compound DeFi protocol. After the purchase, Robert tweeted “Yeehaw,” which signifies riding a horse. Many Twitter users congratulated Robert; some also showcased their own NFTs on the platform. However, there is no direct confirmation from Robert about the purchase, but it seems to be the case. The purchaser is identified by the Ethereum address 0xfc50541c3deaf725ce738ef87ace2ad778ba0c5.
9. CryptoPunk #4156: $10.2 million (2500 ETH)
The Punk sold was #4156. It’s a rare Crypto Ape Punk in which there are only 24 in a collection of 10,000 items. A remarkable feature of this sale is that it happened at all; most owners of CryptoPunks are obstinate in selling their beloved NFT. In October 2022, someone bid 2,500 ETH on CryptoPunk #6046 — which, had the owner accepted it, would have been the highest selling NFTs sale at the time at $9.5 million. The owner declined the offer, citing that the rare punk was tied to his identity and brand.
The NFT art was sold by the famous influencer and investor Punk4156. Punk 4156 purchased CryptoPunk #4156 for 650 ETH ($1.25M) on Feb. 18; the dear anon has given up the iconic visual part of his branding for 2,500 ETH ($10.26M) — making this one of the highest selling NFTs of the CryptoPunk collection.
The motivation behind the landmark sale seems the move was far less about the potential gains and much more about the underlying issues Punk4156 takes with Larva Labs’ copyright policies. As a prominent investor in the space, Punk4156 has been an outspoken proponent of licensing NFTs under creative commons for all to enjoy — the CryptoPunks collection lies under a restrictive NFT License created by Dapper Labs.
8. Tpunk #3442: $10.5 million (120 million TRX)
Tpunk #3442, nicknamed ’Joker” due to its uncanny resemblance popular Batman villain, is an NFT part of the Tpunks series. The Tpunseries derives artistic inspiration from the Cryptopunks and consists of 10,000 avatars. Some of the avatars in the collection have rare features, hugely coveted by designers.
The NFT was bought by Justin Sun, the supremo of blockchain and founder of the Tron blockchain. Justin Sun is not a new entrant on NFT marketplaces. He was an enthusiastic bidder during Christie’s sale of the Beeple’s Everydays: the first 5000 days NFT sale. Sun revealed that he bid at $60 million at the time, but an anonymous buyer outbid him by $250 000 at the last hurdle.
The significant push from Justin Sun is a severe vote of confidence for the Tpunks collection and not just another copycat version of the Ethereum-based CryptoPunks. Copycat collections like Tpunks are gaining momentum on other blockchains. Avalanche Punks, on the Avalanche blockchain, also saw increased interest.
Tpunk #3442 is the most expensive NFT sold on the Tron blockchain.
7. CryptoPunk #7523: $11.7 million (4700 ETH)
CryptoPunk #7523 is a particular, highly sought-after crypto punk with blue-green skin and, most importantly, a medical mask of the Alien variety (one of nine alien punks). Owning a piece of the NFT series like this demands an exorbitant price tag,$11,754,000. You probably think that’s an astronomical price to pay for a piece of pixel art that you can right-click and save on your laptop right now, but this work is verifiable on the blockchain, which certifies its ownership.
CryptoPunk #7523 was sold for $11,754,000 as part of Sotheby’s online auction “Natively Digital: A Curated NFT Sale” hosted on the Decentraland metaverse. Decentraland is a blockchain-based virtual world resembling Minecraft; unlike regular auction house sales, no physical artwork changed hands; instead, Sotheby’s sent the piece to the owner’s crypto wallet. The expensive Cryptopunk was bought by Israeli entrepreneur Shalom Mackenzie, the largest shareholder of digital sports company DraftKings.
6. CryptoPunk #5822: $23.7 million (8000 ETH)
The CryptoPunks Bots have reported the sale of the expensive Cruptopunk bought by address 0x69c488. The Bot was developed by the same company which made Crypto Punks – Larva Labs, and it announces all sales and giant bids for CryptoPunks on the Ethereum blockchain.
The NFT was purchased by the CEO of Chain, Deepak Thapliyal, who goes by Deepak.Eth on the Ethereum blockchain. The 8,000 ETH transaction smashed the previous record sale of CryptoPunk #7523, “COVID Alien.” Thapliyal purchased CryptoPunk #5822.
The original owner of the CryptoPunk had bought the scarf sporting Cryptopunk for less than 1 ETH. He held through the initial boom of the collection and finally sold the punk for more than 7,999 ETH in profit.
5. Beeple, Human One 28.9 million (4700 ETH)
Human One is a hybrid physical and digital animated artwork by digital artist Mike Winkelmann, popularly known as Beeple, sold for $28.9. The generative NFT art known as Human One was auctioned off as part of Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale on 9 November. The art consists of a kinetic video sculpture with a corresponding NFT designed to display artwork continuously that evolves. Winkelmann has remote access to the artwork and creative control over its content forever.
At the center of the art is a lone astronaut, forever striding through the wastes of a vaguely familiar world, one strewn with oversize Pop icons in various states of decay or perversion, punctuated by the occasional spray of flora, lonely stretches of dunes and a few nods to some of the titans of Art History.
Winkelmann was inspired to create the sculpture over the summer by combining several TV screens on wheels into different shapes and patterns. He realized that the screen configuration was a robust canvas and looked incredible.
4. Julian Assange and Pak, Clock: $52.7 million (16953 ETH)
AssangeDAO, the organization on a mission to fight for the freedom of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won the bid for Assange and Pak’s Clock NFT. Assange DAO organization, established in December 2021, consists of over 10,000 Julian supporters who pooled their funds to purchase the NFT. Their goal? To raise funds and free Assange “at all costs.”
The Clock NFT sold for 16,953 ETH, making it one of the most expensive NFTs ever.
Precisely what does the Clock NFT entail? A single NFT depicts a timer, which counts the number of days Assange has spent in prison. It was curated as part of Pak and Assange’s Censored collection and featured a dynamic, open edition. Pak is an anonymous artist and one of the highest-grossing living artists. The artist took to Twitter after the auction closed, labeling the endeavor “a drop with no creator, developer, platform, middlemen share,” that is, “from people, for the people.” Millions of dollars from a group effort.
3. Beeple, every day’s: The First 5000 Days – $69.3 million (38525 ETH)
Until October, the highest Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, ever made on NFT marketplaces was $100. Mr. Beeple would later sell his famous NFT for $69.3M, the third most expensive NFT ever sold. The artist from South Carolina is a graphic designer and motion artist famous for creating a picture every day for 13 years – not missing a day for 5,000 straight days.
The First 5000 Days collection consists of every individual image from Beeple’s first 5,000 days compiled into a single composition. This work offers a glimpse into Beeple’s artistic journey from his early days of anonymity while creating a poignant timeline charting the progression of United States history in real-time.
The record-smashing NFT sale comes after months of increasingly valuable auctions on Christie’s NFT market. In October, Beeple sold his first series of NFTs, with a pair going for $66,666.66 each. In December, he sold another series of works for $3.5 million. And later, one of the NFTs that sold for $66,666.66 was resold for $6.6 million.
2. Pak’s “The Merge” — $91.8 million
The Merge and NFT created by Pak recorded the highest sale ever on the Nifty Gateway marketplace. Pak, the artist, uses code as art; in this art, he used the blockchain and the internet to create global-scale art that moved minds and bodies.
How did The Merge become the highest-selling NFT on the Nifty gateway? Merge is a dynamic NFT whose visuals are tied to Mass unit tokens, the more Mass tokens you own, the higher the mass of your NFT generated on the chain. Pak put the Mass tokens on sale for 48hrs, and NFT collectors could buy any number of Mas tokens. On 2 December 2021, the Mass tokens had a starting price of $525 and went up $25 every 6 hours; the buyers also received a bonus for buying the tokens.
The sale event attracted over 28,000 collectors who bought into the digital art, spending a whopping$91,806,519 to purchase 266,434 total units of what Pak is calling ‘mass.’ The expensive sale technically made Pak the most expensive living artist in the world.
1. Larva Labs “CryptoPunk #9998” — $529.77 million (Controversial)
The Cryptopunks NFT collection has dominated the NFT market for a while, boasting the highest number of expensive NFTs sold. The sale has, however, been critiqued, with some analysts referring to it as a ‘wash trade.’
How did Cryptopunk #9998 make it to the list of the most expensive NFT sold? On that particular day, the seller transferred CryptoPunk #9998 from their ETH address (starting with) 0xef76 to the address 0x8e39. Later, 0x8e39 would sell the NFT to an address 0x9b5a for 24,457 ETH. The significant sale grabbed immediate attention because there is no example of an nft collection going this expensive in history.
Deep analysis of the transactions indicated that the ETH was sent to a smart contract and later transferred to the seller. The seller also sent another 124,457 ETH to the buyer, who repaid the loans. Then, the NFT was returned to the address 0xef67 and offered 250,000 ETH. The position of #9998 in the second position stands on shaky ground; the crypto community is yet to approve the transaction as legit. 9998 might not even be the most expensive Cryptopunk.
The NFT marketplace is undoubtedly growing in popularity and continuously creating new record NFT prices worth tens of millions. Digital artists are getting more creative with their artwork, and people are slowly seeing the worth of NFT collections.
While most NFTs are collectable artworks, we have more NFTs created with utility. As NFTs mature, we can expect more utilities and adoptions than digital collectables and possibly even higher sales.
While The Merge holds the crown for highest-selling NFT, the positions are constantly shifting. The crypto community is anxiously waiting to witness more records make the list of the most expensive NFTs ever sold. The Bored ape yacht club is a famous collection likely to make it to the list.
Copycat collections of popular NFTs dominate NFT marketplaces. Always conduct thorough research on the authenticity of a Non-fungible token before committing yourself. NFT sales and purchases on decentralized platforms are not refundable.