On Jan. 19, something unusual happened in the NFT market — a CryptoPunk, which typically sells for a minimum of $100,000, was swapped for a full set of tokens from an obscure collection called The Memes.
The transaction wouldn’t have been conceivable three months ago. The Memes, a collection that declares the viral images are “the most important thing in the world,” was little known in the NFT market. Now the value of the collection has skyrocketed 19-fold, to 52,916 ETH or $83M, according to data provider NFTGo.
The idea behind The Memes collection is that memes, transmittable units of culture, can be owned in the form of NFTs. It may strike many as counterintuitive — the whole point of memes, of course, is to share takes through widely recognizable images. So how could you “own” one?
But Punk6529, a popular pseudonymous figure in the crypto community and the primary driver of The Memes project, has long argued NFTs expressing “memetic ownership” are negotiable products. Punk6529 rose to fame in 2021 thanks to a slew of threads offering unique perspectives on crypto, with a particular focus on NFTs’ potential.
“NFTs are the fastest, most scalable, most potent layer ever built to finance and transport ‘art,’ and ‘memes,’” Punk6529 tweeted in August 2021.
The pseudonymous influencer thinks of symbols like American Flag and the Nike logo as memes. He thinks equally powerful memes, which he sees as forms of “myths,” will rise from the world of NFTs.
“In three to five years we will see global brands that were built off NFT collections,” Punk6529 said on a recent podcast with Raoul Pal, CEO and co-founder Real Vision, a media platform.
Pop Art: Original Memes
In terms of art, Punk6529 may have a point. The artist Jasper Johns, after all, struck a chord in 1954-55 with his acclaimed painting of an American flag. While he used newsprint in the substrate, Flag was not stylized in any radical way. But the very act of its painting reflected Old Glory’s iconic power as symbol, especially in a post-war context.
By the same token, Andy Warhol revolutionized the conception of art by reproducing pop icons — the memes of their day — such as the Campbell soup can and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
Punk6529 isn’t making art, but with memes the new lingua franca of social media, the collector is spotlighting the idea that icons can be owned.
It would appear that other collectors agree, at least for now.
Even so, the value of The Memes may have more to do with speculation than the appreciation of artistic concepts. Moreover, it’s difficult to prove that owning an NFT of The Memes collection actually means a person owns the culture unit at all — after all, memes are arguably freely transmissible by nature.
Regardless, The Memes are on fire right now. And like all art, it’s hard to discern exactly why some collections get hot and others don’t. But The Memes uses a novel minting model that’s caught the eye of investors.
Minting New Tokens
Instead of a one-time mint of 10,000 NFTs, a distribution method used by many projects, The Memes is continually minting new tokens, referred to as “cards” — the mint for the 58th card went live on Jan. 25.
This generates continuous excitement, and, as new artists are consistently being brought in to create the image for the next card, significant reach as the fanbase of each creator gets exposed to Memes.
Adding to the excitement, each mint comes with its own allowlist, meaning the list of wallet addresses which are eligible to purchase the NFT. The list is typically some fusion of holders of other NFTs made by the card’s creator, as well as those who hold some of The Memes already in existence.
The allowlist changes a bit each time, which keeps people engaged, and sometimes too much so — the pseudonymous buyer of the CryptoPunk cited the 2:30am mints as a reason they wanted to sell a full set of The Memes.
The Memes also employs a novel way of categorizing its images. Meme NFTs are grouped by crypto-centric memes like “not your keys not your coins,” and “WAGMI,” which stands for “we’re all gonna make it.”
Each meme has a subset of NFTs — some may have just a few tokens associated with it, others more — “GM,” which stands for the crypto greeting “good morning,” has 10.
The Memes are further divided into seasons, the second of which is in progress. Tens of different artists are behind the Memes — for example Drift, a famous artist known for taking pictures of his feet dangling off the roofs of 1,000-foot tall buildings, did a card for the first season of the “WAGMI” meme.
Taken together, this approach is redefining the way an NFT collection can be managed. Or at least, that’s what the market action appears to be demonstrating.
The Memes collection plays into Punk6529’s larger vision of what he calls “the open metaverse” a permissionlessly accessed digital realm stitched together by NFTs and their holders — His outfit, called simply “6529,” is also working on a digital world, called “OM.”
Punk6529’s says the metaverse will be controlled by large companies, like Meta, which wanted to associate itself so much with the idea of a new digital world that it changed its name in October 2021.
The influencer asserts that the open metaverse is dependent on ownership of memes, rather than any specific plot of land. It’s an open debate — another metaversal project, Nifty Island, is also designed without a scarcity of land.
Punk6529’s plans aren’t entirely distinct from other metaversal ventures, however. Like Meta, the influencer is promoting a digital world where one’s property is portable, rather than being confined to one application. And Punk6529 is collecting major NFTs under a “museum” venture which he believes will play a significant role in the metaverse he envisions.
The museum also receives 10% of the supply of each minted card of the Memes collection.
Punk6529 has also announced a capital arm, an education arm, and more, all under the 6529 banner in the same month of Facebook’s rebrand. He has said on Twitter that he took on seed investors to develop 6529’s multi-pronged vision.
For now, The Memes venture, underpinned by the idea that memes can be owned in the form of NFTs, has momentum — 5,889 wallets hold at least one NFT in the collection. Though as it grows, fewer and fewer can hold onto a full set.
Many collectors may be betting that if they hold a full set of The Memes they will eventually be able to garner more than a $100,000 CryptoPunk.