Sotheby’s Expected to Sell 104 CryptoPunks for a Record $30 Million. Instead, the Collection Was Pulled Just Before the Sale

The consignor, who goes by @0x650d on Twitter, posted simply, “nvm, decided to hodl."

Larva Labs, Punk It! collage of CryptoPunks. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s planned to make history on February 23 with a single-lot sale of 104 CryptoPunks, estimated to fetch between $20 million to $30 million. Instead, the collection—which carried the highest-ever asking price for an NFT at auction—was withdrawn unexpectedly before the auction had a chance to start. 

Scheduled for 7 p.m., the event was held in a crowded salesroom at Sotheby’s Upper East Side headquarters and live-streamed across the globe, with almost 500 people tuning in on YouTube. The opening bid was set at $14 million. Typically, the lots are withdrawn last minute when there’s no interest. It happens regularly and is a strategy to avoid having the artwork flop publicly, which can dampen the artist’s market and “burn” the artwork. 

It was a disappointing turn of events for Sotheby’s, which had heralded the event, “Punk It!” as “an unprecedented showcase for NFTs and digital art with a presentation on par with the most significant and high-profile sales for contemporary and modern art.” The buyer could pay for the 104 CryptoPunks in Ether, Bitcoin, USD Coin, or fiat currencies.

Sotheby’s sold CryptoPunk #7523 for $11.8 million in June and has generated more than $100 million in NFT sales since the technology became the hottest new segment of the market almost a year ago. NFT mania took off last March when Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5,000 Days soared to $69 million at Christie’s.

Around 7:25 p.m., with no sign of the sale, Sotheby’s made a surprising announcement online: following a discussion with the consignor, the work had been withdrawn. The consignor, who goes by @0x650d on Twitter, posted simply, “nvm, decided to hodl [sic].” He proceeded to post a series of memes touting his decision.  

Larva Labs released the CryptoPunks, a generative creation of 10,000 pixelated characters, in 2017. Since then, they have become some of the most sought-after and expensive NFTs.

The consignor acquired all 104 Punks together in a single blockchain transaction; it is one of the largest such groups held by a single wallet, Sotheby’s said, and represents more than one percent of all Punks. 

The evening sale was preceded by a lively panel discussion on the history and significance of CryptoPunks. (Panelists included Artnet News columnist Kenny Schachter.) A post-sale party, complete with a DJ and free drinks, proceeded as planned.

By 7:38 p.m., any mention of the auction had vanished from Sotheby’s website. “Withdrawn lots are routinely removed from the website,” a Sotheby’s spokesman said, but declined to comment further on what caused the withdrawal of the lot. 

The work’s owner didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment via Twitter. But Twitter still had plenty to say.

“No interest? Stock market falling. Crypto values dropping,” tweeted Howard L. Rehs, a New York art dealer. “Probably did not want to start an NFT market correction.”

“This is like when I ‘opted out’ of high school prom,” a follower of @0x650d wrote.

“I feel rugged,” said another. Their profile picture? A purple hat-wearing CryptoPunk.

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