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 Sotheby's.
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 Instead, the collection—which carried the highest-ever asking price for an NFT at auction—was withdrawn unexpectedly before the auction had a chance to start.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 Typically, the lots are withdrawn last minute when there’s no interest.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the sale, Sotheby’s made a surprising announcement online: following a discussion with the consignor, the work had been withdrawn.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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