A brief history of NFTs: From CryptoPunks to Bored Apes


The concept of NFTs originated with Bitcoin-based colored coins around 2012-2013, but it wasn't until 2017, with the advent of the Ethereum blockchain, that they gained significant recognition. Ethereum's ability to host NFTs, enabling the creation, storage, programming, and trading of these tokens, revolutionized the landscape.

The first NFT, "Quantum," was minted in 2014 on the Namecoin blockchain by Kevin McCoy. However, the full potential of NFTs was realized with the Ethereum blockchain, which provided a more reliable and accessible platform for launching NFT projects. Over time, NFTs have been used to represent a variety of assets, including real estate, digital art, and gaming tokens.

The rise of NFTs has been marked by significant milestones, including the launch of notable projects such as CryptoPunks and CryptoKitties, and the integration of NFTs into metaverse projects. The NFT market experienced a significant surge in 2021, with trading volumes reaching $13 billion, driven in part by the popularity of NFTs in the art market.

Despite fluctuations, the NFT market continues to grow, with new platforms and standards emerging on various blockchains beyond Ethereum.

Brief history of NFTs

The CryptoPunks NFT collection is one of the earliest collections that would go on to become one of the most prominent. The 10,000 collection of pixelated avatars called CryptoPunks also launched in 2017 before ERC-721, the Ethereum token standard that created NFTs. The original NFTs were minted as ERC-20 tokens, and some CryptoPunk NFTs nowadays need to be wrapped as an ERC-721 token to trade on NFT marketplaces. 

Then came CryptoKitties, a blockchain game on Ethereum that allows players to purchase, collect, breed and sell various types of virtual cats. A CryptoKitty's features were represented by NFTs, making each cat non-fungible and therefore potentially valuable. The game provided the first mainstream use of NFTs for recreational purposes and introduced the concept of unique digital assets to a broader audience. CryptoKitties demonstrated the potential of NFTs in representing individuality and rarity, setting the stage for later NFT booms. 

Following the CryptoKitties trend, the use of NFTs expanded into the art world.

Digital artists began to use NFTs to create unique pieces of art, which gave artists a new avenue to monetize their work. The art world's adoption of NFTs reached a crescendo with the sale of a digital artwork by Beeple for $69 million in 2021.

This sale cemented NFTs as a legitimate and potentially lucrative aspect of the art market, with major NFT collections such as Bored Ape Yacht Club and CryptoPunks in particular gaining immense popularity. In fact, NFTs were so popular in 2021 that "NFT" was named its Word of the Year by the dictionary publisher Collin's

Famous or notable NFT examples

NFTs have been utilized in several famous and notable instances that have captured the public's attention. Bored Ape Yacht Club gained notoriety in 2021, becoming what could be considered the face of NFTs.

Other popular NFT collections include Azuki, Pudgy Penguins, Cool Cats, Mutant Ape Yacht Club, Doodles and Moonbirds

Other notable examples include the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) which uses NFTs for its .ETH domains, and NBA Top Shot, a digital collectibles marketplace for NBA fans.


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Disclaimer: This article was produced with the assistance of OpenAI’s ChatGPT 3.5/4 and reviewed and edited by our editorial team.

© 2023 The Block. All Rights Reserved. This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.

About Author

MK Manoylov has been a reporter for The Block since 2020 — joining just before bitcoin surpassed $20,000 for the first time. Since then, MK has written nearly 1,000 articles for the publication, covering any and all crypto news but with a penchant toward NFT, metaverse, web3 gaming, funding, crime, hack and crypto ecosystem stories. MK holds a graduate degree from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP) and has also covered health topics for WebMD and Insider. You can follow MK on X @MManoylov and on LinkedIn.