Was Sotheby’s Punked in Planned CryptoPunks NFT Auction?

The auction house expected a blockbuster sale, then the owner pulled out

People wearing protective masks walk past a CryptoPunk digital art non-fungible token (NFT) displayed on an electronic billboard at a bus shelter in Midtown Manhattan. A recent CryptoPunks auction at Sotheby's was canceled at the last minute because the consignor withdrew the lot.
A CryptoPunk digital art non-fungible token (NFT) displayed on an electronic billboard at a bus shelter in Midtown Manhattan.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty

The rise in popularity of NFTs has led many observers of the scene to get philosophical when thinking about the art in question. Does one truly own something purchased as an NFT? What does it mean to use an NFT to unlock a car, or interact in some other way with a physical object? What happens if someone steals your apes?

After this week, there’s a new question to ponder: what happens at a high-profile NFT auction where no NFTs are actually auctioned?

This scenario does not describe an “if a tree falls in a forest with no one around, does it make a sound”-esque puzzle. Instead, it’s a description of what took place at Sotheby’s earlier this week. As The New York Times reports, the storied auction house was scheduled to sell off a collection of 104 CryptoPunk NFTs for a price in the neighborhood of $30 million.

Unfortunately for the would-be buyers, that wasn’t what took place. Instead, the consignor opted to nix plans to go through with the auction, and proceeded to make a joke at Sotheby’s expense on social media.

The collector, known as 0x650d, had alluded to the auction earlier this month on Twitter. “Today, I’m excited to announce my partnership with @Sotheby’s to create the highest profile NFT sale of all time,” they tweeted on February 8.

“I simply could not pass up the opportunity to elevate CryptoPunks in the international art community,” they wrote later in the thread. “And with this sale, the CryptoPunk collection will be solidified in the broader art world.”

After withdrawing the NFTs from the auction, 0x650d quote-tweeted their earlier comment and wrote, “nvm, decided to hodl,” which simply means “hold” or “hold on for dear life.” It’s a bizarre conclusion to what was intended to be a high-profile sale — and it’ll be interesting to see what effect (if any) it has on future NFT auctions.

As for the real reason behind the last-minute cancellation, the joke may be on the consignor, not Sotheby’s. As CoinDesk reports, the highest bid on the table before the auction may have been much lower than the estimated sale price, a sign that the NFT market may not be as hot as it once was.

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