20 Most Expensive NFTs Sold To Date (2022)

by Josh Howarth - April 29, 2022

It’s no secret that the NFT space is growing quickly. In fact, 2021 was the biggest year in NFT history as sales skyrocketed more than 200x to over $17 Billion.

According to Opensea, the average price for an NFT fluctuates between $1,400 and 6,900. But the average price of the top 20 most expensive NFTs ever sold? $18.1 Million.

With that, here are the most expensive NFTs ever sold:

20. Doge - $4 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Zora

Background:

Ever heard the phrase “To the moon!?” written along with the pic of a Shiba Inu dog? Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and new owner of Twitter, is known to proclaim the phrase in cryptic messages as a nod to Doge fans around the world. The portrait of the dog - Kabosu - inspired the meme back in 2013 and is now synonymous with dog themed-cryptocurrency coins, especially after Dogecoin’s short-lived, meteoric rise.

Before becoming one of the most iconic memes in crypto, Kabosu and its owner Atsuko Sato lived a simple, non-public life in Japan. The kindergarten teacher adopted Kabosu in 2010 and frequently posted pictures of her new rescue on her personal blog. Little did Sato know that her dog would soon become the face of many ironic and iconic memes and also inspire Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer’s dog-themed, joke cryptocurrency named Dogecoin.

When Internet memes started to gain new traction and life on the NFT market, Sato put the original image up for sale of Kabuso’s infamous sideways glare at the camera and called it Doge. After purchasing this collection of one for a record-breaking $4 Million, the new owner of the Doge NFT made the token available for the masses to own. Through the process of fractionalization, approximately 16.97 Million fractions in Dogecoin were listed on the fractional.art website for anyone to buy.

Just a few months after the $4 Million sale, the meme-themed NFT was valued at $225 Million based on over 11k ETH in sales of fractionalized tokens.

19. REPLICATOR - $4.1 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Phillips Auction House

Background:

British auction house Phillips has a history of presenting record-breaking pieces of modern and contemporary art - from Pablo Picasso’s La Dormeuse to Henri Matisse’s Nu allongé I (Aurore). It’s only fitting that the first digital art placed for auction by Phillips was the REPLICATOR, a one-of-a-kind, multi-generational NFT by Canadian artist Michah Dowbak - who goes by the name of Mad Dog Jones.

For this highly innovative NFT REPLICATOR, the artist created a singular genesis illustration that was capable of self-generating a total of six new generations. There’s a catch: each of the six new generations of variants will replicate every 28 days, producing additional variants. With each new generation, though, one less variant will be produced. For example, generation 2 will contain six variants, generation 3 will contain 5, and when generation 7 is reached, there will be only 1 variant.

The concept of an old copy machine perfectly embodies the concept of replication, and as a copy machine, the NFT can be known to “jam”. When this happens, a unique NFT is produced, but the generation in which it was produced will no longer replicate. This is because Jones developed the smart contract to have a jam rate between 50-80% so that generations 2-6 will have limited growth. Each new generation may have between one and six unique “jam” NFTs, which adds to the scarcity level.

In total, the collection is estimated to produce around 220 unique NFTs, all of which will be owned by the winning bidder. That’s why, after two weeks of bidding, genesis 1 of REPLICATOR - and all subsequent variants to be created - sold for a record-breaking $4.1 Million. The sale turned Mad Dog Jones into a multimillionaire overnight and set a record for the most ever sold by a living Canadian artist.

18. CryptoPunk #2338 - $4.32 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: OpenSea

Background:

The O.G. CryptoPunks project was launched on the Ethereum blockchain by the creators and developers Matt Hall and John Watkinson of the Larva Labs studio. Since its initial release in 2017, 10,000 uniquely and randomly generated, pixelated characters inspired by misfits and conformists of the ’70s punk scene have infiltrated the NFT market.

To date, dozens of CryptoPunk NFTs have sold for more than $1 Million, which is a big reason why so many of the coveted pieces of digital art take up so much space on lists such as this one. In 2021, CryptoPunks’ sales totaled $1 Billion, and in 2022, its valuation is already over $4.7 Billion.

Their unique combinations of attributes - some being more common than others - contribute heavily to their valuation. For example, Punk attributes like mohawks or spikey hair are more common, while elements like chin straps or thin Mohawaks are less common.

In the case of CryptoPunk #2238, this one in 88 zombie NFT has only one single attribute - a thin Mohawk. There are only four zombie Punks with thin mohawk variants - making this one of the rarest NFTs in the entire CryptoPunks catalog. Originally purchased for 3.5 ETH in 2018, which had an equivalent value of around $458 at the time, has seen an ROI of around 1,000,000% since it was acquired originally.

17. Save Thousands of Lives - $4.5 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: OpenSea

Background:

Scientists and non-profit organizations have been turning to non-fungible tokens to bring awareness to and raise money for various causes. DeSci - or decentralized science - has several potential use cases to also help healthcare organizations fund research and improve health outcomes for the communities they serve.

For example, when a patient leaves the hospital, especially a new mother, they are not necessarily in a position to fully regain their life and mobility - yet. Noora Health proclaimed that - with each $1,235 contribution, the organization can save at least one life. The non-profit organization Noora Health trains patients’ families and new mothers in South Asia to provide at-home caregiving for their loved ones when they leave the hospital.

In its first NFT titled Save Thousands of Lives, Noora Health designed a collage of lives the organization has saved to show the impact it has on real people. When the auction closed, $4.5 Million was raised for the organization.

16. CryptoPunk #7252 - $5.33 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: OpenSea

Background:

The secondary market for CryptoPunks is booming; rare variants like the Zombie Punks are popular amongst high-end investors.

The more rare CryptoPunks have a high probability of being traded often, escalating their value in mere months of changing hands. In fact, CryptoPunk #7252 - a red-haired crypto zombie Punk wearing a chin strap and a gold earring was able to double its value in August of 2021. The gold earring is shared amongst 2459 other Punks, but the chinstrap is a feature only found on 282 Punks. Its bright red hair is also a rare feature that only 414 other Punks share.

Sold for 1,600 ETH to an anonymous buyer, CryptoPunk #7252 is currently the second rarest Punk ever sold and the most valuable zombie CryptoPunk in the Larva Labs collection.

15. This Changed Everything - $5.4 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Sotheby’s

Background:

The world wide web has drastically changed how people think, live, work, and communicate. Before the world wide web, folks had to rely on print media and television for news and entertainment. With the world wide web, users have access to a vast amount of information at their fingertips. Users can communicate with anyone in the world instantaneously and work from anywhere with an internet connection.

It’s only fitting that Tim Berners-Lee - the original creator of the World Wide Web - would use the original Python source code as the backdrop for his first NFT. Berners-Lee has been an outspoken supporter of NFTs, stating that digital assets are “the most appropriate means of ownership that exists.”

In his NFT titled This Changed Everything, Berners-Lee provided the original time-stamped files of his source code and a personal letter written and signed by him. He also included a separate digital poster of the code itself along with an animation of the code. The historical significance of the invention of the World Wide Web garnered a high price tag for this single edition NFT in the Sotheby’s auction - valued at $5.4 Million.

14. Stay Free - $5.4 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Foundation

Background:

In 2015, the ACLU won a landmark case against the National Security Agency. A federal appeals court ruled that the use of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency violated Section 215 of the Patriot Act. While the ruling itself didn’t absolve NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, he was the first person to leak details about the program in question.

Snowden may not be known for his creator skills, but he has found a way to use NFT technology as a means to fund his legal battles. Free speech, surveillance, and government overreach have been a cornerstone of Snowden’s defense. In his first-ever minted NFT, it seemed fitting that Snowden used this landmark court decision as the backdrop for the digital art to be auctioned.

He created a signed copy of the court decision and superimposed a portrait of himself taken by photographer Platon. The NFT was sold to the highest bidder in an auction held by the Freedom of Press Foundation, for which he is also the president.

13. CryptoPunk #5217 - $5.59 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: OpenSea

Background:

When CryptoPunks NFTs were originally released in 2017, Larva Labs gave them away for free to anyone with an Ethereum wallet.

There are a few significant factors that contribute to the rarity and high price tag of CryptoPunk #5217. For starters, there are only 24 apes, which are the second rarest of the four available species. Also, this particular CryptoPunk NFT has just two attributes: a gold chain that only 169 other Punks have and a knitted cap that only 419 other Punks have.

As the fourth rarest of the entire collection of CryptoPunks, the ceiling has not yet been reached for #5217. When CryptoPunk #5217 dropped, the original owner claimed it and sold it for a mere 2.5 ETH (then worth only about $1,844) a few months later. The second owner, though, turned a hefty profit 3.5 years later, selling the ultra-rare NFT for 2,250 ETH (the equivalent of ~$5.45 Million).

Between the extremely rare species and having only two rare attributes, this particular collectible is destined for an escalating value on the secondary market.

12. Ocean Front - $6 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Nifty Gateway

Background:

Use cases for NFT for fundraising for causes like climate change are becoming more prevalent. It’s someone ironic because the NFT industry has a gas problem. At its current rate of consumption, one ETH transaction consumes the same electricity as an entire household does in five days.

Although Ethereum is in the process of converting to a proof-of-stake protocol, other minting options like Solana are on the rise. Non-profit organizations like CarbonDrop are also turning to more cost-effective minted NFTs to drive awareness of climate change and promote sustainability.

The most successful NFT artist Beeple - aka Mike Wiklemann - has been known to use his creations to help advocate for ecological issues. Beeple designed Ocean Front to be auctioned as one of eight collections in a fundraiser for CarbonDrop. This highly unique “carbon negative” NFT pays tribute to the fight against global climate change through a stack of shipping containers ironically stacked on a platform over the water.

11. Ringers #109 - $6.93 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: ART Blocks

Background:

The ART Blocks project stand-out amongst other exchanges like OpenSea. Rather than simply serving as a means to post and trade NFTs, ART Blocks is a generative art platform. The world of generative art has been fueled by scientists and engineers since the early 1960s. And it’s been a game-changer for the NFT market, as generative art has evolved to use the blockchain to produce on-demand, on-chain art.

Artist Dmitri Cherniak is an artist and developer known for his “hand-coded goods”. His main medium for designing his collection of digital assets is automation. For his infamous Ringers collection, Cherniak wanted to illustrate how a string can wrap around a set of pegs in an infinite number of ways. For the collection, Cherniak built an automation sequence with Javascript and GLSL. Each output from the 1,000 unit collection of NFTs is uniquely generated, with varying degrees of rarity.

The most valuable piece and rare from his collection - Ringers #109 - sold to an anonymous bidder for 2.1k ETH - around $6.93 Million. The Ringer itself has 11 traits - which isn’t exactly rare in and of itself. However, four of its traits are considered extremely rare. Its white body and pop of red color only exist in 0.31% of the other pieces. Also, the way the string wraps in a balanced wrap orientation in the shape of a Loop is considered very rare for this collection. To date, Ringers #109 is the most expensive NFT sold on ART Blocks.

10. Right-click and Save As Guy - $7.09 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: SuperRare

Background:

When digital art started to make record-breaking sales in 2020, the top 20 most expensive NFTs were mostly famous Internet memes, ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. Memes like the Right-click and Save As Guy are a popular part of pop culture - they're funny, relatable, and often convey a message that people can get behind.

In a world where we're constantly bombarded with negative news, memes provide a much-needed dose of levity and escapism. The Right-click and Save As Guy meme was created by dystopian crypto artist XCOPY to mock NFT naysayers. Critics have argued for years that digital art assets are worthless if they are easy to copy and distribute by right-clicking and saving as a file to one's computer.

NFT enthusiasts, on the other hand, believe that copying something doesn’t give the same satisfaction as knowing that you own the original or only one - like a replica Rolex watch or a postcard reproduction of Dalí’s masterpiece The Persistence of Memory. That’s why, when the Right-click and Save As Guy NFT was released as the only copy available, the iconic pop culture reference was snatched up quickly by NFT collectors.

When the bid was accepted, celebrity Snoop Dogg became the new owner of an exclusive piece of pop-culture history for 1.6k ETH - equivalent to around $7 Million at the time.

9. CryptoPunk #7804 - $7.57 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: OpenSea

Background:

The 24x24, 8-bit style of CryptoPunk digital art began as a Larva Labs experiment to potentially be used for a smartphone app or game. Four years after its first release, Even the credit card merchant Visa dropped $150,000 to purchase a piece of their own - CryptoPunk #7610. Although the Visa purchase was for one of the lowest-priced Punks, the entire collection of 10,000 randomly generated NFTs saw a 5x increase in value over the last year.

While the vast majority of the Punks are human, rare species like aliens, apes, and zombies are much more likely to see higher price tags on the secondary market. CryptoPunk #7804 is one of only 9 alien Punks ever made. Additionally, this ultra-rare alien Punk only has 3 attributes - all of which are rare. It features a cap facing forward (known as a “cap forward”), a pipe, and small shades.

The second owner picked up the ultra-rare NFT for only 12 ETH, which was valued at $14,988, in 2018. Despite numerous offers and bids over the last 3.5 years, it was finally sold in early 2021 for 4,200 ETH, which was around $7.57 Million. At the time of its sales, CryptoPunk #7804 set a record for the amount paid for a single Punk.

8. CryptoPunk #3100 - $7.58 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: OpenSea

Background:

On the same day, CryptoPunk #7804 set a sales record for the CryptoPunk collection, another alien species went up for sale.

Like CryptoPunk #7804, CryptoPunk #3100 is one of only 9 alien punks that also possess ultra-rare features. For starters, this Punk only has one attribute, which is a rarity that only 333 Punks share. The attribute itself - a headband - is also a rare feature in and of itself. Only 406 other Punks have a headband.

Five months after the historical purchase, CryptoPunk #3100 was listed for sale again on Larva Labs for $90.1 million. Today, the offer for sale stands at $111.16 Million. If a bid is made anywhere remotely near the $100 Million price tag, CryptoPunk #3100 will make history as the most expensive collectible ever sold.

7. CryptoPunk #4156 - $10.26 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: CryptoPunk Marketplace

Background:

By the looks of the transaction history on CryptoPunk #4156, having changed hands 5 times since it was first released, it wouldn’t appear that this Punk was destined to make headlines. Typically, owners of ultra-rare CryptoPunks don’t tend to part quickly or conservatively with their collectibles.

Like CryptoPunk #3100, this punk has only 1 attribute. The attribute is a blue bandana tied backward, which only 481 other Punks of the 10,000 in the overall collection share. When CryptoPunk #3100 was last sold in late 2021, it became the most expensive CryptoPunk ever sold on Larva Labs’ very own CryptoPunk marketplace. As one of only 24 apes, the rarity of this Punk species itself hasn’t come anywhere close to achieving its final value.

6. CryptoPunk #7523 |- $11.7 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Sotheby’s

Background:

As one of the nine available alien Punks, the second owner of CryptoPunk #7523 turned a $1,646 investment back in mid-2017 into an $11.8 Million payday at a Sotheby’s auction four years later. At the time of the auction, the rare alien Punk was the most expensive CryptoPunk sold from the 10,000-piece collection.

In addition to being a rare Punk, the “Covid Alien” has 3 attributes: earrings and two other rare features, the knitted cap and medical mask. At the time of the sale, the previous owner announced they were going to donate 10% of sales proceeds, which was split between Larva Labs (for R&D of additional NFT projects) and Covid-relief organizations.

5. CryptoPunk #5822 - $23.7 Million

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Year Sold: 2022

Platform: Larva Labs

Background:

It seems like 2021 headlines were dominated by one record-breaking CryptoPunk sale after another. Just two months into 2022, CryptoPunk #5822 broke into the top 5 of the most expensive NFTs of all time with a history-making sale for the CryptoPunks collection.

The record-breaking price tag of 8k ETH - equivalent to around $23.7 Million - was quite the return on the previous seller’s original investment of $1,646 back in 2017. That’s because this particular Punk is one of the rarest in the entire collection.

For starters, CryptoPunk #5822 is of an alien species, which is the rarest type of any CryptoPunk, with only nine in existence amongst the 10,000-piece collection. Also, this particular alien Punk sports only one attribute - a blue bandana. Having only one attribute is enough to boost the rarity of any piece in the CryptoPunk collection.

4. Human One - $28.9 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Christie’s

Background:

Computer engineer-turned-legendary NFT creator Beeple (real name: Mike Wiklemann) is known to push the boundaries of NFT innovation. The digital artist is known for designing stylistic montages of comedic pop culture references that intersect with tech and sometimes off-color post-apocalyptic images. Throughout his career, he has also been known to produce digital art that progresses - or changes over time.

When he came up with the idea for Human One, he wanted to make a sculpture that represented the idea that art doesn’t have to be a finite object. After experimenting with moving several tv screens on wheels into different types of patterns, he got the idea for a physical kinetic video structure.

To bring his vision of physical-meets-digital art to life, Beeple developed a dynamic sculpture with LED screens inside that would tell the story of the first human born in the metaverse. Within a seven-foot-tall wooden box-like structure, four screens randomly play videos of an astronaut progressing through dystopian-like environments. In total, Beeple has stored 24 hours’ worth of one-minute video clips on the Ethereum blockchain. The NFT’s smart contract has also been coded so that Beeple can control what’s displayed on the screens and the work can evolve.

The generative piece of art and its corresponding NFT were the first of their kind. As a result, Human One sold for $28.9 million in one single day at the Christie’s auction, far surpassing its original estimated value of $15 million.

3. Clock - $52.74 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Juicebox, OpenSea

Background:

Minimalist digital artist Pak is known for designing some of the most unique and creative pieces of digital art in the 21st century (so far.) Once labeled the "Satoshi of crypto art" because of their affinity for privacy, Pak is known for creating subtle statements about what tokenized art is and has the potential to be. They’ve also spoken frequently about their feelings towards gatekeeping and censorship, which is infused in Pak’s digital art.

After learning more about Julian’s story from his brother Gabriel in late 2021, Pak agreed to collaborate with the Wikileaks founder on a collection to benefit Julian’s legal fees. This new collection - titled Censored - was released in two parts over a multi-day event, a first-of-its-kind event.

The first part of the Censored release was auctioned as a single edition NFT titled Clock, which is a muted timer that counts the number of days Assange has spent behind bars. The second part of the drop used an open-edition mechanism - which Pak invented - where the NFT works were sold in a “pay what you model” on OpenSea. Through this model, buyers could tokenize messages to create a piece themselves within the open-edition NFT.

The collaboration was a big success. Over a multi-day event on Juicebox, the AssangeDAO raised a total of 16,953 ETH to win the single-edition Clock. And over on OpenSea, 29,766 buyers tokenized messages and minted them to contribute to the Censored collection.

2. Everydays - The First 5000 Days - $69.3 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: MakersPlace

Background:

In 2007, Mike Winklemann - the graphic designer and motion artist known as Beeple - began to create and post a new piece of artwork every day. Beeple used this daily release to share a glimpse into the artist’s personal and professional growth with his growing fan base of over 2.5 million followers. These daily creations continued for 5,000 days straight, never missing a single day.

After the first 13 years of the creative journey, Beeple put the first 13 years of his collection up for auction as a collage under the title Everydays - The First 5000 Days. In collaboration with Christie’s and MakersPlace, Everydays became the first purely digital work of art ever offered by a major auction house. The 14-day auction was a huge success, and Everydays sold for a record-breaking $69.3 million.

The Everydays collection is not the first time Beeple made history through his digital art sales, and it likely won’t be his last. Two NFTs from his first NFT collection sold just 6 months before the release of Everydays for over $66k each. Just two months later, Beeple raised over $3.5 million for a release of only the 2020 collection from Everydays. Media outlets like the BBC questioned whether or not it could be a moment that defined when the "crypto art bubble burst”.

As NFT enthusiasts know, however, Beeple’s early and groundbreaking sales have been anything but a bubble. Beeple's place in history and repeated record-breaking sales have since opened the door for digital creators around the world.

1. The Merge - $91.8 Million

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Year Sold: 2021

Platform: Nifty Gateway

Background:

When Pak envisioned The Merge, the artist developed an entirely new token mechanism. This collection - the first of its kind - contained secret classes and a unique yield structure. Instead of selling it as a static piece of art, Pak designed The Merge as a collection of 'masses' - or NFT shares.

Each Merge NFT was generated dynamically and instead of hosting images, all of the NFT visuals were generated on-chain. This makes it possible for future customizations and secret tokens to be evenly distributed amongst all the tokens in the future - something that potential buyers found very appealing.

The Merge also was designed to contain a built-in scarcity mechanism. When token supply decreases over time, The Merge token transfers and merges with the buyer’s wallet. Through the merging process, a single token is recreated with every transaction. This took place in real-time when Pak’s collection was auctioned over a two-day sales event on Nifty Gateway. When all 266,445 shares were combined under a single creation, the total sale exceeded anything ever sold in the NFT world to date.

Will digital art continue to rise in value?

There's no denying that digital art is on the rise and has only scratched the surface. In the past year alone, we've seen a surge in NFT sales, with some pieces fetching millions of dollars. This trend shows no signs of slowing down, and as more people embrace NFTs for digital art and other use cases, we can expect to see prices continue to rise and mainstream adoption to soar.

Even though the NFT market size is already up 28% YTD, skeptics still question the value of digital art as global markets for other asset classes are currently on the decline. As the market continues to grow and mature, it's becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the potential of this new asset class. NFT sales only represented 1.6% of all global art sales in 2021, after all.

So whatever your opinion, one thing is certain: digital art is here to stay, and its value is only going to go higher.

Investors continue to diversify their portfolios with the new digital assets; celebrities, athletes, and influencers with bottomless wallets will continue to jump on the bandwagon. And the top NFT artists and creators will continue to cash in some hefty paydays and gain recurring revenue on their digital art.

Written By
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.
548 Market St. Suite 95149
San Francisco, California
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