Despite what many media outlets will lead you to believe, the art of NFT did not begin with the Bored Ape Yacht Club. It also didn’t start with CryptoPunks. So what was the first NFT and who created it? Ultimately, that exclusive honor goes to Quantum, a generative artwork that was created by digital artist Jennifer McCoy and subsequently turned into an NFT by her husband Kevin McCoy in 2014.
And for what reason did he mint this particular work of art? It’s really quite simple. He did it for property.
Birth of NFTs
After his wife created Quantum, McCoy wanted to find a way to sell it digitally. Problem? He had no way of ascertaining the origin of the digital artwork.
For the uninitiated, “origin” is the documentation that verifies the identity of the creator, the history of ownership, and the estimated value of a particular work of art. Unfortunately, there were no documents on the origin of digital art. After considering his options, McCoy joined forces with a tech entrepreneur. Anil Dash solve the problem of. Eventually, the duo began looking into blockchain technology to see if it could provide a viable path forward.
Back in the early 2010s, blockchain technology was still very niche field. At the time, bitcoin was only $630, Ethereum had just launched, and coin creators routinely over-promised, under-delivered, and prosecuted into oblivion. But McCoy and Dash are unconvinced, and the decision paid off, to put it mildly.
As is now widely known, blockchain technology has a number of properties that facilitate the buying and selling of digital art. With blockchain technology, people have a reliable way to identify the creator and track the ownership history of any item on the blockchain. This served McCoy and Dash’s goals very well, and McCoy had Quantum listed on the blockchain. “I had the idea to use blockchain technology to create indelible lineage and ownership of digital images of this kind. Quantum was the first to be recorded in this way,” McCoy later said.
Shortly after this first mint, McCoy and Dash demonstrated how “monetized graphics” could work during a live presentation at the Seven on Seven conferences. During the presentation, McCoy sold a digital image of Dash for $4 using the blockchain. With this, McCoy and Dash unwittingly set the stage for what would grow into a multi-billion dollar market in less than a decade.
Quantum rediscovery and controversy
Unfortunately, Quantum was forgotten after its release in 2014. This was largely due to its original home on Namecoin, the offshoot of bitcoin before Ethereum. Specifically, Quantum lived on Namecoin block 174923 and stayed there for years until the 2021 NFT bull market.
When NFTs began garnering headlines and selling for millions of dollars apiece in 2021, McCoy realized he might be sitting on a golden egg. As a result, he began promoting Quantum by reaching out to media such as Axios discuss his work and its role in the history of the NFT. Largely due to this advertisement, the Quantum was eventually put up for auction by Sotheby’s.
In June 2021, it was sold at auction for over a million dollars. The auction winner was silly, an anonymous NFT collector. But there were problems.
Shortly after the million dollar sale, experts noted that the specificity of Namecoin was questionable. who definitely owned Quantum at the time of sale.
As explained Ledger InsightsNamecoin requires users to refresh everything minted on the Namecoin blockchain every 250 days in order to retain ownership of the digital item. Notably, McCoy never renewed Quantum. This allowed an entirely separate entity – a veteran collector from EarlyNFT – to buy ownership of Quantum before the Sotheby’s auction. Ironically, EarlyNFT received these rights just a day after the Quantum article was published on Axios.
Ultimately, EarlyNFT challenged the legality of the sale in court.
Who did win? At the time of writing, the Sotheby’s auction was still up and running and this work is still owned by sillytuna. However, this may change as the full legal proceedings are still pending.
While it’s unfortunate that this piece of NFT history that’s been unearthed has caused a fair amount of controversy, to go along with it, the NFT community would be better off knowing Quantum’s existence and history. Trailblazers often set a precedent for those who follow them – and given the extreme ups and downs we’ve seen so far in the NFT space, it seems like Quantum has done just that.