The most expensive MEME NFTs of all time

You can also watch the video version of this post here:

Memes are a rather recent form of digital art that spread virally via social media (especially on forums and Twitter). Despite their massive cultural impact, they ordinarily resulted in $0 financial gain for their creators.

Meme in which two characters of Star Wars exchange the dialogue: "You need to get a decent job and work hard" — "And then I can buy a house, right?" — character replies nothing and looks concerned — "And then I can buy a house, right?"
A recent example of a meme. This particular meme has been viral during 2021. The text in the black boxes is often changed by users to create different but related versions of the same joke.

The ‘broke celebrity’ phenomenon

Traditionally, if you were a successful meme creator, you lived the paradox that your face or creation was seen by hundreds or even millions of people daily, technically making you a celebrity, and yet you could still be struggling to pay your bills at the end of the month. I call this the broke celebrity phenomenon.

But this is a caricature, of course, as many of these creators weren’t poor by any means. Many could make a decent living from their day jobs and weren’t struggling to pay their bills. But it nevertheless hurt to be one of the internet’s most influential creators and in exchange make exactly $0 and get almost no authorial recognition.

Monetization at last

But this paradox is now coming to an end. And, once again, NFTs are the culprit. Because, like in so many other sectors, the paradigm-changing emergence of NFTs is also changing the rules of the game for meme creators. They can finally monetize their ubiquitous creations by selling an NFT-authenticated version of their memes. And they are doing so for astonishing amounts of money.

Below I have listed the 15 biggest meme NFT sales with a picture of the meme in question and some other transaction details. These memes are: Success Kid, Bad Luck Brian, Friendship ended with MUDASIR, Scumbag Steve, Keyboard Cat, Creepy Chan, Grumpy Cat, Side Eyeing Chloe, Creepy Chan II, Harambe the Gorilla, Disaster Girl, Overly Attached Girlfriend, Nyan Cat, and, the most expensive of them all, Doge.

But before moving into the meat of the list, I’ll mention a few patterns I’ve noticed.

All were sold in 2021

It’s interesting to note that all these meme sales took place in 2021. This, once again, shows how fledgling the NFT market is (which is not necessarily a bad thing for investors). Also, unlike other types of NFT such as crypto art, the current crypto market slump doesn’t seem to have affected this NFT category as much as other types of digital art. In fact, the biggest sale on the list (the Doge meme sale at $4 million) happened just a month ago, when we were right in the middle of the crypto market mini-crash.

All but one were sold on Foundation

Another interesting common trait is that Foundation seems to have the virtual monopoly of big sales in this category. 14 out of 15 sales on the list took place in that marketplace, with only one sale taking place in a competing marketplace. That exception was substantial, though, as it was the sale of Doge, which was sold on the Zora marketplace.

In this video, Chris Torres, the creator of the ‘Nyan Cat’ meme, talks to BuzzFeed about why he created his famous gif-meme and how it became viral overnight. Like many other meme creators, Chris struggled to profit from his famous creation until very recently when it became one of the most expensive meme NFTs ever sold for nearly $600,000.

But this virtual monopoly of Foundation could simply be a coincidence. It might be due to the fact that the first high-profile meme sale (the Nyan Cat meme) took place on Foundation and that dragged the rest of the meme creators to that platform. Especially because, Chris Torres, the creator and seller of that first meme, was then instrumental in helping his fellow ‘memers’ sell theirs.

This primacy is also likely due to the savvy outreach team at Foundation. Chris Torres himself has said that the Foundation team contacted him blazingly fast when he mentioned on Twitter that he was thinking of selling Nyan Cat as an NFT. Also, later they collaborated with Torres to create the #Memeconomy event on the platform to allow other meme creators to easily sell their memes there.

It also doesn’t hurt that, unlike many of its competitors, Foundation has a very clean, and extremely easy-to-use user interface with a straightforward auction system. As you can tell, I’m a fan.

All sold on the Ethereum blockchain

More things to note. Out of the 17 memes on this list, only 3 are animated gifs (Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat, and Coffin Dance) and the other 14 are static — 12 photographs and 1 drawing. Also, 17 out of 17 were transactions made using Ether (the Ethereum blockchain currency) as the means of payment. This is, in fact, unsurprising and similar to most other digital art sales which are currently mostly made on marketplaces built on the Ethereum blockchain.


THE LIST

Ok, so let’s dive now into the memes and their prices. For each sale, I’ve included a link to the actual sales page in case you want to see more details and the official blockchain record of the transaction. As for the prices, they were quoted in dollars very differently all over the internet. So, to present the most accurate price possible, I’ve converted the original ETH price to the equivalent value in dollars by using the ETH exchange rate on the same day the meme was actually sold.

Here are the 17 most expensive memes of all time:

17. ‘Success Kid’ — $32K

photo of a toddler looking at the camera with a closed fist and face expression that seems to be saying 'yes i can do it no matter how tough it is'

Price: 15 ETH (equivalent to $32,365 on the day of purchase)

Date: April 11, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Harry Jones (Private Collector, New York)

Seller: Laney Griner (mother of the Success Kid)

2 images side-by-side, on the left one Sam Griner who is now a young teen, on the right Laney Griner her mother
Sam Griner (AKA ‘Success Kid’) and his mother, and creator of the famous meme, Laney Griner.

16. ‘Bad Luck Brian’ — $37K

yearbook style photo of a young teen smiling goofily showing conspicuous dental braces

Price: 20 ETH (equivalent to $37,361 on the day of purchase)

Date: Mar 9, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Harry Jones (Private Collector, New York)

Seller: Kyle Craven (Bad Luck Brian himself)

Photo of a man (Kyle Craven) holding a toy and a child
It seems that Kyle Craven (AKA ‘Bad Luck Brian) finally got real lucky.

15. ‘Friendship ended with MUDASIR’ — $51K

2 young Pakistani men shake their hands with the superimposed text: 'Friendship ended with MUDASIR Now Salman is my best friend'

Price: 20 ETH (equivalent to $51,240 on the day of purchase)

Date: Aug 1, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Andrew Kang “Formosa” (private collector, China)

Seller: Muhammad Asif Raza (Mudasir’s ex-friend)

Photo of a thirty-something Pakistani man looking seriously at the camera. He's wearing a pair of brown tinted sunglasses and a handkerchief knotted to his neck
People got instantly addicted to the candor and innocence in Muhammad’s meme’s statement. Maybe some even laughed at his expense. But now Muhammad is the one laughing all the way to the bank.

14. ‘Scumbag Steve’ — $54K

photo of a male teen with a cap worn back-to-front and a coat with a fake fur collar

Price: 30.2008 ETH (equivalent to $54,111 on the day of purchase)

Date: Mar 15, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Ian Lapham (Private Collector, Boston)

Seller: Blake Boston (Scumbag Steve himself)

Man (Blake Steven) wearing a white tanktop tshirt and looking at the camera
Blake Boston (the man in the ‘Scumbag Steve’ meme) is now an adult and the father of two children.

13. ‘Keyboard Cat’ — $65K

animation of a cat wearing a blue tshirt and convincingly seeming to be playing an electric piano

Price: 33.5501 ETH (equivalent to $64,573 on the day of purchase)

Date: Mar 13, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Ian Lapham (Private Collector, Boston)

Seller: Unconfirmed (Probably Charlie Schmidt, creator of the original meme)

A man (Charlie Schmidt) holds a cat (Bento AKA Keyboard Cat)
Charlie Schmidt holding the original ‘Keyboard Cat’ whose real name is Bento.

12. ‘Trollface’ — $70K

Grotesque drawing of a smiling face in white and black, showing an evil twist in the smile and eyes.

Price: 42 ETH (equivalent to $69,266 on the day of purchase)

Date: March 3, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: @0_o (Anonymous)

Seller: Carlos Ramírez, ‘Whynne’

Artist and internet personality ‘Whynne’ was one of the first ‘memers’ to sell his NFT.

11. ‘Creepy Chan’ — $71K

spooky-style photography of a teen girl wearing a pink dress and standing on the top of a coffee table as she looks intently at the camera with overly open and big eyes

Price: 35 ETH (equivalent to $70,995 on the day of purchase)

Date: April 3, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Farzin Fardin Fard “3F Music” (private collector, Dubai)

Seller: Allison Harvard (the real Creepy Chan)

Allison Harvard wearing a pink outfit and holding a spooky ventriloquist's dummy
Allison Harvard is still today masterful at the craft of the glamourous spooky picture.

10. ‘Grumpy Cat’ — $78K

close up photography of the face of a cat that seems to be sulking

Price: 44.20 ETH (equivalent to $78,327 on the day of purchase)

Date: Mar 12, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Anonymous

Seller: Unconfirmed (probably Tabatha Bundesen, the owner of Tadar Sauce (AKA Grumpy Cat) and the creator of the original meme)

Tabatha Bundesen affectionately holding the cat Tadar Sauce (AKA Grumpy Cat)
Tabatha Bundesen and her über-cute cat ‘Tadar Sauce’ (AKA Grumpy Cat)

9. ‘Side Eyeing Chloe’ — $78K

A 3-year-old girl in a car baby chair looks at the camera with a hilarious sceptical look, that looks as if that of an adult. Her baby teeth are quite big and protruding making the look even more comical.

Price: 25 ETH (equivalent to $78,638 on the day of purchase)

Date: Sep 24, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Farzin Fardin Fard “3F Music” (private collector, Dubai)

Seller: Katie Clem and Chloe Clem (the real Side Eyeing Chloe)

Chloe Clem the girl behind the famous meme standing up and holding a toy while smiling happily
Now 11, Chloe Clem is still as cute as a button, if also a bit less skeptical.

8. ‘Creepy Chan II’ — $81K

photography of a female teenager with somewhat of a startled look and wearing heavy black make up on her overly big eyes

Price: 40 ETH (equivalent to $81,137 on the day of purchase)

Date: April 3, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Farzin Fardin Fard “3F Music” (private collector, Dubai)

Seller: Allison Harvard (the real Creepy Chan)

Artist Allison Harvard with Skelenton Makeup
Another recent picture of Harvard. She now works as a model and visual artist.

7. ‘Harambe’ — $86

photo of a gorilla looking directly and sternly at the camera and a green leafy background

Price: 30.30 ETH (equivalent to $86,510 on the day of purchase)

Date: Jun 3, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Andrew Kang “Formosa” (private collector, China)

Seller: Jeff McCurry (the photographer who immortalized Harambe)

Jeff McCurry crouching over a camera while a big dog or wolf leans on him affectionately
Jeff McCurry, the photographer who made Harambe immortal in our collective unconscious

6. ‘Why You Always Lying’ — $96K

Black young man looking at the camera with a knowingly smile and mischievous eyes (the type of look someone gives you when they caught you lying on something petty).

Price: 25 ETH (equivalent to $96,085 on the day of purchase)

Date: October 18, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Andrew Kang “Formosa” (private collector, China)

Seller: Nicholas Fraser (the real Why You Always Lying guy)

5. ‘Disaster Girl’ — $403K

A little girl looks mischievously at the camera while a house burns in the background

Price: 180 ETH (equivalent to $402,685 on the day of purchase)

Date: April 18, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Farzin Fardin Fard “3F Music” (private collector, Dubai)

Seller: Zoë Roth (the real Disaster Girl)

Zoe Roth, the girl depicted in the famous meme 'Disaster Girl' looking mischievously at the camera but not as an adult
Zoë Roth (AKA Disaster Girl) can still as an adult pull off her trademark mischievous look.

4. ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’ — $419K

Photo of a late-teens girl with an open mouth and very open eyes in a way that is over-eager and somewhat creepy

Price: 200 ETH (equivalent to $418,624 on the day of purchase)

Date: April 4, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Farzin Fardin Fard “3F Music” (private collector, Dubai)

Seller: Laina Morris (the real Overly Attached Girlfriend)

Laina Morris (AKA ‘Overly Attached Girlfriend’) became a successful YouTuber. In 2019, she posted this, her last video.

3. ‘Nyan Cat’ — $588K

Pixel-art animation of a flying cat whose body is a pop-tart and that leaves a rainbow trail behind

Price: 300 ETH (equivalent to $588,048 on the day of purchase)

Date: February 19, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Anonymous

Seller: Chris Torres (the artist who created the original meme)

Artist, Chris Torres, creator of the Nyan Cat meme and the man who started the meme NFT mania back in February 2021.

1. ‘Coffin Dance (Dancing Pallbearers)’ — $1 Million

Price: 327 ETH (equivalent to $1,057,000 on the day of purchase)

Date: June 11, 2021

Marketplace: Foundation

Buyer: Farzin Fardin Fard “3F Music” (private collector, Dubai)

Seller: Benjamin Aidoo (creator of the meme)

Benjamin Aidoo, the creator and seller of the meme was a real pallbearer in real life.

1. ‘Doge’ — $4 Million

Photo of a shiba inu dog looking guiltily at the camera

Price: 1696.9 ETH (equivalent to $3,994,502 on the day of purchase)

Date: June 11, 2021

Marketplace: Zora

Buyer: PleasrDAO (Organization)

Seller: Atsuko Sato (owner of Kabosu, the real Doge)

Photo of a woman (Atsuko Sato) and a shiba inu dog (Kabosu AKA Doge). The woman is holding their dog to her face with affection.
Atsuko Sato and her dog Kabosu (The Doge) in 2021

And that’s it. Those are the 12 most expensive memes of all time. For now.


Not Quite Memes

There’s a number of expensive NFT sales reported by many outlets as meme NFT sales that I haven’t included on the list. The reason is that they are not true memes. One of them, for example, is a comic-book page featuring Pepe the Frog. Pepe has indeed been the protagonist of countless memes, but, strictly speaking, this comic-book page is not really a meme image (that is, the page wasn’t the actual image that people posted online when they used Pepe as a meme) so I’ve left it out.

Had it been included on the list, since it was sold for $3.4 million, it would have been the second most expensive NFT, surpassed only by Doge.

page from a cartoon comic book featuring the anthropomorphic frog known as 'Pepe The Frog'
The 3.4 million-dollar page from the comic book Boy’s Club featuring Pepe the Frog and his famous catchphrase ‘Feels good man.’ It was sold on 5th October 2021 on the marketplace OpenSea for 3517 ETH (equivalent to $3.4 million on the day of the sale).

Another two NFTs that I haven’t included are the viral videos: ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ and ‘Leave Britney Alone.’ Although viral videos share many traits with memes and play similar roles in our culture, they are not exactly memes. A very short video GIF (like Nyan Cat, or Keyboard Cat) that can be included on any forum thread and that doesn’t have sound does qualify as a meme. But viral videos tend to be longer, have a soundtrack that is an integral part of their meaning, and are created primarily with the purpose of being consumed on a video watching platform and not to quickly convey an idea on a forum.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OBlgSz8sSM
This viral video ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ was purchased this year by none other than, yes, 3F Music himself. It allegedly sold for over half a million dollars on the KnownOrigin marketplace but I can’t find the sales page. All I could find was this sales brochure. If somebody has the actual sales page link, please, send it my way.
This is a YouTube repost of the ‘Leave Britney Alone’ video (the original YouTube posting is not online anymore). On April 13, 2021, its NFT sold on Foundation for 18.7 ETH (equivalent to $43K on the day of purchase). A surprisingly low price if you compare it to the similarly famous ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ that allegedly sold for over 10 times this price.

The Future of Meme NFTs

As with other types of NFTs, nobody knows what is going to happen with the value of meme NFTs in the medium and long term. But the longer they survive as an investment asset the likelier it is for them to become a permanent fixture. The value of NFTs is dependent on a human convention, and the longer humans agree that something has value, the more probable it is for that value to persist. (For example, gold as a material is much less useful than other metals, it has thus very limited real-world value, but since humans have agreed for many centuries that gold = money, the value of gold has become very stable and very unlikely to go to zero overnight. The same applies to any other consensus-dependent assets like NFTs — the longer they are considered valuable the more stable that value becomes).

And NFTs have already survived their first big ‘moment of truth’: the crypto market mini-crash of May 2021 (we are still in this mini-crash, by the way). During this mini-crash of the crypto sector, NFTs as a whole have shown significant resilience. Yes, the prices of many NFT categories are not as high as during the Mars/April 2021 mania, but they are doing better during this slump than other crypto assets.

graph showing the evolution of bitcoin price over 2020/2021 period with green arrows showing the mania phase and red arrows showing the slump
The price of bitcoin tends to drag the entire crypto market with it. In green the crypto mania of March/April 2021. In red the current depression phase that began in May.

In fact, as mentioned before, the largest meme NFT sale of all time took place precisely during the current slump: in June 2021, when the Doge meme sold for a fantastic 4 million dollars. So there are many reasons to be optimistic about the medium- and perhaps even longer-term prospects for this type of investment.

A Few Hands

However, it is also important to note that a handful of investors have had an extraordinary influence on meme prices, at least on the price of the big ones. 70% of the big meme sales listed here were made by just 3 individuals: Farzin Fardin Fard, Harry Jones, and Ian Lapham.

Farzin Fardin Fard, much better known as 3F Music is a businessman based in Dubai but born in Iran. He doesn’t work in anything related to crypto but is behind many of the most famous NFT purchases of 2021 (not only memes). Allegedly, he is making these headline-grabbing purchases to promote his Dubai recording studio (the studio’s website looks oddly ramshackle though for someone who is allegedly going to such lengths to promote it).

Harry Jones is an extremely young collector (in his early twenties) based in New York but born in the United Kingdom. Jones is heavily involved in the overall crypto space, being part of the small team behind the up-and-coming Polymarket betting app. Jones has stated that he really believes in the long-term potential of meme NFTs as investment assets and is even considering creating some type of meme fractional investment vehicle in the future.

As for Ian Lapham, he is a software engineer from the Uniswap team, so he is also directly involved professionally in the crypto space at large. Lapham has also made significant purchases of other types of crypto art, namely several works from the highest-priced NFT artist of them all, Beeple.

Black and white picture of Farzin Fardin Fard seeing at a recording studio table
Farzin Fardin Fard, better known as “3F Music” is the Dubai-based businessman behind many of the largest meme NFT purchases.

But irrespective of their backgrounds or goals, the fact that just a handful of collectors made most of these purchases makes it a bit more uncertain to know if these prices could be seen again in the future, should some of these actors leave the market.

It is also interesting that the largest meme NFT sale of all time, Doge, went to a pool of buyers instead of a single person. The buyer of Doge was a group of individuals known as PleasrDAO which, apart from this multi-million dollar meme, have also pool-purchased other significant art NFTs, as can be seen on their website.

Fakes

Another potential source of investment risk in the meme niche is fakes. For example, at the same time that the above memes were being sold on Foundation by their rightful owners, a couple of scammers impersonated the creators of two famous memes (‘Coughing Cat’ and ‘Me Gusta’) and tried to sell them for big bucks. In the end, neither of these sales went through because the impostors were detected by the marketplace team before the auctions were over. But, if you don’t want to lose all your money, it is essential to be extra careful and ensure that the person selling a meme NFT to you is indeed its creator.

on the left black and white drawing of a human face, on the right a photoshopped picture of a cat that appears to be coughing like a human baby
‘Me gusta’ (left) and ‘Coughing Cat’ (right). Two scammers pretended to be the creators of these memes to try to sell their NFTs.

Can more NFTs of these memes be minted?

A final thing that would worry me if I were to spend a small fortune on a famous meme, is the possibility of the meme creator minting more NFTs of the same meme after I buy mine. In general, there is some sort of tacit agreement that this won’t happen. And sometimes the agreement is not tacit but explicit — Nyan Cat’s creator Christ Torres, for example, told The Verge that he “doesn’t plan to offer another of Nyan Cat’s original’ and many other meme sellers appear to have made similar commitments to their respective buyers. But how strong are these promises? And were they recorded as contracts?

However, this source of risk is not as worrying as the fakes. Even in the absence of explicit contracts guaranteeing that the creator will never sell another NFT of the same image, over time, I believe that the market may fix this issue spontaneously by not giving any value to any NFTs of a famous image minted after the first one.

But only time will tell for sure. In the meantime, it is always a good strategy to be extra cautious and try to protect your investment with a written agreement that specifies whether the seller is selling you a unique NFT and whether they will or will not sell more NFTs of that same meme in the future.

That’s all for now. I hope you find this review of the biggest meme NFT sales useful!

One thought on “The most expensive MEME NFTs of all time

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