One of the earlier success stories of the NFT wave and arguably the origin story for much of the hype was the Hashmask. Raising $16 million over a weekend on the Ethereum blockchain, these anthropomorphic portraits were no more than a far-flung idea. Little did the creators know they would usher in an artistic revolution.
In total, there were 16,384 pieces. All of them sold out within a week in a moment that felt like a jolt from the blue. However, it wasn’t. NFTs had been long brewing, and the release of Hashmasks seemed to resonate well with this newly exposed audience who would be able to name their Hashmask, as well as pick from such a large selection that started out at $5.
This level of community engagement seemed like a key to their success. Created by over 70 artists globally and produced by Suum Cuique Labs, each image is unique, yet similar characteristics run through them all. The artists are working within a set of guidelines with various combinations of skin colour and eye colour, as well as the character being human, robot or animal. The combination reflects the artwork’s rarity, which in turn reflects the price. This is a similar structure to more traditional collectable and tradeable cards.
How the pieces are valued builds on a dualistic notion of rarity: explicit and implicit. Explicit rarity is how we commonly think of scarcity. If there is less of one thing than another (in this case, it could be that there are less robots than animals), then robots are more explicitly rare.
Implicit rarity is slightly more complex and macro, where a value system has been predesigned into Hashmask’s production. Here, it’s about each artist’s own creative flair. Certain characters will have hairstyles or shirts on that are more unique to certain artists, tying their rarity to their creator.
Combining these factors with the buyer’s own choice of name - the value is then set further down the line. What Haskmasks have done is created an insular economy, similar to the way Pokémon cards were in the 90s. Each card was a Pokémon card, but some were rarer, others more powerful or others particularly useful.
As per the Pokémon card economy, some cards like the shiny Charizard, went on to fetch huge sums. There was something about holding that card that gave it an aura of power. The same has recently been claimed by the seller and buyer of a Hashmask that went for a price of $650,000.
Art is subjective, but Hashmasks, like Pokémon cards, have a value-system built into them. So what one may find as particularly attractive, is unarguably attractive to that individual, but may hold little value in the larger ecosystem of the Hashmasks and, in general, NFTs. There’s something of the childhood attraction to collectable cards that seems to have fuelled the Hashmask frenzy at launch. Whether they hold their value, as with other NFTs, remains to be seen.
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