Despite what many may believe, NFT art didn’t start at the Bored Ape Yacht Club. It didn’t start with CryptoPunks either. So what was the first NFT and who created it? Ultimately, that remarkable honor goes to Quantum, a generative work of art created by digital artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy. After its creation, Quantum was then turned into an NFT by Kevin in 2014. What was his reason for creating this particular piece of art? It’s really simple. He does it for ownership.
Birth of NFTs
After he and his wife created Quantum, McCoy wanted to develop a way to sell the work digitally. question? He has no way of determining the provenance of the digital artwork. For the uninitiated, “provenance” is a document that proves the creator, ownership history, and appraised value of a particular artwork. Unfortunately, no provenance documents for digital art existed at the time. In other words, the creator and ownership history of digital works cannot be verified.After mulling over his options, McCoy joins forces with tech entrepreneur Anil Dash Solve the problem. Eventually, the pair began exploring blockchain technology to see if it could offer a viable path forward. Back in the early 2010s, blockchain technology was still a very niche field. With Bitcoin worth just $630 (it was just over $16,500 at the time of writing), Ethereum had just launched, and coin creators routinely overpromised, underdelivered, and got sued and forgotten about. But McCoy and Dash were not dissuaded, and the decision paid off — simply put.
quantum. Image credit: Kevin McCoy It is well known that blockchain technology contains several properties that facilitate the buying and selling of digital art. With it, individuals have a trustless way to identify creators and track the ownership history of any item on the blockchain. This perfectly serves the purposes of McCoy and Dash, with McCoy registering Quantum on the blockchain. “I had an idea to use blockchain technology to create indelible provenance and ownership of such digital images. Quantum is the first to be recorded in this way,” McCoy later said. Shortly after the first mint, McCoy and Dash showed how to use “monetization graphics” like this one to prove and sell digital art. Their demos took place during live demos at seven-on-seven sessions. During the demo, McCoy used the blockchain to sell a digital image to Dash for $4. So McCoy and Dash unknowingly laid the groundwork for what would grow into a multi-billion dollar market less than a decade later.
Quantum rediscovery and controversy
Unfortunately, Quantum was forgotten after its birth in 2014. This is largely due to the fact that it was originally on Namecoin, the pre-Ethereum fork of Bitcoin. Specifically, Quantum existed on Namecoin block 174923 and stayed there for years — until the 2021 NFT bull run. When NFTs started to gain mainstream attention and sell for millions in 2021, McCoy realized he might be sitting on a golden egg. So he started promoting Quantum, turning to outlets like Axios to discuss his work and its role in NFT history. Thanks in no small part to this publicity push, the Quantum ended up at auction at Sotheby’s. In June 2021, it sold at auction for over $1 million.The winning bidder is stilts, an anonymous NFT collector. But there is a problem. Shortly after the million-dollar sale, experts pointed out that a particular quirk about Namecoin called into question who actually owned Quantum at the time of the sale. As Ledger Insights explained, Namecoin requires users to renew anything minted on the Namecoin blockchain every 250 days in order to preserve ownership of digital items. Notably, McCoy never renewed Quantum. This allowed a completely separate entity — Veteran Collector EarlyNFT — to take ownership of Quantum ahead of the Sotheby’s auction. Ironically, EarlyNFT acquired these rights just a day after the Quantum article was published on Axios. Eventually, EarlyNFT challenged the validity of the Sotheby’s auction through a lawsuit. Who’s winning? As of this writing, the Sotheby’s sale is still ongoing and sillytuna still owns the piece. However, that could change as the full legal process is still ongoing. Unfortunately, this unearthed NFT history has sparked considerable controversy. However, the NFT community would do well to know the story of Quantum — its highs and lows. The first movers often set a precedent for the latecomers. Considering the extreme highs and stomach-churning lows we’ve already seen in the NFT space, it seems like Quantum is doing just that.