Rare Pepe digital auction throws up fascinating questions

An auction in New York on January 13 saw computing enthusiasts bid for one off, digitally fingerprinted trading cards of a cartoon frog named Pepe.

Technology site Motherboard reports the bids were exclusively carried out using a bespoke crypto currency known as Pepecash, which is stored on a blockchain along with the images.

Homer Pepe Rare

This "rare Pepe" sold for $38,500 in a New York auction - Image: rarepepedirectory

You may well be aware blockchain technology, but have absolutely no idea how it works. You’re certainly not alone.

Essentially, it’s a decentralised record of a series of transactions (blocks) that cannot be edited or copied.

That makes it perfect for a global currency. You do not need to trust the people you trade with as it’s impossible to counterfeit. And as there is no central authority, it’s beyond the reach of any government.

Pepe the frog is even tougher to get your head round.

Essentially it’s a meme that began on a message board named 4Chan. Users like to create their own versions of Pepe, known as rare Pepes.

The character is often associated with the neo-Nazi alt-right movement, which evolved in the web’s darker corners, although that’s not the case here.

Moving beyond the in-joke, what makes this auction particularly interesting is the focus on ensuring digital assets remain scarce.

A trader named Sipher explained the appeal in an interview with Motherboard: “I collected hockey cards and comics as a kid. I have the biggest collection of anyone I know, which are all basically worthless now because of overprinting and counterfeiting.

“These cards are providing a real proof of concept for establishing a trackable asset attached to a ‘collectible item’. You can't counterfeit assets on the chain, either you own it or you don't.”

The establishment is taking this seriously. Staff from MoMA and Sotheby’s were reportedly in attendance at the sale, where one buyer actually paid $38,500 for one Pepe.

Time will tell whether that was a solid investment.

But it's certainly not as crazy as it might have seemed at first glance.  

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