'Bitcoin NFT' Hysteria Comes to Sotheby's as Super-Mario-Style Mushroom Character Tops $200K

In the historic auction house's first-ever sale of the Ordinals inscriptions known as "NFTs on Bitcoin," a batch of three pixelated images from a mushroom-themed collection drew about $450,000, or roughly five times the highest estimates.

AccessTimeIconDec 14, 2023 at 9:39 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 8, 2024 at 6:43 p.m. UTC

The first-ever sale by Sotheby's of "inscriptions" created using the Bitcoin blockchain's Ordinals protocol – from a pixelated collection known as "BitcoinShrooms" – drew about $450,000, or five times the highest estimates, potentially revealing a mainstream fervor for the tradable digital images colloquially referred to as "NFTs on Bitcoin."

The auction, which concluded on Wednesday, consisted of three of the images, including a pixelated avocado that fetched more than $100,000 and a design that appears to be derived from a mushroom in the Super Mario franchise that sold for north of $240,000, according to Derek Parsons, a spokesman for the auction house. There were 148 total bids across the three lots, and more than two-thirds of all bidders were new to Sotheby's.

There are "plans for more soon," Parsons wrote in an email.

The results recall the mania that swept digital-asset markets a couple years ago when digital artwork and non-fungible tokens or "NFTs" first started drawing eye-popping sums, and captured mainstream attention; one NFT by the artist Beeple drew $69 million at the auction house Christie's. Many of those collections, however, were built atop the Ethereum blockchain.

The Ordinals inscriptions, which debuted late last year featuring a new technology pioneered by Casey Rodarmor atop Bitcoin have witnessed bouts of popularity this year sufficient to cause congestion and elevated fees on the distributed network, launched in 2009 to be a peer-to-peer payments network.

There's a debate raging among Bitcoin users and developers over whether to filter out transactions in NFT-like "inscriptions" minted using the Ordinals project, since they're not a core financial use in keeping with many advocates' vision for the original blockchain.

So the idea that some of the images might be considered high art could tip the scales of the debate toward profit interests.

The three digital images come from the BitcoinShrooms collection of Ordinals inscriptions, by the pseudonymous artist Shroomtoshi, according to the Sotheby's website.

The digital avocado, known as "BIP39 SEED," was initially tipped to draw $20,000 to $30,000, but it ended up selling for $101,600.

EDITOR'S NOTE: After publication of this story, this reporter received a direct message from the @BitcoinShrooms account on X (formerly Twitter) asserting that "there is no affiliation to the Nintendo brand," requesting removal of "any reference to Super Mario or Nintendo to avoid confusing your readers."

"This is Shroomtoshi," the sender wrote. "The sole inspiration for this project was Bitcoin, and the reason behind the use of the mushroom is explained here: https://ord.io/35458816."

The link leads to what appears to be an interview with the artist posted on Oct. 24, in which they explained that "Mushrooms are neat and easy to customize, and allow you to express bitcoin concepts as complex and diverse as sighash_noinput and separation of money and state on something as small as a 32x32px canvas."

Screenshot from the Sotheby's website. (Shroomtoshi/Sotheby's)
Screenshot from the Sotheby's website. (Shroomtoshi/Sotheby's)

Edited by Nikhilesh De.


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Bradley Keoun

Bradley Keoun is the managing editor of CoinDesk's Tech & Protocols team. He owns less than $1,000 each of several cryptocurrencies.