The marble idol was carved as many as 6,000 years ago, a 9-inch-tall female figure with a sleek, abstract form, its head tilted slightly upward as if staring into the firmament.
By the 1960s the idol had been transported to the United States, where it was in the possession of the court tennis star and art collector Alastair Bradley Martin and his wife, Edith, and known as “The Guennol Stargazer.”
Christie’s listed the stargazer for sale in 2017, drawing the attention of the Turkish government, which asked for the auction to be halted.
The Turkish government then sued Christie’s, saying the idol had been looted. The government asked the court to find that it is the rightful owner of the idol and cited the 1906 Ottoman Decree, which asserts broad ownership of antiquities found in Turkey. But the auction proceeded and the idol fetched a price of $14.4 million, before the unidentified buyer backed away.
agreed to return a collection known as the Lydian Hoard, which included more than 200 gold, silver and bronze objects from the reign of King Croesus of Lydia, a kingdom in western Asia Minor that flourished in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.
And in 2012, the government of Turkey asked museums in Los Angeles, New York and Washington to turn over dozens of artifacts it said were looted from the country’s archaeological sites.
It is generally accepted that the item at issue in the lawsuit originated in Kulaksizlar, the home of the only workshop known to have produced the stargazers. The figures were so-called because of the angle at which a large head rests on a thin neck, Christie’s said in an online description, creating “the whimsical impression of the figure staring up at the heavens.”
When the Guennol Stargazer was first listed for auction, Christie’s said it was “considered to be one of the most impressive of its type known to exist,” adding that it had been on loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at various periods from 1966 to 2007.
The Turkish government said that one of its witnesses, Neil Brodie, a senior research fellow in the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, would provide “comprehensive scientific evidence” for his conclusion that the idol was almost certainly found in Turkey.
for part of the Lydian Hoard. (The museum’s former director, Thomas Hoving, once referred to Klejman as among his “favorite dealer-smugglers.”)
Christie’s and Steinhardt have maintained that the Turkish government cannot prove ownership of the idol under the 1906 decree because it has “no direct evidence of where or when the Stargazer Idol was found, excavated or exported: it has no witnesses to the excavation or export and no photographs.”
The defendants also have said that Turkey knew about the presence of the idol in New York as early as 1992 but did not act on that knowledge.
“Turkey’s 25-year delay in making its claim baited the trap for dealers, collectors and auction houses,” defense lawyers said in court papers. “And set them up for huge losses when Turkey claimed the Idol only after it came up for sale at a major auction house.”
“A las personas de mi generación, que crecieron en la década de 1970, les encantará coleccionar libros de primera edición, novelas como el Ulises de James Joyce”, escribió en un correo electrónico. “Lo que las cripto y los NFT abrieron es la propiedad de los derechos para decir que uno posee tal cosa, ya sea tangible o intangible, en una forma que miles, si no es que millones, pueden ver y rastrear en tiempo real, en cualquier parte del mundo”.
André Allen Anjos, un artista de música electrónica de Portland, Oregón, que ofreció 5,69 etheres (cerca de 9200 dólares) por el NFT, me dijo en una entrevista telefónica que pujar por el token tal vez se podría considerar como un gesto simbólico de agradecimiento hacia mí y el Times de parte de la criptocomunidad por, sobre todo, tomarlos con la suficiente seriedad como para hacer un experimento con nuestra propia venta de tokens.
“Es como si una publicación convencional intentara interactuar con nosotros como comunidad de una manera real y sincera”, señaló. “Yo quería dar a entender que esto es fabuloso, que están planteando las preguntas correctas”.
Anjos mencionó que había crecido en la era de Napster, cuando los músicos se dieron cuenta de que internet podría destruir su modo de subsistencia al facilitar la reproducción de canciones de manera gratuita. Comentó que la tecnología de cadenas de bloques había cambiado eso al poder crear objetos coleccionables de edición limitada timbrados con el sello digital de su procedencia. Anjos mencionó que la idea de coleccionar los NFT no era tanto poseer las piezas en sí (la mayoría de las cuales pueden descargarse de manera gratuita de internet, pero sin las firmas criptográficas especiales), sino más bien demostrar confianza en este nuevo modelo de adquisición.
“No voy a llamarlo protesta, pero es una declaración”, afirmó. “Este es el criptomundo intentando probar que existimos; nos interesa revolucionar este modelo y estamos dispuestos a invertir nuestro dinero en eso”.
No todos los motivos de los postores eran tan nobles. Sterling Crispin, investigador de Apple que tiene otro trabajo como artista de NFT, mencionó que había ofrecido 4125 etheres (cerca de 6700 dólares) por mi token porque tenía en puerta una presentación virtual y esperaba que la puja atrajera algo de publicidad.
“Dije, bueno, estoy a punto de emitir un NFT para esta presentación en solitario”, comentó. “Valdría muchísimo la pena que aparecieran cuatro etheres en el Times”.
After more than 30 bids, the auction ended at 12:32 p.m. Eastern time, with a winning bid of 350 Ether, or about $560,000. A few minutes later, after the auction platform had taken its cut, nearly $500,000 in cryptocurrency landed in my digital wallet. I was stunned. Congratulatory texts and media requests started pouring in. My colleagues joked about stiffing the charity and slipping off to the Cayman Islands. My editor said I shouldn’t expect a raise.
The whole ordeal was surreal, and it raised the question: Why would anyone spend the price of a high-end Lamborghini on a picture of my words? After all, the NFT was just a cryptographic signature linked to an image of a column that anyone could read on The Times’s website, albeit with a few bonus perks. (I also stipulated that I would feature the winner’s name and photo in a follow-up column, and Michael Barbaro, the host of “The Daily,” gamely agreed to throw in a voice message for the winner.)
The winner, whose handle on the auction site was @3fmusic, appeared to be a prominent NFT collector. The profile on the site was linked to a Twitter profile belonging to a Dubai-based music production company, and to an Instagram account identified as that of Farzin Fardin Fard, the company’s chief executive. The user’s NFT collection included a variety of other expensive digital works, including a $14,000 “emoji portrait” of the musician Billie Eilish and a $8,000 piece titled “Jumping Spider enjoying coffee in the morning.”
I reached out to @3fmusic to offer my congratulations on the purchase and to discuss the bid. They (it’s not clear if the winner is Mr. Fard or some other individual or multiple people) declined to be named — and, because of the pseudonymous nature of blockchain-based transactions, there’s no easy way for me to identify them beyond the information they volunteered — but they sent me a statement over Twitter direct message that read:
“We are already involved in art and media for a long time now,” the message read. “Our management team is always in cooperation with some highly knowledgeable and experienced art advisers who believe that we must grow with technological movements that help us to not only promote our business but also to support artists and the art market. Thus, we have proudly decided to dedicate sufficient funds and resources to invest in NFT as pioneers of this industry.”
They also gave me permission to include an image of their music studio’s logo in this column.
Jiannan Ouyang, an NFT collector who dropped out of the auction after a high bid of 290 Ether (about $469,000), told me that he had decided to bid on my NFT for both personal and professional reasons. He’s a former Facebook research scientist who is now a blockchain entrepreneur, and he’s married to a journalist.
Foundation makes minting an NFT easy, but adding it to the Ethereum blockchain can be expensive. It requires paying a “gas fee” — a kind of congestion tax that is based on how busy the network is — and listing my token required two transactions: one to mint the token and another to generate the code that runs the auction. These days, gas fees to create a single NFT can exceed $100, although many are closer to $50.
The next step was to list my new NFT for sale. I set the minimum acceptable price of the auction at 0.5 Ether, or about $850 at today’s exchange rate. The auction will run for 24 hours after the reserve price is met, though more time gets added if people bid in the last 15 minutes. After a winner is named, the token will be automatically transferred to that person’s Ethereum wallet. I will transfer the proceeds to the Neediest Cases Fund (minus the 15 percent cut that Foundation takes and any costs associated with the donation).
In addition to selling the token, many NFT sellers add perks. Kings of Leon, for example, are sending a limited-edition vinyl album to people who buy their NFTs, and giving buyers of a special “golden ticket” NFT free concert tickets for life.
I don’t have concert tickets to offer, but I did want to sweeten the deal. So here’s what you’ll get if you win this NFT auction:
As with all NFT sales, you’ll get the token itself — a unique digital collectible that corresponds to an image of this column in PNG format. (Our lawyers want me to note that the NFT does not include the copyright to the article or any reproduction or syndication rights.)
You’ll also be featured in a follow-up article about the sale, along with your name, your affiliation and a family-friendly image of your choice. (NFT sales don’t require identifying yourself by anything other than your Ethereum address, so you can stay anonymous if you’d prefer. Also, my bosses want me to note that The Times retains editorial control over the follow-up column, and reserves the right to decline submissions that don’t meet our editorial standards.)
And as a bonus perk, Michael Barbaro, the host of “The Daily,” will send you a short, personalized voice memo congratulating you on your purchase.
The biggest perk of all, of course, is owning a piece of history. This is the first article in the almost 170-year history of The Times to be distributed as an NFT, and if this technology proves to be as transformational as its fans predict, owning it might be tantamount to owning NBC’s first TV broadcast or AOL’s first email address.
Of course, that’s far from a guarantee. NFTs could turn out to be a passing fad that is feeding a speculative bubble — the digital equivalent of Beanie Babies — and your investment could turn out to be worthless.
But if they stick around, NFTs could transform the way digital goods are created, consumed and traded online. Some news organizations, including Quartz and The Associated Press, have already experimented with selling NFTs, and YouTubers and other online influencers have begun creating their own lines of cryptomerchandise.
Some of the NFT buzz is shallow hype, no doubt. The cryptocurrency world is full of scammers and get-rich-quick hustlers whose projects often end in failure. (Remember the initial coin offering boom?) And critics point out that NFTs and other cryptocurrency-related projects require enormous amounts of energy and computing power, making them a growing environmental hazard. There are also legitimate questions about what, exactly, NFT buyers are getting for their money, and whether these tokens will turn into broken links if the marketplaces and hosting services that store the underlying files disappear.
Rich people who shopped too much used to be called collectors. Now they — and those belonging merely to the aspirational class — are all investors.
It’s not just that they’ve spent the last year splurging on stakes in untested, newly formed public companies that have yet to produce products, much less profits.It’s that during the pandemic, seemingly every luxury acquisition has become a so-called alternative asset class.
Rather than elbowing past each other for reservations at the latest restaurants from Marcus Samuelsson and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, or getting into bidding wars for apartments at 740 Park Avenue, they are one-upping each other in online auctions for jewelry, watches, furniture, sports cards, vintage cars, limited-edition Nikes and crypto art.
growing wealth inequality.
sold on the secondary market in 2020 for $30,000 are now going for upward of $50,000 on some resale sites. The Nautilus 5980, a rose gold chronograph sports watch from Patek Philippe that has a retail price of $85,000, can seldom be found on 47th Street for much less than $200,000.
One reason for surging prices, according to Benjamin Clymer, the editor of the watch site Hodinkee, is that “Switzerland shut down, so demand was there while the supply was dramatically reduced.”
had sold shortly before the pandemic through the auction site Bring a Trailer (or BaT, as it’s known) for $560,000 but Mr. Clymer figured it might be a buyer’s market. Perhaps he could get it for less.
He found a beauty from a dealership that hadn’t listed the price on its website. It was in mint condition. Mr. Clymer asked for a quote and nearly fainted upon hearing the answer: $1.2 million.
“I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ Less than a month later it was sold.”
By Thanksgiving, auction houses were sending out news releases almost daily touting their record-breaking sales.
sold in October 2020 for $23,750 through the Chicago auction house Wright. A Mesa coffee table by T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings, a British architect whose name is barely known outside of the furniture world, brought in $237,500 in December; the overall result of the sale was $2.5 million, roughly double what the house did at the same sale a year before.
In February, a digital artwork of Donald Trump facedown in the grass, covered in words like “loser,” sold for $6.6 million, a record for a nonfungible token, or NFT, so called because there’s no physical piece for the buyer to take possession of.
Fittingly, the image was paid for in Ethereum, a form of cryptocurrency that, among millennials, is almost as well known as bitcoin. Two weeks later, Christie’s sold another NFT by Beeple, this time for $69 million.
sold through PWCC Marketplace for $5.2 million. In March, Goldin Auctions, a sports collectible site, held its annual winter auction. “We grossed $45 million,” said Ken Goldin, the founder and C.E.O. “Last year, it was $4.7 million.”
One of Mr. Goldin’s repeat customers is Clement Kwan, the former president of Yoox Net-a-Porter and a founder of Beboe, an upscale line of cannabis vaporizers and edible pastilles that The New York Times has called “the Hermès of Marijuana.”
along with her sisters Dakota and Dresden Peters, owns what some believe is the most valuable sneaker collection in the world — had her biggest sale in five years of being in business: a pair of autographed 1985 Air Jordans that fetched $275,000.
In 2019, the sisters sold 572 pairs of sneakers, at prices that began at $500, Ariana Peters said in an interview. In 2020, they sold 879.
Ms. Peters actually sounded somewhat surprised talking about all this, perhaps because she and her sisters only got into the business because their father, a retired real estate developer named Douglas Roy Peters, bought so many pairs of sneakers they were running out of places to put them.
sold one for $408,000.
Mr. Abouzeid doesn’t have that kind of money, but in a June 2020 “I.P.O.” from Valley Road, he purchased 125 “shares” of one at a price of $25 each.
vintage whiskey. But Johnson & Johnson and Jack Daniel’s don’t interest him.
His Merrill Lynch account contains shares of companies like Sarepta Therapeutics, a maker of precision genetic medicines that treat rare neuromuscular and central nervous system diseases. His fridge is filled with rare, vintage Kacho Fugetsu.
“When my parents saw them in my apartment, they got really worried,” he said. “They said, ‘Is there something we need to talk about?’ But I don’t even open them.”
Earlier this month, when rising interest rates sent high-flying tech stocks into a tailspin, Kacho Fugetsu provided what Mr. Moses called “the perfect hedge.”
Of course, he’s aware that the ascent of his whiskey collection also could come to an end, but that at least has an upside. “Then I’ll finally have an excuse to drink it,” he said.
Over the last few months, bulbous and brightly colored plush toys have sparked a Beanie Babies-style craze among children, teenagers and adults alike.
Squishmallows, a line of soft, huggable toys created in 2017, have exploded in popularity during the pandemic, thanks to social media and in particular TikTok (or “SquishTok,” as fans call it). Collectors say the stuffed animals have given them comfort in a painful year, and that hunting for them has fostered a much-needed sense of community during an extended period of isolation.
“Even though the craze was coming before the pandemic, it certainly hit a fever pitch in the past year, and this craving for comfort is a big part of it,” said Kelly Deen, senior vice president of marketing at Jazwares, the parent company of Kellytoy, which created Squishmallows.
Jazwares said in early March that it has sold more than 73 million toys. (In February 2020, The Toy Book, a trade publication, reported that the company had sold 50 million Squishmallows.) According to the company, sales of Squishmallows have tripled in the past six months.
videos from their quests and memes about the frenzy on TikTok (where videos with the hashtag #squishmallows have accrued hundreds of millions of views), Instagram and Reddit. They also trade tips about where to find highly coveted characters.
Ilana Wiles, 46, a mother and Instagram influencer in New York City, said that she and her husband often take their 11-year-old daughter, Mazzy, on Squishmallow scavenger hunts around the city and on Long Island.
“It’s a fun activity, and they’re not that expensive if you’re buying them at a retail store,” Ms. Wiles said. “It’s a very big reward for not a lot of money.” Most of the toys are priced between $10 and $40, depending on their size.
Insider, Squishmallows are being resold for hundreds of dollars on sites like Mercari.
“The success of Squishmallows comes from the exclusivity, which helps drive collectibility, said Jonathan Kelly, co-president of Kellytoy. He said that the company is increasing production to keep up with demand.
“It’s created a lot of issues finding them in stores,” said Rebecca Brown, 21, a college student in Huntsville, Ala., who has 325 Squishmallows. “There’s a lot of scalpers now that go out and buy an entire store’s stock.”
Ms. Brown said Squishmallows have become particularly popular among students during the pandemic. Some position their Squishmallows in frame during their Zoom classes as a conversation starter or to show off their collections. Ms. Brown’s school, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, has its own local Squishmallow Instagram page, where fans can meet online and in-person and connect with each other.
Gabrielle Marquez, 18, has about 70 Squishmallows. She keeps the larger ones on her bed and the smaller ones on a bookshelf or tucked away in a toy hammock or bedroom chair. She said that the stuffed animals are especially popular with young people dealing with anxiety or depression. “If you’re feeling down it helps to have something to hug or go out and make yourself happy by buying a new one,” she said.
Ms. Marquez has enjoyed “being able to find a community of other people who share the same common interest and talk with them about Squishmallows during lockdown when there’s not that much else we can do. I use this hobby to connect with friends all over, I have friends in other states and Canada now.” Last Wednesday, her high school declared the day “Squishmallow Wednesday” during a virtual assembly.
“When I’m doing school I can look over at my bed and see a fun unicorn or dragon or octopus looking over at me,” said Isa Armstrong, a high school sophomore in Westchester, N.Y. “It just brings me happiness and that warm and fuzzy feeling.”
She and other fans said they liked the inclusivity reflected in the bios of the plush dolls. “They just released a couple Squishmallows that are gender-neutral and use they/them pronouns,” Ms. Armstrong, 16, said. “I feel like it’s normalizing it for children, and I love that.”
Ms. Wiles said she hopes to take her daughter out Squishmallow hunting again soon. “There’s something so innocent about it that I fully support it,” she said. “We’ve just spent an entire year where kids are just at home on their iPads, so just that there’s something that’s captivating them that’s so simple and pure, it’s kind of nice.”
“Most people are cheering, but at the same time, shaking their heads and going, when is the bust coming?” said Jane Leung, the chief investment officer at SVB Private Bank.
One of those who bought into the frenzy was Matthew Schorr, 35, a lawyer in Cherry Hill, N.J. For years, he has been on the lookout for hot investments, but lost interest in the stock market and abandoned Bitcoin after his friends dismissed the cryptocurrency as “fake money.” He now regrets that because the value of a single Bitcoin has soared above $57,000, meaning the eight Bitcoin he paid for a Domino’s pizza in 2011 would be worth more than $450,000 today.
Mr. Schorr did not want to miss out again. So starting in January, he spent $5,000 to buy 351 videos from NBA Top Shot, a site for trading basketball highlight clips, after he saw social media chatter about them selling for tens of thousands of dollars. The value of those clips has now soared to $67,000, according to Momentranks.com, which tracks the sales.
The clips are a type of investment known as NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, which have taken off in music, art and sports. The digital tokens use networks of computers to prove that a digital item like a video, image or song is authentic, giving the item a value — at least in the eyes of the person buying it. Some liken NFTs to digital trading cards. (The creators of the underlying works typically retain the copyright.)
Skeptics consider NFTs among the most questionable of assets, since an NFT image can be endlessly copied and shared. Still, enough people are convinced of the value of authenticating tokens that they have dovetailed with another market-propelling phenomenon, FOMO, or “fear of missing out.”
“I’m trying to keep my finger on the pulse and not let myself fall behind again,” said Mr. Schorr, who spends as much as five hours a day researching the market and chatting with fellow collectors on Discord. “That sort of return over six weeks is completely unheard-of in any financial vehicle.”
Last month, NBA Top Shot crossed $232 million in total sales since it started last year — including $47.5 million in sales on a single day.
Last month, buoyed by a $1.5 billion Bitcoin investment from Tesla, the electric-car company run by Elon Musk, and support from major institutional investors including hedge funds, the total value of cryptocurrencies hit a high of more than $1 trillion. The value of crypto-traded NFT art also soared, setting prices that are out of kilter with the rest of the art market.
Another Beeple piece, “Crossroad” — a 10-second video NFT showing animated pedestrians walking past a giant, naked likeness of Donald J. Trump, collapsed on the ground and covered in graffiti — sold for $6.6 million in Ether on Nifty Gateway. The seller was Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, who had brought the piece in October for about $67,000, according to Reuters.
NFTs have also become a medium of choice for new performance artists. On Sunday, Burnt Banksy, an anonymous group of “tech and art enthusiasts,” sold a unique NFT consisting of a digital copy of a 2006 Banksy limited-edition print called “Morons.” The group claimed it had destroyed the original print, worth tens of thousands of dollars, in an “art burning ceremony,” shown on YouTube and Twitter. The blockchain-certified “Morons” NFT was all that remained.
Offered on Open Sea, this digital copy of the Banksy sold for about $382,000, more than three times the price that any of the original “Morons” prints have made at auction. The successful bidder was an Open Sea user with the screen name GALAXY, who immediately put the piece up for sale.
Although their popularity has increased in recent months, NFTs are nothing new. In 2017, when the value of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum first began to climb, there was a speculative craze for Dapper Labs’ CryptoKitties, blockchain-certified images of cats, the rarest of which sold for more than $100,000.
The price of cryptocurrencies collapsed in 2018, and with it the nascent market for NFTs. But now Dapper Labs has recapitalized and collaborated with the National Basketball Association to create N.B.A. Top Shot, a marketplace for digital highlight clips that are the tech equivalent of baseball cards. On Thursday, these had raised $345 million in sales, mostly in the past 30 days, according to Cryptoslam, a site that tracks the prices of NFTs.