You have probably encountered an unmistakable green frog meme popularly known as Pepe the Frog. From its early beginnings in 2005, this seemingly ordinary green frog has evolved into a cultural phenomenon, becoming one of the most iconic memes of our time. In 2016, Pepe was finally immortalized as crypto collectibles on Counterparty through the Rare Pepe NFT project.

Read on to learn more about how an internet meme rose to become one of the most cherished and valuable NFT collections.

Rare Pepe: A Brief History of a Controversial Internet Meme

Pepe the Frog first appeared as a character in Boy’s Club, a comic by Mark Furie, in 2005. A few years later, the character had evolved into a widely known, standalone meme, thanks to the explosion of social media sites such as MySpace and 4Chan.

By 2015, variations of the beloved character called Rare Pepe started popping up on the internet. Most had watermarks such as ‘RARE PEPE DO NOT SAVE’ to indicate that the designer did not wish for their work to be used publicly or plagiarized. In that same year, 1,200 Rare Pepe images were listed for sale on eBay for a short time, skyrocketing the price to $99,000.

In 2016, Pepe the Frog’s fame took a dark turn when far-right groups started associating iterations of the cartoon character with their ideologies. These references grew after Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in 2016. 

One noteworthy instance was when Donald Trump Jr. shared a parody movie poster on Instagram featuring Pepe alongside Trump, himself, and others. This was in response to Hillary Clinton’s controversial remarks about Trump’s supporters being part of a “basket of deplorable.” Later on, Hillary Clinton’s website described the cartoon as a symbol of white supremacy.

Furie was perturbed by the political connotations surrounding Pepe the Frog. In a 2016 interview with Esquire, he said, “It sucks, but I can’t control it more than anyone can control frogs on the Internet.”

In the same year, Furie, in collaboration with the anti-defamation league, launched a social media campaign to salvage Pepe’s misappropriated image. The campaign dubbed #SavePepe was quite successful, setting up Pepe as a meme anyone can use for whatever they like. 

What Are Rare Pepe NFTs? 

The Rare Pepe NFTs collection is made up of 36 series, each containing 50 Pepe images with varying rarity levels and supply. The first Rare Pepes were mined in September 2016 in block number 428,919 on the Bitcoin blockchain and released on Counterparty

Counterparty (XCP) is a protocol built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain that enables the creation and execution of smart contracts. It allows users to create and trade digital assets, such as crypto collectibles, while leveraging the security and immutability of the Bitcoin network.

The Rare Pepe NFTs were created by a group of enthusiasts known as the ‘Pepe Scientists’ in an open-source collaboration that took inspiration from Mark Furies’s Pepe the Frog character.

Between 2016-2018, artists were invited to submit creative Rare Pepe Designs through the Pepe Directory.  The selection process involved an evaluation by the Scientists, who held the ultimate authority in determining whether the submitted designs would be included in the subsequent series drop.

Later, in September 2020, Rare Pepe holders could wrap their early Rare Pepe collectibles from 2016 within an Ethereum ERC-721 token using software called the Ethereum Emblem Vault. This made it possible to transfer and trade Rare Pepe NFTs via Ethereum-compatible wallets and marketplaces. 

Some of the most notable artists who participated include @MyRarePepe on Twitter. He created 6 of the Rare Pepes, including the Nakamoto Card. Another artist is Mr. Hansel, @bettidlomas, who created 31 Rare Pepe NFTs, and Rare Scrilla (@ScrillaVentura), who made 40 successful submissions, including a Jay-Z-themed card known as PEPE GOAT.

How Much Have Collectors Paid for Rare Pepes? 

During a live auction in New York City in January 2018, a Rare Pepe collectible from Series 2 of the collection sold for $39,000. Then, NFTs were simply known as collectibles, and this was the first-ever digital auction. 

While some online voices questioned the buyer, Peter Kell’s wisdom for investing such a substantial sum in what seemed useless to them, time would prove otherwise. Three years later, Kell sold the NFT for a staggering $312,000, validating the enduring value and significance of the Rare Pepe collection.

Apart from Kell’s Homer Pepe NFT, the 2021 NFT frenzy led to a surge in the sale of other NFTs in the collection. Some collectors took advantage of the Ethereum Emblem Vault to make their Rare Pepe NFTs compatible with the Ethereum blockchain. They then listed these ‘wrapped NFTs’ on OpenSea.

For instance, a Rare Pepe depicting Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto sold for 150 ETH, which was around $500,000 at the time. 

Why Are Rare Pepe NFTs Popular Among Collectors? 

Rare Pepe NFTs have an undeniable historical and cultural significance. First, it is one of the earliest collections, released between 2016-2018. This predates both CryptoKitties (September 2017),  CryptoPunks (June 2017), and Bored Ape Yacht Club (April 2021). Besides, Pepe the Frog is one of the most iconic and recognizable memes of all time on the internet.

Moreover, the Rare Pepe NFT collection demonstrated the groundbreaking potential of how NFTs could revolutionize the art world and empower artists like never before. For example, the $39,000 sale of the Homer Pepe NFT from series 2 turned many heads back in 2018. Although $39k would not be considered remarkable in today’s NFT landscape, it was mind-boggling in 2018.

Rare Pepe NFTs are also valuable due to their depth in variation. The collection includes hundreds of cards with varying complexities created by creators from all around the world. There is also great variation in the NFTs’ rarity, with some cards being 1 of 1s while several others with an issuance as high as 1 billion. This high level of variation and depth helps to keep collectors engaged and allows all types of collectors to participate, regardless of the level of disposable income.