Punk It!”, the first evening sale at Sotheby’s dedicated exclusively to CryptoPunk NFTs (non-fungible tokens), was mysteriously withdrawn at the request of the consignor. As the crowd enthusiastically gathered in New York, and the sale’s live-stream opened to viewers around the world, the seller tweeted “nvm [never mind], decided to hodl”.

But what does this all mean? Derived from a misspelling of “hold”, “hodl” is an acronym for “hold on for dear life” and is used to denote a long-term approach to cryptocurrency investing. This approach advocates for the lasting value of cryptocurrency, rather than the more common approach of quickly selling on assets.

The online NFT community widely celebrated the seller’s decision to “hodl”. Under the username Ox650d, the seller’s follow-up tweet even suggested that the surprise cancellation was in fact a PR stunt to make “punks mainstream”. Some, however, believe the anonymous seller had received a cash offer moments before the single-lot sale.

The sale was composed of 104 CryptoPunks, estimated to fetch between US$20 million (£15 million) to US$30 million (£22.6 million). Designed by Larva Labs in 2017, CryptoPunks are one of the most globally popular PFP [profile picture] NFT collections on the Ethereum blockchain. The collection of 10,000 pixelated characters was originally given away for free. No two Punks are exactly alike; for example some wear cowboy hats and smoke pipes, whilst others have vibrantly coloured hair.

CryptoPunks are the original PFP series that created the template for other NFT projects that have followed,” said Michael Bouhanna, co-head of digital art at Sotheby’s.

Prices for the crypto collectibles skyrocketed in 2021 as the wider NFT market expanded. In the first six months of last year, transaction volume reached US$2.5 billion (£1.8 billion). The seller Ox650d acquired the huge collection in a single transaction in 2021 for US$7 million (£5 million). Although the market has recently dropped, partly due to worldwide disruptions in supply chains, the least expensive Punk featured in the Sotheby’s sale, Punk #7456, was still valued at US$150,000 (£112,000).

We’re not disappointed,” remarked Nabyl Charania, an attendee at the auction representing the investment fund Meta4 Capital. “We want the seller to get the price they want—we don’t want an antagonistic relationship.”

Other attendees were likewise undeterred by the withdrawn lot and continued to enjoy the star-studded afterparty. Celebrities like collector Colborn Bell, rapper Ja Rule, and entrepreneur Farokh Sarmad mingled alongside a live performance by DJ Seedphrase, the newest crypto musician. “It’s about the people,” explained Anoop Kansupada, an executive at the NFT platform Nifty Gateway. “You couldn’t meet these people at the typical Sotheby’s sale.”

Despite the recent market slump, it seems the hype surrounding NFT collecting continues to grow into the mainstream. One of the biggest breakthroughs for the sector came in 2021, when Beeple’s NFT called ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ sold for a record-breaking US$69 million (£50 million) at Christie’s first ever digital auction.