The history of rare digital art doesn’t make sense without Rare Pepes.
Pepe the frog is a cartoon character, originally created by Matt Furie, that turned out to be catnip for Internet meme creators. Some of these memes were formatted as trading cards in order to create humorous simulacral cultural fakes called “Rare Pepes” which were shared on imageboards and then sold on eBay and other marketplaces. In reality, digital images are difficult to make “rare”. They circulate as infinitely copyable files on the Internet. There is a “The Simpsons” meme for this, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
The Rare Pepe Blockchain Project took the problem of making rare pepes actually rare seriously and ran with it. It catalogues rare pepe images registered as blockchain-stored metadata in small editions of Bitcoin-based Counterparty XCP tokens. Social media clique exclusivity thereby becomes blockchain artificial scarcity. I talked about the economic and social dynamics of this in “Tokenization And Its Discontents“, but it is worth emphasizing (as Jason Bailey and others have) that one of the outcomes of this was the whole “rare digital art” market. While they do represent a valuable alternative to the economic and social dynamics of the existing artworld, the current rare art tokenization platforms amount to a gentrification of the Rare Pepe Blockchain Project, obscuring that more liminal aspects of their origins and discarding some of their possibilities in the process.
“The Rarest Book” is a physical volume created by Eleanora Brizi and Louis Parker collecting 36 series of Rare Pepes, 1774 in total, along with essays that cover the history of the project and put it in context. It’s a fat paperback edition with a striking green cover, as playful and comprehensive as the work it covers. The Rare Pepe Blockchain Project shows the strength of social and memetic content for building community and value in crypto projects. It would be difficult to produce such a book about most other tokenized art platforms, which tend to lack a unifying theme, iconography, or curatorial approach. If you don’t want to view cartoon frog trading cards as conceptually rich contemporary art (although there is always the MODERNPEPE token on the back of the book in that case), step back and look at the project as a whole. This book is an excellent way of doing that and makes a strong case for the interest, value, and alterity of the project.
So order a copy before it becomes even rarer. There were only 300 to start with. Find out more here: