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There are thousands of NFT collections but only a handful truly defined the birth of web3.

Posted July 25, 2023 at 6:56 am EST.

Although the hype around non-fungible tokens has declined since the NFt hype in 2021, there’s no denying that these digital assets played instrumental roles in defining web3. Still, there are some distinct collections that paved the way for the NFT revolution as we know it today. Read on to learn about the early days of NFTs and discover a list of historical NFTs that set the stage for the current web3 dynamics.  

The Early Days of NFTs

In 2012, Bitcoin-based colored coins marked the beginning of the idea of NFTs. Colored coins remained mostly conceptual since the Bitcoin blockchain lacked the functionality (at the time) for token storage. 

Kevin McCoy minted the first NFT on Namecoin, a Bitcoin offshoot, in 2014. The NFT, named Quantum, was forgotten on Namecoin until its auction. Namecoin requires the renewal of NFTs every 250 days to ensure retained ownership. This feature resulted in a lawsuit over ownership rights during the asset’s auction in 2021, seeing as McCoy never renewed ownership over the years. 

Another project owing its existence to the Namecoin platform is Eggs, which emerged in 2014. Namecoin’s initial function was as a decentralized name registration service. The realization that metadata and names could form a decentralized key-value pair allowed the minting of the first egg PFPs comprising 277 on-chain collectibles. The “Twitter Eggs” comprised the default Twitter avatars in 14 colors. 

The launch of Ethereum inspired the next step in the emergence of NFTs. The Linagee Name Registrar is the oldest known Ethereum smart contract and dates to a week after the blockchain’s launch. Its functionality closely resembles that of Ethereum Name Service (ENS), which gets rid of the need for long IP and wallet addresses. While it may not entirely be an NFT, the Linagee Name Registrar possesses the underlying technology that today’s NFTs rely on. 

Historical NFT Collections That Shaped Web3

Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs

Although the NFT landscape comprises thousands of projects, a few stand out for their significance in the industry. Here are the top five collections that significantly impacted the web3 space. 


CryptoPunks spurred the growth of generative PFP collections and have maintained their status among the most in-demand NFT collections since their inception in 2017. The creators, Larva Labs, ensured each piece was unique, with the characteristics’ rarity ranging from one Punk to another. 

Viewed as collectibles and art, CryptoPunks have fetched decent returns for their owners. The most expensive one ever is CryptoPunk #5822, which sold for $23 million in February 2022.


Launched in 2017, CryptoKitties is a blockchain-based game that allows players to buy and breed virtual cats for trading. This feature was essential in taking NFTs to the next level due to the user engagement appeal offered. 

CryptoKitties also introduced the ERC-721 token standard. The standard lays the groundwork for minting NFTs on Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) compatible blockchains. Most NFTs today utilize this standard.

The popularity of this NFT game even drove up gas fees on the Ethereum network due to congestion back in 2017 shortly after its launch.  

Bored Ape Yacht Club

Drawing inspiration from CryptoPunks, Yuga Labs launched the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) NFT collection in 2021. Each NFT has unique traits and allows customization so that owners can create digital profile pictures. 

Launching in the middle of the 2021 NFT hype, BAYC NFTs have generated significant interest. The most expensive NFT from this collection is Bored Ape #3562, which sold for $1.63 million in December 2021. 

BAYC owners have explored various utilities, including intellectual property rights and commercial use. The intellectual property rights allow owners to generate income from the NFT through merchandising, licensing, and more. 

Spells on Genesis

Built on the Bitcoin blockchain in 2015, Spells of Genesis stands tall as the first NFT trading card game. Each card contains an artsy illustration of a historic moment in blockchain history. 

The project introduced the concept of NFTs in gaming, and today we have an entire GameFi industry built on those principles. 

Spells on Genesis also introduced the idea of true ownership of digital assets in gaming with no centralized governing bodies. Today’s NFT games create experiences based on the foundation set out in Spells on Genesis. 

Rare Pepes

Rare Pepes are collectible cards introduced in 2016. They were the first art experiments on the blockchain. The crypto art movement owes its strength to this project. The collectibles became accessible when Joe Looney created the Rare Pepe wallet on Counterparty. 

The creators built the project on the idea of rarity, with only 1800 Rare Pepe NFTs in circulation. The first series pays homage to Satoshi Nakamoto. Most NFT projects today trade on the appeal of uniqueness and rarity to maximize value and attract the interest of speculators and enthusiasts. 

The emergence of NFTs played a significant role in shaping the mainstream growth of the web3 space. These projects have been instrumental in changing the perceptions towards web3 by helping to take it mainstream, thanks to the popularity of NFTs during the 2021 hype. While the hype has died down significantly, NFTs are poised to stay and remain an integral part of the web3 ecosystem as more use cases and technological innovations emerge.