These stories were based on 18 interviews conducted in April and May 2023. While not every collector interviewed appears here, their collective insight heavily influenced the direction and creation of these essays. If you like this content and want it right in your inbox, please subscribe (for free, baby) to the Museum of Crypto Substack.
I owe enormous gratitude to all the collectors who contributed, directly and indirectly, to these stories:
Omz: Collector since 2020. First NFT: The Protector (2020) by Trevor Jones and Jose Delbo
Pindar van Arman: Artist and collector since 2018 . First NFT: Echoes of a Dead Earth (2018) by XCOPY
Artnome: Artist, Popularizer of NFTs. Collector since 2017. First NFT: Moxarra
Sarah Zucker: Artist. Collector since 2019. First NFT: Digital LSD — Synthesis_Batch_20190505 (2019) by FractalEncrypt
Cozomo de’ Medici: Collector since 2021
Sats Moon: Collector since 2020. First NFT: White Boombox (2020) by Lyle Owerko
TokenAngels: Collector since 2019. First NFT: Autoglyph #504 (2019) by LarvaLabs
TennesseeJed: Collector since 2020. First NFT: Sean Mick
Artie Handz (Punk 7635): Collector since 2020. First NFT: NBA Topshot
Coldie: Artist. Collector since 2019. First NFT: Cryptopunk 7933
Conlan Rios: Founder of Async.art. Collector since 2019. First NFT: Cryptokitties
BelleNFTs: Co-founder of NFTGirl. Collector since 2021.
Batsoupyum: Collector since 2021. First NFT: Hashmasks
Mattia Cuttini: Artist. Collector since 2018. First NFT: More the Journey than the Destination (2018) by Ilan Katin
Anne Spalter: Artist. Collector since 2020. First NFT: Chromie Squiggles (2020) by Snowfro
NFTFeen: Collector since 2021.
Samir Mitra: Collector since 2020.
This introduction is the same across all stories. Feel free to skip ahead to “A Pumpkin” if you’ve read it already. Or read it again, it’s up to you. This is all about you, stay as long as you like, pop in, whatever you want, no pressure, not from me at least, it’s all good, just happy to have you.
(But First, An Introduction)
Here I am, staring again at this damned blank page. It seems to be mocking me, as it always does, challenging me, demeaning me, daring me to live up to its promise. And here I am, thinking again that, because I know what I want this blank page to ultimately say, maybe the process of getting it to speak won’t be so hellish. But it always is, it has to be, and it will remain hellish for every writer until the very last blank page winks out of the universe.
So in the act of telling you, dear reader, what I want this page to say, I am also telling the page itself. Maybe then it will cooperate.
In each of the 18 collector interviews I conducted for this essay series, my first question was always, “What was the first piece of crypto art you collected?” A reasonable-enough place to start, I figured. But instead of receiving straightforward answers, I was often instead invited into unique and singular memories, the sudden impetus-shifts towards collection, the lifetimes spent meandering, the unpredictable catalysts/cataclysms which reoriented all these disparate people from all their disparate origins to the same place: Crypto art, a niche community of digital art lovers/makers all sequestered together within late-stage social media. And I want upon these pages to honor all these distinct, radical histories.
My other previous essays on collectorship all boasted a clear thesis. In “Where Have All the Good Collectors Gone?” the need to interrogate our Golden-Age thinking about early crypto art was obvious from the outset. In “Online but Always In-Person,” I hoped to reveal the way personal relationships with artists compel collectors to care about and collect certain artworks. For “The Collectors Who’ll Kill Crypto Art,” I got maybe a bit overzealous in my desire to explore the massive responsibility on the part of crypto art collectors, who, I argued, are unwittingly shirking that responsibility. But this essay needed to be different.
Why? Well, first, it takes no great insight to understand that all of our lives are individual and dramatic and influenced heavily by fate, chaotic fate. Second, it’s easy to see that crypto art is a collection of weirdos with unlike backstories. At the core of this essay is only the simplest of truths: There is no one way a crypto art collector is created.
And yet, though the page now says, in theory, what I want it to say, it still lacks something. It reads how I want it to read, but the words aren’t saying anything. They lack… What do they lack…What do they lack? They lack wonder, majesty. They lack that bright and sacred sheen achieved when universality and specificity merge. They lack the spark of actual experience. And because of that, they lack meaning. There may be a multitude of stories in crypto art, and we may know that these stories indeed swirl around us, but it is one thing to know the size of a library, and it is another to comb through its contents yourself.
How then might I make the infinitesimal lives of these collectors sing? How might I evoke the moments that turned them towards crypto art without being blasé or cliché or some other sinister French adjective?
And so the blank page has forced me again into an arena where I’ve spent most of my written life, where I am most practiced, yes, but also most self-conscious, most vulnerable but I believe most triumphant.
The stories I want to tell can only be told by, well, telling them.
My idea, as I write this, is to take a small sample of the stories told to me and bring them to life in fiction as so many moments in so many histories have been brought to life for me. I want to jump into heads. I want to suggest and subsequently conceive a gleaming future on the horizon. I want to inject myself into an imagined moment and walk around a little, try to peel away that which might otherwise hide a changed sensibility, and thus understand the urge not only to collect but to collect something experimental, often incomprehensible, iconoclastic.
The four short stories which I’m about to set down on these blank pages are to be prefaced by the actual quotes from the collectors who inspired them. Presented here without attribution to their speakers, I hope they may touch something more universal: That the universe works its odd ways on us all, and when its inherent entropy meets a mind attuned to certain sensations, it can lead one down dark alleyways, across the river and through the trees to great discoveries, great interactions with those discoveries, the building of a home in a land that most deem infertile, or which many refuse to acknowledge at all. But we know better, don’t we? We know…
All right: Let’s see if I can get these pages to say what I want them to.
“I remember making a pumpkin in kindergarten. There was a contest to draw a pumpkin, and I drew mine very accurate. I came from a family of engineers where realism and accuracy were important, and I won out of like three kindergarten classes, I won Best Pumpkin for my accuracy. I think I still have the award somewhere. I remember feeling good, getting recognition around it. But I remember also feeling bad because there were way more creative submissions; I could realize even at five that mine won for its accuracy, but it was really kind of boring: It was orange, it had the lines, it was like a jack-o-lantern and had the black triangle eyes, but there were these crazy rainbow submissions and scribbly ones and all kinds of others. I knew even then I found those more interesting and creative than my own. I was being rewarded for following a pattern, but I was more excited about the ones that broke the pattern.
“Now in first grade, I was spending a lot of my time drawing and hanging out with the other kids that spent a lot of time drawing and sharing each other’s work, trading work as a way to collect. And that carries consistently all through elementary school, middle school, high school, college. I was first and foremost an artist, but I traded work through all of those years, and built up a pretty big collection that way. I was always deeply and genuinely fascinated — going all the way back to the pumpkin stuff — by the work of others. A big part of what got me excited about being in art class — and art school later on and art history — was being as excited or more excited about others work than my own, and getting to collect work by others always felt super meaningful and exciting.”
I was on the bus, and it was raining, and I was making foggy on the window and putting my eye close to the foggy and trying to clear the foggy with my eyelashes like mama’s butterfly kisses. I couldn’t see what things really were through the foggy, but I could guess. That green, a green tractor. That red, a red firetruck. Red fireworks if I crossed my eyes were stop lights or car tushy lights. I looked over at Eva across the bus, and she was also wiping her cheek against the window, probably looking at green tractors and car tushy lights, and I wondered whether she was seeing the same colors I was. Like was her green my green? Were her firetrucks the same red as my firetrucks?
I was pretty sure nobody ever thought about this before or else I would’ve heard about it. I felt like I would never be able to think about anything else ever again.
And it’s what I’m thinking about while I’m drawing my pumpkin, because I always remember about other things while I’m drawing, especially when I draw pumpkins, I guess. It’s a best pumpkin contest, and my pumpkin will win best pumpkin. It will win best pumpkin because I draw best in class because dad is an engineer and always draws things but not usually pumpkins with his blue pro-trac-tor and his blue compass, but not the kind of compass you use in the woods, and also I’ve probably seen as many pumpkins as everyone in class combined because every year I get to go visit Auntie Angela’s farm (I see all the pumpkins in my imagination, shimmering with detail, hundreds of precariously-stacked orange globes in a skyscraping pile — the cancerous beige lumps upon billowing orange skin, the curving meridian lines tracing oblong body, the gnarled witch’s finger of cracked root emerging from the zenith like some menacing obelisk). When Ms. Rebecca announced the contest I knew if anyone can draw the best pumpkin, that’s me. I’m choosing six different crayons (solemn in reverence before them, I do not select them as much as they select me, a samurai kneeling before a wall of freshly-forged swords, awaiting my to-be katana’s call) and make it like the Charlie Brown jack-o-lantern with a mouth. I already know it’s going to win best pumpkin. I have that feeling. I’m thinking about colors. I’m even drawing the little nubby thing on top. I use a plastic dinosaur foot to trace the triangle eyes, but the mouth I’m doing all by myself.
We hang up our drawings in the hallway. There’s mine near the middle, and I know it’s the best pumpkin because the orange and the two traced eyes, and I even made the mouth have just teeth on the bottom so it didn’t look too scary, and I can imagine how my pumpkin laughs, not too low like a bellyache but like a jester with a jingly hat or like Goofy, hyuck-hyuck, like a laugh you hear and you wish it was your laugh too.
Also maybe nobody has ever seen a real-life pumpkin besides me (Many of the others are so unmoored from reality that I wonder, I really do wonder, if my classmates — beside whom I sit in supposed safety each day, alongside whom I run freely carelessly in the yard, with whom I trade Pokemon cards and race to tie shoes quickest — are delusional, maniacal, psychotic). Emmanuel’s pumpkin is all wormy (bursting at its edges with tentacle-like appendages; they writhe madly in the air, fanning out into many-fingered hands.) Leslie B’s pumpkin is purple. I’ve never heard of a purple pumpkin before (colors). Leslie R’s pumpkin is making a kissy face with big red lips, and it also has two little arms. These can’t be the best pumpkins because they aren’t even pumpkins. At least not like any I’ve seen on Auntie Angela’s farm.
Ms. Rebecca said to name our pumpkins, so underneath mine I wrote, “Pumpkin,” because what else do you name a pumpkin? But Tessy’s is named “Cutiepants” (it emits a corona of pink streamers from its abdomen), and Cyrus M.’s is named “Professor Ocelot,” and it has (countless concave rows of shark) teeth and red angry tilted eyes. I cannot stop looking at Professor Ocelot who is silly and scary and funny and crazy and not a pumpkin at all but also definitely a pumpkin. And my pumpkin, which is definitely a pumpkin but nothing else, nothing else at all.
Suddenly somehow I am winning best pumpkin. Ms. Rebecca is resting her hand on my shoulder and saying “Now this, class, is a wonderful pumpkin.” I am walking to Ms. Rebecca’s desk so I can pick a prize from the Treasure Chest. I am shutting my eyes tight like bedtime and wiggling my fingers in the Treasure Chest, trying to find one of the lumpy shiny stickers because they are my favorite (I am understanding that this is all a farce. My poor tentacle-less, few-toothed pumpkin with its limits, its one single identity). I am staring at the blackboard where my best pumpkin is still hanging even though everyone else had to put theirs away. I am thinking about the un-best pumpkins (without regard for color, for shape, for realism, they haunt me. Why did my pumpkin have so few teeth? Why must my pumpkin see through monochrome eyes?).
In the lunch room, I see Cryus M., and I sit next to him, and I say, “Can I see Professor Ocelot again please, Cyrus?”
Cyrus is taking Professor Ocelot out of his backpack.
“I didn’t know pumpkins could have teeth” I say.
“Neither did I!” Cyrus says.
“But so how did you know how to draw it with that many teeth?”
“Oh, uhm…I guess it’s cuz cuz cuz I really like sharks! And I like pumpkins too. So I thought that, uhm, what what what if a pumpkin was also a little bit also a shark?”
(His words carry an almost biblical intimation. Because what if a pumpkin was also a shark? It would look something like Professor Ocelot, wouldn’t it?) Obviously the best pumpkin contest was unfair because Cyrus never even got to tell Ms. Rebecca that his pumpkin was a little bit also shark; if he did, Professor Ocelot would be best pumpkin.
Anyways, Ms. Rebecca gives me back my best pumpkin at the end of the day, and I say to her, “Ms. Rebecca, can I ask you a question? What if a pumpkin was a little bit also a shark, what would it look like?” and she says, “But a pumpkin isn’t a shark, is it?” (And all I can think is, Why why why isn’t a pumpkin a shark? Maybe only my pumpkins aren’t sharks. Maybe only my tractors are green, my car tushy lights so blisteringly red).
Outside near the bus, I find Cyrus M. again, and I say, “Cyrus, do you want to trade pumpkins?” and he says, “Sure,” and so we do, we trade pumpkins, and I stare at Professor Ocelot all the way home, and when I get home, I come in and I hug mama, and I say, “Mama, what do you think a pumpkin would look like if it was a little bit also a shark?” and she says, “That’s a good question, sweetheart, what do you think?” and I take Professor Ocelot out, and I put him on the table, and I’m saying “I think it would look like this!” and she’s saying, “Oh, well-hell-hell, that is what it would look like, isn’t it! Did you draw that?” and I say, “Uhm, yeah. Yeah. I won best pumpkin,” even though I know you’re not supposed to lie, but I guess I didn’t lie. Is a lie something you tell or something you feel?
Later, I jump up and grab Professor Ocelot off the fridge and to my room, and I fold him really small and put him under my pillow and go to sleep with him there, and probably because of Osmo’s Sis I dream about Professor Ocelot. Once, Cyrus M. dreamt of a pumpkin who was also a shark. And now I’m dreaming the same dream. Now I know you can dream someone else’s dreams. You can trade dreams after school outside the busses.
All the next day I trade for more pumpkins. I trade a stripey paperclip for “Cutiepants,” my sparkly eraser for “Gary the Squiggle Monster.” I take them all home and fold them really small sleep with them under my pillow because if they’re in my dreams, it’s like they’re mine a little bit. It’s like all these dreams are a little bit my dreams too. All the pumpkins on all the farms, I get to see them all. All the colors, I can see all the colors.