Digital Item Provenance

Items with old timestamps on Ethereum are rare, and it’s reasonable to assume that all of the Ethereum relics will be considered special some day. Of course, some will be considered more special than others.

It’s common to think of a blockchain relic as a piece of data such as an image, and to adopt this perspective in appraisals. For example, an alien CryptoPunk will be ascribed more value than a more ordinary looking punk. It should be noted, however, that each relic also has a transaction history on the blockchain. These histories can be unique and fascinating, and they are often overlooked.

The main reason for ignoring history is that it’s easier to view an image than to query blockchain data for noteworthy transaction patterns. We’re still early, however, and with the introduction of better tools, this friction will disappear. Once the proverbial toothpaste is out of the tube, there will be no going back.

My aim in this article is to give you a glimpse of the future by bringing to light the stories of a few different relics on Ethereum. I am not claiming that all of these stories confer value. In fact, you may find them quite banal. But at least you will have a better sense of the provenance present in the archived transaction data.

The Vitalik Center on Etheria

The second iteration of Etheria was live for only about a week before an improved version was rolled out. As such, it didn’t see a huge amount of activity (that is, until it was rediscovered years later).

However, the tile located in the center of the map was involved in some notable transactions. Below is the entire history of tile (16, 16).

To summarize, the tile was acquired for 1 ETH, the name was changed several times, and a purple horizontal beam was built on it. Afterwards, someone made the owner an offer of 2 ETH for the tile. To this day, the offer has not been accepted.

Given the naming activity, there is a reasonable chance that the tile owner is Vitalik Buterin himself. Regardless of whether this is true, the tile is clearly more significant than most of the others.

Ether ID Reddit Greeter

Ether ID was an early attempt at a name registration system for Ethereum. A user could register a domain and attach a number of IDs to it. An ID could contain any text, including contact information or a link to a website.

Around 30,000 domains were registered in the 2015-16 time window, but the ID fields were rarely used. IDs were attached to approximately the first 1,000 domains, but almost all consisted of the contact information for the dev.

Only a few domains deviated from this pattern. One of these is the domain reddit (disclaimer: I own this domain). Its associated transactions are listed below.

Of course, the fact that someone created a sup reddit? ID is a tiny detail. However, it is a cool one in my opinion. Owning the reddit domain connects you to a moment of silliness during the earliest days of Ethereum. And there certainly isn’t much 2015 silliness out there to be owned.

The Lone Surviving BeerCoin

The 2016 BeerCoin project was created by Nick Johnson for the purpose of issuing (non-binding and just-for-fun) beer IOUs. A total of 94 were issued in the 2016-17 time period, and then the contract went unused until 2021.

The contract is programmed such that the maximum number of beers someone can be owed is 655,360. Mostly, users issued IOUs for single beers. There was one user, however, who decided to push the system to its limits and promise 640,000 beers to another user!

As you can see, a few weeks after the IOUs were issued, all but one were canceled. It’s fun to think about what kind of wild bender took place during those intervening weeks, and the remaining IOU serves as a unique keepsake.

Last of the Abandoned Ether Rocks

Soon after the original Ether Rocks contract was deployed, a bug was discovered in the built-in marketplace, necessitating a redeployment. Rocks 0-10 were created before the bug was discovered, so they ended up being duplicated.

Let’s look at the transactions involving rock 10 through the bug discovery and redeployment (disclaimer: I own this rock).

It turns out that the revised contract was deployed at 2:24 AM, just before those last two transactions. The owner sold their rock in the new contract for 0.0999 ETH just before raising its price in the original contract. In fact, they were the only owner to interact with the old contract after the new one was deployed.

From inspecting the owner’s wallet, it appears that they took a break from CryptoKitties and EtherTanks to mess around with Ether Rocks. They were looking to make a quick profit but weren’t able to make it happen at the time. However, upping the price on the old rock turned out to be a smart move, as those rocks became sought after years later.


During the 2021 NFT boom, things moved at a frenetic pace. It was a race to snag hot items on OpenSea and flip them for a profit. Very few people took the time to examine item histories, and it didn’t serve much purpose at the time.

Now that things have slowed down a bit, it’s a good time to step back and imagine how the space will evolve over the long term. It’s likely that a profession analogous to an art appraiser will emerge. Instead of inspecting signatures and auction records, digital item appraisers will scrutinize code and data. This is something to keep in mind when deciding how to spend your ETH.

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