May 28, 2023

“Fat-looking penguins had huge meme potential, so we decided to roll with that,” Patterson said.

The first community NFT was the CryptoPunks, a series of 10,000 pixelated characters that went on sale in 2017. They became a luxury status symbol, with single images that sold for millions of dollars. and paved the way for other community NFTs including the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a group of 10,000 cartoon primates now selling for more than $ 45,000 apiece.

Mr. Patterson and his co-founders hope that Pudgy Penguins will join the NFT pantheon. The original collection sold out in 20 minutes, and in total they have changed hands worth more than $ 25 million, according to NFT Stats, a website that collects data on NFT sales. Earlier this week it was still possible to score a penguin for a few thousand dollars, but penguins with rare traits like different colored backgrounds or gold medals around their necks can do a lot more. The most expensive was Pudgy Penguin # 6873, which sold for $ 469,000.

I texted Mr. Patterson on Tuesday asking if he had any advice on how to get my own pudgy penguin without breaking the bank. (Sorry, the New York Times expense policy doesn’t cover JPEGs of birds.)

“Wait, maybe I can do something,” he wrote back.

Minutes later, two pudgy penguins – # 3166 and # 5763 – appeared in my cryptocurrency wallet. One was a picture of a penguin with a cloth and sunglasses; the other wore an igloo baseball cap and what looked like a bomber jacket. They were a gift, said Mr. Patterson, in recognition of my willingness to learn more about the community. (As I am not ethically able to accept gifts, I will return my pudgy penguins to Mr. Patterson after this column is published.)

Then I joined the Pudgy Penguin Discord server, where I was greeted by a bevy of co-owners who looked forward to seeing me, not least because they thought the Times’ attention would add value to their own penguins. (After I received my paintings, I got offers to buy them for thousands of dollars.) Pudgy Penguins co-founders earn a royalty every time a penguin is sold, but other owners can only benefit from selling their penguins for can resell more than you paid for.

Like any good crypto clique, Pudgy Penguin owners have developed their own language and customs. Penguins are “pingus”. Owners are “huddlers”. “Tufts” are a rare, valuable species of penguin with no headgear, while “floors” refer to cheaper and more common species.