Sotheby’s is in big on NFTs.

To Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s "global head of science and popular culture," this isn’t just a flash in the pan trend. Hatton told Crypto Investor it's more fundamentally altering how we value cultural artifacts and could upend how much of the art industry operates financially.

Its first NFT auction, Natively Digital, fetched more than $17 million. They built a full-scale replica of their London auction house in the metaverse. And the source code to the world wide web, offered by Sotheby’s this week, has a top bid of $3 million. Follow the outcome yourself in real time here.

“I think something significant is happening here,” Hatton said in an interview with Crypto Investor. “I keep going back to manuscripts and books. Before the printing press was invented, you could trade in something that was hand written. And then the way we recorded information changed. We no longer wrote it down by hand, we printed it on a press. So then you could take that information and sell it in that format. This is just a new way of recording information. What's being recorded is not changing."

Hatton would know. She’s spent 15 years selling, appraising, and cataloguing rare books, manuscripts, and historic artifacts. Prior to coming to Sotheby’s, she founded and was made director of Bonhams Auctioneers’ History of Science & Technology department. She also heads up Sotheby’s hip-hop sales.

It’s not just Sotheby’s. Christie’s also dove into the NFT space. Its current NFT auction, featuring several works of 18-year-old artist FEWOCiOUS, has minimum bids of over $100,000.

Hatton says she has been inundated with requests to partner with Sotheby’s on NFT sales. She expects that storm tide will ebb, eventually, but that the technology that underpins NFTs is already evolving to support the art industry in new ways.

Ultra high-resolution digital scans, she says, allow prospective sellers to create digital twins of art and mint them as NFTs replete with its provenance information. Hatton cited Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ plastic pearl necklace, which was sold for $211,000 by Sothebys in 1996, as an example.

“So you buy these pearls, you have the receipt, you want to resell them. How can you prove that you didn't swap them out with another set of plastic pearls? How do you do it? You can't,” she said. “But if you create a super high-res digital scan, and then affiliate that with the NFT. The provenance is there, and it's not separable.”

Hatton said there remains an education gap in the market on NFTs, smart contracts and the blockchain in general. But she expects that to change as technology brings the learning curve down. Education is only expanding from here, too.

“When I sit down and explain it [to people], and they really get a chance to wrap their heads around it and see that it's actually not complicated. It's actually pretty simple, pretty clean. Then you see the gears turning,” she said. “And they’ll say ‘Oh, my gosh, this actually has some really major implications for the art market, music market.’ There's so many things it's going to change.” 

Sotheby’s is in big on NFTs.

To Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s "global head of science and popular culture," this isn’t just a flash in the pan trend. Hatton told Crypto Investor it's more fundamentally altering how we value cultural artifacts and could upend how much of the art industry operates financially.

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