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The Future of Collectibles

In 1985, as Art Spiegelman was working on Maus, his Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel account of his father’s Holocaust survival, the cartoonist was working on a very different project. Spiegelman had been working for Topps, the bubble gum card company, since the 1960s. The company wanted to produce a series of collectibles like cards featuring the Cabbage Patch Kids, the soft toys that had become one of the biggest toy fads of the 1980s. But the license was expensive, and the cards needed to be cheap, so Topps asked Art Spiegelman and Len Brown, the company’s creative director, to produce a parody. Instead of cute little dolls, the collectible cards would feature monster children. Adam Bomb could go nuclear. Junkfood John gorged on cakes and soda. Potty Scotty crawled out of a toilet bowl.

The art was disgusting and the humor juvenile. Kids loved them. While their parents bought cute, wholesome, collectible dolls, their children traded cards that showed babies covered in ants and shredding school books. The cards ran through fifteen series and inspired a movie and a television series.

Recently, the Garbage Pail Kids made a revival. Topps teamed up with WAX, a blockchain company, to produce a digital version of the collectible cards. Instead of handing over an allowance at a local store for a packet of cards, collectors could purchase packs online and trade them online too. The entire set sold out in just 28 hours. Resale values are said to have reached up to 25 times the original price. Individual cards have sold for 80,000 WAX tokens, now about $4,400.

The Garbage Pail Kids aren’t the first collectibles sold on the blockchain. Dapper Labs, the company behind Cryptokitties, a set of digital, tradable cats, has signed an agreement with the NBA. Sorare, a blockchain-based fantasy soccer game, is producing a set of collectable cards featuring Juventus players, including superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

What these companies make are “non-fungible tokens,” or NFTs. The movement of those tokens is recorded on the blockchain, a kind of ledger with multiple copies updated in real time. Because it’s almost impossible to forge or change an entry in those ledgers, each token—or collectible card—comes with a guarantee of authenticity and rarity. Fraudsters can’t push fake cards into the market, and publishers can’t release additional rare cards without everyone noticing.

Each card also comes with a record of its sale history. The exchange on which Garbage Pail Kids are traded includes the previous price a card reached and when it was sold. Every card is traceable. Sellers can always find buyers and collectors can always find the cards they want to purchase—and know that they’re genuine and rare. Whether each will find the price they accept will depend on the state of the market at the time.

The blockchain has reinvented the way the collectibles market operates. It’s no wonder that WAX has now made Blockchain Heroes, collectible superhero cards featuring the creators of its own technology.