What are Hashmasks?

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Robert has reported for a variety of international publications including the Associated Press, The Guardian, Vice, and Decrypt. Current areas of interest include the political economy of technology, cryptocurrencies, and privacy. Robert has a Bachelor of Science from UCL, and a Master's degree from the University of Oxford's Internet Institute.

Hashmasks are a collection of 16,384 digital portraits launched in January 2021. Each is unique, and lives on the Ethereum blockchain. The difference between Hashmasks and the thousands of other crypto art projects is that Hashmasks claim to be a collaboration between the art and the consumer.

Each Hashmask is an NFT, or non-fungible token—a one-of-a-kind cryptocurrency that serves as a marker of ownership over some digital asset, like a piece of digital art. NFTs blew up in 2021, and Hashmasks with them. They are a way to track and prove the scarcity of virtual items in a decentralized fashion.

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Nobody can take away your NFTs once you own the keys to them, and so long as the Ethereum blockchain (or whichever blockchain supports your NFTs) is alive and kicking thanks to its global network of anonymous miners (and, come Ethereum 2.0, stakers) NFTs have a total sales volume of about $4.4 billion, as of late September 2021.

The Hashmask pictures, mostly of different masks, are a combination of features and attributes drawn by artists. When the creators, Switzerland-based Suum Cuique Labs, designed the project, they intended for some of the characteristics, such as race, mask, eye color, and an item in the picture, to have different levels of rarity. Men are far more common than robots, only 12.5% wear an animal mask and 5.9% wear a pixel mask. The 1,797 “Male Mexicans” amount to $10 million of the Hashmask market. Puppets are worth a combined total of $7.8 million.

Rarity gets yet more complex: “At first sight, pixel masks may seem more exclusive, but upon further inspection, you realize that there are only 13 Hashmasks that feature a unicorn mask, which is much more exclusive than the rarest of all pixel masks,” states Hashmask on its site.

But there’s yet another level of scarcity. When you buy the token, you also buy the right to change the name of your Hashmask to anything you want, so long as you buy a Name Change Token. “You are not simply buying a piece of rare art. You are part of the art piece,” promises Hashmasks on its website.

The point is that the smart contracts—the bit of blockchain code that powers a Hashmask—lets you assign a name to your token, “giving you the ability to add your unique stroke to the canvas. Thus, you become one of the founding creators that shaped this raw canvas into a timeless work of art” and eradicate “the invisible line separating the creator and the consumer of the artwork.”

Each Hashmask accumulates 10 Name Change Tokens, or NCTs, per day, and the current holder of the Hashmask can claim them. Anyone who bought a Hashmask in the first two weeks of the initial sale would receive the equivalent of two name changes. When someone has about 1,830 NCTs, which would take about six months, they can burn them to change the name. You can also buy the Name Change Token on Uniswap, Sushiswap, or 1inch. NCT costs about four cents at the time of writing, so renaming a Hashmask costs about $73.

However, precisely 10 years after the Hashmasks came out—on January 26, 2031—no more NCTs will be created. When all the NCTs have been burned, the name of an NFT can no longer be changed and, according to Hashmasks, “the art piece is complete.”

So, what have people been making their Hashmasks? “Whale,” “Trump,” “Obama,” and “pepe” are among top results. Its database is rife with obscenities. Search for your favorite, and Hashmasks will return numerous delights. Remember, it cost someone real money to rename a Hashmask of a panda wearing a T-shirt from “scam” to “1st Edition Panda” to “Kung Fu.” “Art is not systematic. It is enigmatic,” explains Hashmasks.

How can you buy a Hashmask?

Since Hashmasks live on the Ethereum blockchain, and all of them were minted shortly after launch, the best way to buy one of the NFTs is through a secondary sales marketplace that supports Ethereum NFTs. The most popular one of these as of September 2021 is called OpenSea, and all Hashmasks are listed on the site.

Note that just because all Hashmasks are listed on OpenSea, you can’t just buy any Hashmask you like. You’ll have to negotiate directly with each seller, who can set whatever price they like or choose not to sell at all. Sales take place through auctions or direct purchases at times set by the sellers, and in an Ethereum-based currency of the seller’s choosing.

Even though the terms of each sale might be different, the process of actually buying a Hashmask is generally the same. The first thing you have to do is to connect your Web 3.0 wallet. The most popular of these is MetaMask, although there are several alternatives, including Rainbow Wallet, Ledger, and Trust Wallet. Think of these like a decentralized bank account that connects to any cryptocurrency application.

Then, find the Hashmask you want. Ensure that it is part of the verified Hashmasks collection—if so, you’ll be able to link it to this page and see a blue verification tick, the likes of which you might recognize from Twitter or Instagram. Check the bid price, which will likely be denominated in Ethereum, although a Hashmask could sell for a handful of other Ethereum-based currencies.

Once you’ve worked out how much to spend, and verified the Hashmask, load up your wallet with the right amount of cryptocurrency, plus a little bit extra to cover Ethereum’s hefty transaction fees. Then, either place a bid or buy the thing outright. Bids are public, and you could be outbid by someone else.

Hashmasks are the 19th most popular NFT project of all time, having raised $68 million since launching at the end of January 2021. However, Hashmasks have lain dormant for most of their existence. After a blowout day on February 2, when $4.3 million Hashmasks sold as part of its staggered launch, sales dipped to around $20,000-$50,000 per day until the end of July, when NFTs became popular again. The resurgence of NFTs coincided with a resurgence of the entire crypto market, and lots of NFT projects became immensely popular.

Hashmasks peaked during the summer toward the end of August; on August 25, sales hit $1.2 million. Things died down again shortly thereafter, and by September 20, daily sales had collapsed to $118,000, mustering about $700,000 in the entirety of the preceding week.

Observing the crazy highs and the dull doldrums, we can infer that the market for Hashmasks, like much of the rest of the NFT market, can be fairly illiquid and volatile. On some days, only 10 of these Hashmasks might change hands; on others, hundreds. The Hashmasks market is prone to the same whiplash rises and falls as the rest of the crypto market, and interest in the project can resurge in a matter of days.

Part of the illiquidity of the Hashmask market could be a result of the distribution of NFTs. There are about 4,700 owners, and many owners hold several Hashmasks. One wallet controls 829 Hashmasks, worth some $9 million, or about 6% of the $140 million market cap that CryptoSlam, an NFT data site, assigns to the project. Another owns 676 Hashmasks, worth $4.5 million.

More Hashmasks

As of this writing, Hashmasks are not as popular as they once were. It’s a busy market, and each NFT project competes with all of the others for the scarcest resource in the digital economy: attention. To attract eyeballs and the wallets attached to them, Hashmasks is working on an expansion pack.

The team wrote in a blog post on August 4, 2021, just as sales were exploding: “We are currently exploring ideas to create a pfp [profile picture]/avatar NFT for all Hashmask owners at no extra charge.”

This idea piggybacks on the broader adoption of NFT avatar projects like Hashmasks as profile pictures on social media sites like Twitter. Spend enough time in a Discord chat or browsing Twitter feeds, and you’ll stumble across someone who, instead of a photograph, represents themselves through a cartoon ape or a pixelated mugshot of a zombie or a vampire.

These are ways to connote status or wealth online and are, at least as of this writing, becoming a popular way to establish and maintain ongoing digital identities. Here, Hashmask’s unique name feature, won’t apply.

Last Updated November 1, 2021

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