The problem with Rare Pepes, a casual observer will note, is that these days they're far from rare. The internet is awash with the pictures of the goggly-eyed frog and has been for years: as far back as 2015, after a user dumped over a thousand Pepes into a single vertiginous Imgur album, the community opined that the meme was mainstream, over, dead.
Of course, Pepe has now had a bizarre resurgence as a white supremacist symbol, which was even displayed on the lapel of Richard Spencer as he received the now notorious and heavily meme-ified punch. So is there any way to separate good Pepes from bad, common from rare, dank from deplorable?
That's where the Rare Pepe Directory comes in. It's a list of Rare Pepe images—most in the form of trading cards—that are represented as digital assets on the bitcoin blockchain, making use of the same cryptographic properties that mean you can't spend the same coin twice. And tied to the directory is the Rare Pepe Wallet, an online storehouse that collectors can use to keep, trade and sell the Pepe cards.
A selection of artwork from the Rare Pepe Directory
To be included in the directory, Rare Pepes are created using Counterparty, a platform which lets users issue digital tokens with a fixed circulation—like a mini currency—and release them in such a way that they can be exchanged between users over the bitcoin network.
The newfound uniqueness of the certified rares has led to a subculture of Rare Pepe traders which has coalesced around a Telegram group. I joined it to chat to some of the traders, who were pretty quick to oblige by sending me my first Pepes and talking about the project with me.
One user, Sipher, told me in a chat:
I collected hockey cards and comics as a kid. I have the biggest collection of anyone I know, which are all basically worthless now because of overprinting and counterfeiting. These cards are providing a real proof of concept for establi...