Wikipedia has long been one of the internet’s home bases for information. Love it or hate it, everyone knows Wikipedia. Now, auction titan Christie’s has a bit of Wikipedia’s past to share with internet history lovers: two objects from the Birth of Wikipedia. CELEB takes a look at what those items are, and how Wikipedia came to be a name everyone knows and uses. 

The Birth of Wikipedia

If internet history is your thing – the history of the internet, not your sketchy browser tabs – then you’re in luck. Christie’s auction house has up for grabs a lot of two, one-of-a-kind items. Both items, one of which is digital, come directly from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. 

The items up for grabs are the following, per Christie’s team: 

  • Strawberry iMac: “The Strawberry iMac was Wales’ personal computer, which he used for development and research at the time of the website’s launch on January 15, 2001, monitoring the site’s early development, guarding against vandals, and marveling at its rapid growth. As the computer grew obsolete, it was relegated to the room of his young daughter, who used it to play video games. It was later stored away in its original box, which will be included with the sale.”
  • Hello World, NFT: “Christie’s will also offer an NFT of the first edit to Wikipedia: ‘Hello, World!’ Made by Wales on the day Wikipedia launched, which would be the first in a long line of edits that would produce the “the largest and most-read reference work in history.” (Wikipedia) and the NFT preserves the layout of the Wikipedia home page in 2001, based on the earliest source code extant. The NFT also has a dynamic feature, enabling the owner to edit the page, which can be reset with a timer to revert to its original state.”

It’s an exciting deviation for Christie’s which is used to selling art, but not a singular piece – or two – of the internet’s past. 

Wales, who created Wikipedia to be an answering compendium of knowledge on the internet in contrast to physical book pedias, says in a statement, “It’s been over twenty years since I first typed in the words ‘Hello, World!’ to launch Wikipedia– and even today, I’m still amazed at the size and breadth of what it has become. I’m so pleased that we have this opportunity to celebrate the work of Wikipedia’s dedicated volunteers, and I hope that the funds raised can both contribute to furthering that effort and to help support my latest project, WT.Social, a decentralized, non-commercial social network free of advertising, tracking, information harvesting, and misinformation.”

Wikipedia’s Origins

Christie's

Everyone knows how to access Wikipedia, but where did it come from? It seems as an intrinsic a part of the internet by now as Google itself, but it had to come from somewhere. Wales started Wikipedia as a feeder project for Nupedia, an earlier project by the founder to create a free encyclopedia online that anyone could edit. 

When Wikipedia first launched January 15, 2001, the internet was a very different place than it is today. Few online encyclopedias existed – mostly within the frame of university libraries being converted to digital. One couldn’t just search up anything and find an entire page dedicated to explaining it, searching in those days was laborious guesswork that more than often came up fruitless. And along came Wikipedia. 

Because Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, it’s not often considered the be-all, end-all source for hard facts. However, it’s a good starting point for any research and can provide factual information that helps people expand their understanding. The fact that it’s peer-edited is both a blessing and a curse. People can – and often do – get up to tomfoolery because of the freedom to edit. However, because it is free to edit, people who are serious about topics often come behind and fix the errors.

It is a give and take of communal knowledge that helps people on the path to research and understanding topics across nearly every genre and industry that exists in the world today. Truly a remarkable position for what was once just a feeder project. 

Christie’s

Christie's

The lot will be sold through Christie’s, one of the world’s greatest art auction houses. Founded in 1766, Christie’s is considered one of the world leaders in art and business, and a name that anyone in the industry instantly recognizes. 

The auction titan is known for online and in person auctions, as well as bespoke private sales. They offer art appraisal, art financing, international real estate and education. 

Although the heart of Christie’s is the exchange of unique items for top dollar, their items range in price from around $200 to upwards of several million. The Christie’s team has pioneered digital auctioning and also has a soft spot for the planet. The team writes in a statement, “Recent innovations at Christie’s include the groundbreaking sale of the first NFT for a digital work of art ever offered at a major auction house (Beeple’s Everydays, March 2021), with the unprecedented acceptance of cryptocurrency as a means of payment. As an industry leader in digital innovation, Christie’s also continues to pioneer new technologies that are redefining the business of art, including the creation of viewing and bidding experiences that integrate augmented reality, global livestreaming, buy-now channels, and hybrid sales formats.

Christie’s is dedicated to advancing responsible culture throughout its business and communities worldwide, including achieving sustainability through net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and actively using its platform in the art world to amplify under-represented voices and support positive change.”

Christie’s often goes head-to-head with Sotheby’s and the Gagosian in the world of auctioning, but their willingness to expand into the digital realm may set them apart from their industry peers. Certainly it’s hard to imagine Sotheby’s selling a part of internet history as an NFT the way Chrsitie’s has chosen to, but perhaps they’ll find their way through to do the same in the future as Christie’s has forged the path. 

The auction for the Birth of Wikipedia runs December 3 through 15. For more information, visit the auction lot’s website