Smiles ahead: Heritage Auctions offers NFT of world's first graphical emoticon

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Smiles ahead: Heritage Auctions offers NFT of world's first graphical emoticon
Nicolas Loufrani (b. 1971), The First Graphical Emoticons: 42 Smileys, NFT, Non-fungible token (JPEG) 1620 x 1620 pixels. Ed. 1/1. Minted on June 22, 2022.

DALLAS, TX.- In celebration of World Emoji Day, Heritage Auctions will present an event sure to put smiles on faces. The Smiley Revolution: An NFT Auction on July 17 consists of one happy-making lot — an NFT of the world's first graphical emoticons.

This set of 42 three-dimensional Smileys, conceptualized from 1997-1999 by Nicolas Loufrani — CEO of The Smiley Company, a global IP & licensing company — represents not only the roots of modern-day emojis but also a pivotal point in cultural and linguistic history: the birth of a universal language that embodied the spirit of the internet.

"We are honored to be offering the first 3D Smileys at auction," says Taylor Curry, Heritage Auctions' Director of Modern & Contemporary Art, New York. "While these have existed since 1997, it wasn't until the emergence of NFTs that something like this could be sold with direct verifiable provenance from their creator. The Smileys created by Nicolas Loufrani not only changed the way we communicate but became the first graphical emoticons used in technology. Loufrani's graphical emoticons are the precursors to what we now know as emojis. The sale culminates on World Emoji Day, signifying the historical importance and cultural impact of Smileys in today's world."

Loufrani's Smileys were the first of their kind, built with inspiration from the ASCII (text-based) emoticons pioneered by computer scientist Scott Fahlman, as well as the iconic original 2D Smiley that Loufrani's father, Franklin, had trademarked in 1971. While the initial text-based emoticons, such as the :-) smiley and :-( frowny faces, were intended as joke markers to provide tonal context to online posts, they were unable to keep up with the nuance of genuine human emotion required to communicate online.

As Loufrani notes, he envisioned a means of using graphical emoticons as "an easy hack to convey an emotion." After extensive experimentation, he settled on the original set of 42 Smileys, complete with heart eyes, sunglasses, blushing cheeks and a wide range of other expressions.

"On the 50th anniversary of our company, I am super excited to release the archives of the first 42 3D Smileys I created to replace ASCII emoticons with a universal logographic language, easily understandable by everyone across the world," Loufrani says. "NFTs give collectors the opportunity to make this artwork a unique edition, witnessing a key milestone in the development of the fastest-growing language ever created — and the first, and probably still the biggest, viral digital phenomenon in history."

The July auction comes on the heels of Heritage's September 2021 auction of an NFT of the world's first emoticons, an event that brought $237,500 for a non-fungible token version of the smiley and frowny emoticons first typed in 1982 by computer science professor Scott Fahlman.

The NFT of Loufrani's creations is accompanied by a canvas print of The First Graphical Emoticons, and all proceeds from the sale will benefit the nonprofit Smiley Movement, which aims to inspire people to drive positive action through news, talks and charity matchmaking. This auction also marks the beginning of Smiley's dive into the Web 3.0 space. Blockchain technology allows The Smiley Company to further embrace positivity, creativity and collaboration in the near future through tailored NFT drops, exciting Metaverse projects and continued community collaborations.


Smiley was created in 1972 by French journalist Franklin Loufrani, who launched a happiness promotion in the France Soir newspaper, using the Smiley icon to highlight good news stories. In the late '90s, his son Nicolas Loufrani helped to create a new universal language, launching the "Smiley Dictionary" - a list of Smileys which transformed ascii emoticons into something understandable to all.

For 50 years, the Smiley has shaped the way we share happiness and express ourselves through iconic products found worldwide. Smiley is an evergreen lifestyle brand that has influenced musical generations, social movements, popular culture and the pursuit of happiness. Smileys helped revolutionize technology, instigating a digital trend that now sees billions of them sent every day.

Smiley's emoticons have gone on to have an essential place in our society today, helping us learn about ourselves and our emotions (emotional intelligence). This became the starting point for how we use Smileys in technology and influenced the digital language we now use every day. Giving us a way to tell each other how we are feeling in a shorthand that is not easily expressed through traditional dialects.

Five decades later, Smiley has become more than just an icon, a brand and a lifestyle: it is now a spirit and a philosophy, reminding people just how powerful a smile can be. Today The Smiley Company is one of the world's top 100 licensors, with over 420 licensee and retail partners globally to bring products to life across 14 categories. The Smiley Company holds trademarks registered in over 100 countries.

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