Seminal internet meme sells for $175,000

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" is an adage and internet meme that was first published by The New Yorker on July 5, 1993, becoming universally recognized for capturing the essence of internet anonymity and the liberation it offers from popular prejudices … and when the original artwork went up for sale on 6 October 2023 it sold for $175,000.

Begun as a caption to a cartoon drawn by Peter Steiner, it has since earned Steiner more than US$250,000 in reprint rights alone.

Though Heritage Auctions estimated the cartoon would fetch between $40,000 and $60,000, the auction record for a single piece of comic book art is the $3.84 million fetched by a Tintin illustration by Hergé in 2021, and the Steiner illustration could be argued to be of far greater significance. The end result didn't challenge TinTin's record, but it did fetch the highest price ever paid for a single-panel cartoon.

According to Bob Mankoff, then The New Yorker's cartoon editor, "The cartoon resonated with our wariness about the facile façade that could be thrown up by anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of html."

Considering the timing of the cartoon and the use of the word "internet" in 1993, many point to it being the point at which that term entered the vernacular, even though people were still using America Online and dial-up modems to spend hours waiting on single images to transmit and download. And even then, the internet remained elusive to some; Indeed, only one year after the cartoon's publication, Bryant Gumbel still asked his Today show colleagues, "What is internet?"

Bill Gates was the first to republish the cartoon in his 1995 book The Road Ahead, for which he paid $200 in reprint fees. Another important milestone for the cartoon on the road to global recognition occurred on February 29, 2012 when then-Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg had the cartoon projected behind her during the announcement that advertising opportunities were opening up to marketers on the social network, which had 845 million users at the time. This was a step leading to the company's stock IPO.

Source: Heritage Auctions

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