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NFT auction of first SMS message raises €107k for UNHCR

First SMS text message sent via Vodafone network on 3 December 1992
The first SMS text message sent via Vodafone network on 3 December 1992

Vodafone has auctioned a NFT (Non-Fungible Token) of the world’s first SMS text message. The winning bid of €107,000 will be donated to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

The first text message was sent on 3 December 1992. It read simply ‘Merry Christmas’, and was sent by Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old software programmer from the UK, via the Vodafone network and received by Vodafone employee Richard Jarvis.

‘Merry Christmas’

Twenty nine years on, the winner bidder now has digital ownership of the message using blockchain technology. Given the charity donation, UNHCR has received a slightly early ‘Merry Christmas’.


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The winning bidder paid for the NFT using the Ether cryptocurrency, paying Ξ 30.20. They receive ownership of a unique replica of the original message as an exclusive NFT.

In addition, because NFTs and cryptocurrencies can generate carbon emissions, the Porini Foundation, creators of the SMS1 NFT, have pledged to offset the carbon emissions caused by its creation.

The auction was run by Aguttes Auction House, the first independent auction house in France.

Auction house founder Maximilian Aguttes said: 

“The first printed book, the first phone call, the first email – all these inventions have changed our lives and communication in the world. This first text message received in 1992 is a historic testament to human and technological progress – we are delighted to be able to support the sale of this landmark piece of history for this cause.”

Neil Papworth, who sent the original SMS, said: 

“Little did I know what our concerted team effort at the end of 1992 would lead to. Me and my fellow engineering colleagues back then tried hard to set up the SMS protocol for Vodafone over the course of several months. It was a true journey of hundreds of unsuccessful attempts. But on 3rd December, it eventually worked. It’s funny that after we did it, we did not celebrate in a big splash. I just did my job and went home. I should have probably joined the Christmas party instead.

“I am very excited that with the NFT and SMS, two technologies are now coming together that have fundamentally changed people’s lives and will continue to do so in the future. By combining these two for a good cause, I hope that people will never forget the importance of human connection and community.”

Christian Schaake, Head of UNHCR’s Private Sector Partnerships Service, said:

“Technology has always had the power to innovate and change the world. Through this combination of groundbreaking tech and movement for social good, UNHCR can continue helping refugees and people who’ve been forced from home, giving them an opportunity to transform their lives and build better futures for themselves, their loved ones and communities they’re living in.”