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The $240k Apple-1: An Inside Look

November 16, 2010

Rheanna Sand, Torah Kachur and Brit Trogen

 

Science in Seconds Brit Trogen

The best Apple-1 in existence is up for sale next week at Christie’s in London, and it could go for a cool $240,000 USD. Which seems reasonable for a computer that has 8kb of RAM. Just enough to light up a few bulbs in sequence. Super fun times. It doesn’t even have a monitor.

But this is more than just any old computer. Sure, it’s old - circa 1976 - but it’s the condition and the provenance that make it so special. Talking exclusively to Science in Seconds, the current owner explains, “I don't think there's a better example of the Apple-1 in existence today.” And he’d be right; an estimated 30-50 Apple-1’s are still in existence, and the few that have hit the market in the last decade pale in comparison to computer Number 82 (we’re going to call it Granny Smith).

The Apple-1 was designed by the computer guru himself - Steve Jobs and his friend and business partner Steve Wozniak - in Jobs parents’ garage. Friends Jobs and Wozniak started the Apple Computer Company in 1976 and assembled and shipped the first Apple-1’s by hand. The operation of the two young computer nerds was so ghetto that the invoices didn’t even have logos, and they typed letters on loose leaf to owners that had questions about how the computers worked. A helpdesk via snail mail; I will never complain about 10 minutes on hold again.

Still, $240,000 is a bit steep for a circuit board that you can’t even use as a coaster. This particular Apple-1 comes with a picture of Steve Wozniak holding the motherboard with a previous owner, and a letter from young “Steven Jobs” himself that is signed “respectfully yours.” The current owner, who has requested to remain anonymous, jokingly adds “he wasn't as arrogant in those days, that's for sure.”

 


Particularly unique about this unit is its history. “As far as I know, this thing has never been powered up,” says the current owner, who is only its fourth. According to documents that will accompany the auction, the 1976 owner couldn’t get it to work. “It was on the shelf for 12 years,” adds our source. When he finally did decide to give it another try, “he wrote to Apple, and Apple said, ‘Sorry we don't have parts for that. In fact we don't make that computer anymore.’” Perhaps the first victim of Apple’s product turnover.

The Apple-1 represents the beginning of the personal computer revolution - a revolution so important that I have barely left my desk today and I’m convinced I’m getting carpal tunnel. This computer is one for the history books on computers, auctions, sociology and just plain coolness. There is no denying the impact that the visionary Jobs and the advent of the Apple-1 has had on our lives.

Granny Smith (aka #82) hits the market on November 23rd with high expectations. Science in Seconds will be in attendance, and media outlets are touting this as one of the more important pieces in computer history to ever come up for auction. So where did this unit come from? The owner swears he didn’t steal it from Jobs’ garage, but we are dubious. “No, as a matter of fact it was put up on Ebay, which was a foolish place I think to put up an item of such significance” he explains.

If this is such an important piece, why sell? Why not just sit and stare at it and snuggle it every now and then? “The thing is, to keep something like that, the public should see this. I have it stuck in a vault and that's crazy for something as important as this.”

So to the next owner: Can you just let those of us who don’t have a quarter of a million to spare see it.... just once?

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