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Apple-1 computer relic hits the auction block

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 19, 2015
Christie's pegs the sales estimate as high as US$772K, far more than other Apple-1 PCs have sold for recently.

Auctioneer Christie's is currently taking online bids for an Apple-1 personal computer, as yet another owner tries to capitalize on the interest in the 39-year-old device that launched the California company climb to fame.

Christie's Apple-1
The Apple-1 was originally sold as a stand-alone circuit board without a case, keyboard, monitor or even power supply. Credit: Christie's

The e-auction for the Apple-1 ends Oct. 29. Christie's has estimated the gavel price between £300,000 and £500,000 -- equivalent to between $463,000 and $772,000 -- and began the bidding at £240,000, or about $370,000.

Those prices are significantly higher than recent sales of other Apple-1 antiques. Last month, auction house Bonhams sold a different Apple-1 at a gavel price of $300,000, or $365,000 including the auction house's commission. In April, collector Bob Luther sold one of his Apple-1 computers on eBay for $236,000.

Both the Bonhams and Luther computers were working units; Christie's said it could not say whether its Apple-1 is operational. "Neither of the electrics nor electronics have been tested," Christie's said. "We assume it could be brought up to working order again, as it was last turned on in 2005.

The Apple-1 was a stand-alone circuit board, and lacked a case, keyboard, monitor or even power supply, all of which computer hobbyists had to provide themselves. Software was loaded into the Apple-1's minuscule standard 4 kilobytes -- upgraded to 8KB by its first owner -- using a cassette tape recorder, or typed in by hand each time the device was powered up.

In 1976, the first Apple-1 personal computers were sold for $666.66, or approximately $2,788 in today's dollars. They remain rare, with about 60 of the original 200 known to exist, several in the hands of museums such as the Smithsonian Museum of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Henry Ford Museum of Dearborn, Mich.

The Christie's Apple-1 was purchased in 1977 by Joe Torzewski, then sold to its current owner -- who Christie's did not identify -- in 2004.

Along with the computer -- since Torzewski's ownership days, enclosed in a white case with integrated keyboard, making it look somewhat like the follow-up Apple II -- the lot includes several data cassettes and the original manuals. Christie's touted the latter in its sales pitch, calling one of them "extremely rare."

Christie's Apple-1 
The latest antique Apple-1 to hit the market was set inside this custom case by the original owner, Joe Torzewski.  Credit: Christie's

The Apple-1's manuals were written by Ron Wayne, the almost-unknown third partner in Apple. When Apple's founding contract was drawn up in 1976, it boasted three signatures: Steve Jobs', Steve Wozniak's, and Wayne's. Wayne, then 41 and thus the elder statesman, was instrumental in the founding of Apple. He had been recruited by Jobs to convince Wozniak to launch the partnership. For his part, Wayne was offered a 10% share in the new company, Apple Computers.

 

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