In 1976, Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs sold their first pre-assembled computer, called the Apple-1. It cost them $250 to build and retailed for $666.66. (“As a mathematician I like repeating digits and that was what I thought it should be,” Wozniak told Bloomberg in 2014.)
The dream team only built 200 Apple-1s.
Tuesday, a fully functioning Apple-1 computer went up for auction — and it could sell for at least $300,000, according to RR Auction.
To someone familiar with the sleek design of Apple products today, the Apple-1 might seem clunky.
That’s because the Apple-1 up for auction is basically a circuit board and cassette interface (which allows you to save contents onto a standard audio tape), plus a separate keyboard kit and a video monitor that’s enclosed in a bulky wooden case for protection. It also comes with other accessories that allow it to run properly, including a power supply, a TV video modulator that displays the output on a TV screen or monitor and copies of the user manual.
And as impressive as it is that it still works, “fully functioning” means a lot less computing power than your current lap top. Other functioning Apple-1 computers have been used to program and run simple software, and even play games. (This video shows a demo from an Apple-1 that was sold at auction in 2018.)
The Apple-1 up for auction at RR Auction was previously on display at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley and was restored by an Apple expert named Corey Cohen in 2019.
When the Apple-1 was first invented, Wozniak and Jobs wanted to sell the circuit board in parts that could be assembled by customers. But Paul Terrell, the owner of a local computer store in Mountain View, California called Byte Shop, convinced them that customers would want to buy a prebuilt computer instead, Walter Isaacson wrote in the 2016 book “Steve Jobs.”
So for a month, the pair built Apple-1 computers in Jobs’ garage. They sold 50 Apple-1 computers to Byte Shop, another 50 to friends, and they saved 100 to sell to other retail outlets. Just 175 of the computers were sold, which is why the model has become such a sought-after collector’s item.
This is not the first time a remaining Apple-1 computer has been auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2019, Christie’s in London auctioned off an Apple-1 for over almost $500,000. And in 2014, The Henry Ford Museum bought an Apple-1 computer for $905,000 at auction. Another Apple-1 refurbished by Cohen was sold to the co-founders of the skincare company Glamglow for $815,000 in 2016.
Retro gadgets are having a moment: A 1992 Nintendo Play Station Super NES CD-ROM Prototype sold for $360,000 at auction on Friday. According to Heritage Auctions, only 200 prototypes of the video game console were made.
The Apple-1 computer is part of a larger Apple memorabilia auction including a 1982 employee bonus memo addressed from Jobs to former Apple design engineer Jerry Manock, and a group of seven vintage Apple t-shirts that could go for more than $1,000.
The auction is scheduled to close on March 12.