Rare working Apple 1 computer sells for record US$374,500

Gregg Keizer
17 June, 2012
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A 36-year-old Apple 1 personal computer, one of just six thought to be in working condition, has sold for a record US$374,500 at a New York auction.

Also sold by Sotheby’s at the weekend was a memo written by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs during his time at video game maker Atari.

The gavel price for the Apple 1, which included the buyer’s premium – the commission owed to auctioneer Sotheby’s – was nearly twice the top estimate of US$180,000 and triple the lowest prediction of US$120,000.

It was a record for an Apple 1, the first computer from the company co-founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The previous record of US$213,000 was set in late 2010 at an auction conducted by Christie’s in London.

Sotheby’s did not reveal the name of the buyer of either the Apple 1 or the memo and did not reply to questions. The BBC, however, reported that a telephone bidder won the auction for the Apple 1.

The Apple 1, a circuit board hand-built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, was made in 1976 and sold at the time for US$666.66. About 200 units were produced, but by Sotheby’s estimate, only 50 survive. Six, including the one sold today, are known to be in working condition.

Included with the Apple 1 lot was an original cassette interface – cassette tapes were used to store programs and data – and several manuals, including a rare BASIC user’s manual.

The four-page Jobs-authored memo sold for US$27,500, also significantly higher than the auction house’s preliminary estimate of US$10,000 to US$15,000.

That memorandum and an accompanying one-page addendum were written by Jobs in 1974 during a short stint with game-maker Atari and included his suggestions for improvements on World Cup, a coin arcade game of the time. The lot featured three original circuit diagrams drawn by Jobs in pencil and the one-page hand-written addendum.

Although both the Apple 1 and the memo sold for well above their estimates, neither came close to the US$1.6 million paid by a Miami executive last year for the original contract that marked Apple’s founding. Jobs, who died in October 2011, Wozniak and the lesser-known Ron Wayne drew up the contract in April 1976.

Sotheby’s also handled the sale of the Apple contract.

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