LAUNCHED by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak from the garage of Jobs’ parents home in July, 1976 – a month in which America’s bicentennial celebrations were the big news story – the Apple I was in fact the start of another revolution.
It was sold without any form of casing, and without a power
supply, keyboard or monitor, but because the motherboard of the
Apple I was completely pre-assembled, it was in effect the first
personal computer and a major advance on their competitors'
self-assembly kits - even with only 8K bytes of RAM.
It was, however, enormously expensive for the time at $666.66,
and when a much more advanced Apple II was introduced in April of
the following year - setting an engineering and development
precedent for that now familiar rule that any new piece of kit you
might order needs an update by the time it arrives - the price had
dropped to $475.
Whilst a lot of development had taken place with the Apple II
having an integrated keyboard, sound, a plastic case and eight
internal expansion slots, hanging onto, and looking after, an Apple
I could nevertheless have proved an excellent long-term investment,
as an example offered as part of a Christie's book
sale on November 23, clearly demonstrated.
At the time it was catalogued, Christie's had been unable to
confirm just how many were made, but the book department's Julian
Wilson was subsequently able to talk to Steve Wozniak, who told him
that with a little help from Jobs and their girlfriends, he had
assembled two batches of 100, of which around 150 were sold. The
remainder, it seems, were either destroyed or cannibalised for
The machine offered here, along with an Apple cassette interface
(supplied at the time at an additional $75), was still in the
original packaging, as delivered to Electric City Radio Supply of
Great Falls, Montana. Complete with operation manual and other
documentation bearing the original company logo of Newton sitting
under an apple tree, it also came with a typed letter to a Frank
Anderson (possibly the owner of ECRS) signed by Jobs, and the
original invoice, identifying the salesman simply as Steven.
This example has, in fact, been fitted with a later
microprocessor, but what makes this Apple I so much more valuable
than all the others that survive is all that packaging and
Such things may not excite those in the vintage computer trading
world, much of whose activity takes place on eBay, but this
packaging, combined with Christie's marketing and targeting of a
very different audience was crucial to its financial success.
Julian Wilson tells me that the wider vintage computer community
seemed to have decided that $14,000 was the right price for an
Apple I, and when this exceptional example was sold for $50,000 on
eBay about a year ago, it was seen in those circles as grossly
overpriced. How wrong they were to be proved.
At King Street last month this proto-personal computer package -
not quite mint and boxed as issued, but very nearly so - was sold
at £110,000 plus premium over the telephone to Marco Boglione, an
Italian businessman who has built up a collection of early
computers and, according to press reports, plans to open a Museum
of Information Technology in Turin. Steve Wozniak was at the
Christie's sale and offered to sign the Apple I.
By Ian McKay
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.