Why this $500,000 Apple-1 Computer was a bargain
One of the first personal computers ever sold – a 1976 Apple-1 – fetched US$500,000 at auction yesterday, but it might well be one of the auction bargains of the year.
The beautifully restored, fully-functioning 1976 computer is one of just six fully-assembled Apple-1 computers sold by Californian computer store, The Byte Shop. It was sold exactly as it appears above, with a Panasonic monitor and Datanetics keyboard in an enclosure of Hawaiian koa wood.
Apple Computer was formed on 1 April 1976 for this pioneering, toe-in-the-water Apple-1 venture, which was financed by Steve Jobs selling his Volkswagen Kombi and Steve Wozniak selling his HP calculator. The Apple-1's role in the success of this garage start-up guarantees it a place in history. Apple is now the largest company in the world with a market cap of US$2.474 trillion.
Just 200 Apple-1 computers were produced and around 80 are believed to still exist. By contrast, the Apple-II computer that superseded it sold between five and six million computers over more than a decade and became the first commercially-successful personal computer.
Not only was the Apple-1 sold yesterday fully functional, it is believed to be one of just three remaining units encased in Hawaiian koa wood that remains in private hands, not behind museum glass. The story goes that when Steve Jobs delivered the first 50 units to Paul Terrell of The Byte Shop, in California, they did not have cases and Jobs sold Terrell on the concept of selling the peripherals as extras. The Koa cases were one of those extras and the shape of the Byte Shop's enclosure undoubtedly influenced the subsequent Apple-II computer – it was the highest specification possible of the world's first personal computer.
Though the world’s media continues to laud the $500,000 price of this vintage computer with less computing power than a child’s toy, the record price for an Apple I computer at auction is $905,000, set by Bonhams in October, 2014, with numerous other sales over $600,000, once more demonstrating the lack of historical perspective evident in the vintage technology marketplace.
That is, one of the rarest and most significant pieces of technology in history has stagnated in price over the last decade, while other collectibles are surging ahead with record prices.
There will be a point where historical perspective is restored, and when that happens, this computer will be worth considerably more than $500,000.