Pristine Apple I Sells at Auction for a Jaw-Dropping Price

If you think Apple products are overpriced now, wait until they’re 50 years old.

This original Apple I recently sold at auction for $375,000, making it one of the most expensive 6502-based computers in history. Given that only something like 60 or 70 of the machines were ever made are known to exist, most built by hand by [Jobs] and [Wozniak], it’s understandable how collectors fought for the right to run the price up from the minimum starting bid of $50,000. And this one was particularly collectible. According to the prospectus, this machine had few owners, the most recent of whom stated that he attended a meeting of the legendary Homebrew Computer Club to see what all the fuss was. He bought it second-hand from a coworker for $300, fiddled with it a bit, and stashed it in a closet. A few years later, after the Apple ][ became a huge phenomenon, he tried to sell the machine to [Woz] for $10,000. [Woz] didn’t bite, and as a result, the owner realized a 125,000% return on his original investment, before inflation.

The machine was restored before hitting the auction block, although details of what was done were not shared. But it couldn’t have been much since none of the previous owners had even used the prototyping area that was so thoughtfully provided on the top edge of the board. It was sold with period-correct peripherals including a somewhat janky black-and-white security monitor, an original cassette tape interface, and a homebrew power supply. Sadly, there’s no word who bought the machine – it was an anonymous purchase.

Hackers, check your scrap bins. Anything hanging out there that might be worth six figures in a few decades? It’s unlikely, but if you get lucky, hacking just might turn into your retirement plan.

Thanks to [my wife] for the tip on this one.

29 thoughts on “Pristine Apple I Sells at Auction for a Jaw-Dropping Price

      1. So leaving it to your kids (or at least nieces and nephews) is not an option in your world?

        Do you just live a hedonistic existence burning your cash because you can’t visualize holding onto it, not having and dependants because you’re too selfish to invest in them? I have to agree with the OP on more money than brains. Even if the money is just pocket change.

  1. Apple had a huge impact on the early home computer market, so it is a bit of history. The vast majority of us never saw an Apple I but back in the day the Apple II was a pretty common sight with a very active user base.

    1. Yes, it’s the rarity that counts here.

      But we never hear about other early home computer s being auctioned off. Sphere, I think in Utah, had an early all in one. It got a review, but that’s it, so it couldn’t have sold many. Do any exist today? If auctioned today, how much would it pull? I suspect not as much as an Apple I, but I suspect it wouldn’t be real cheap.

      There must be others. Wavemate was around for while, best known for wirewrapping their early offerings. Did they sell many of their Jupiter II computers, from 1975? I suspect that’s rare now, it would be interesting to how it suffers from not being Apple.

      The Altair 8800 probably sold well, but likely owners realized they had something historical. Early generations of home computers sold in small nunbers, but likely many sold enough to be not-rare, but attrition would run up prices by now.

      Michael

    2. I have a vague recollection of being talked out of buying one when I was 11 or 12 ish, was thinking about blowing some birthday money on a more serious computer. Heard of used one for sale, and an adult did the official contacting, determined it was in a homebrew case or something and wasn’t a “desirable”/”compatible” IIc or e, so I was heavily dissuaded from pursuing the matter, didn’t see it myself, I am thinking it was an apple 1, don’t think II came in kit form at all did they?

      1. There were “surplus” boards available at one point, at least enough to write about them in a magazine. But I don’t know how many. They’d have needed a case. Those boards were apparently the prelude to the whole industry where you could buy generic cloned boards and accessories. Of course, once there were those, there probably people who bought the clone boards and put them in a home made case.

        If it was a I, you lost out now, but it was a subset of the II, less I/O, a small amount of RAM, and no empty sockets to expand it, and the video section was rudimentary and I thought not integrated into the CPU bus.

        So when it came out, it was a reasonable computer, but wouldn’t have been so great in the early eighties. I think the I was needed, but it worked as a test run, the Apple II benefited from the experience with the first model.

        I vaguely recall reading that once the II took off, Apple offered a tradeup to those who’d bought a I. If that happened, it shows the limits of the first model, and probably got some Is out of circulation, allowing even higher prices now. At the time, only the rich would be thinking of history, the rest would want the better computer.

        MIchael

    3. I never saw an Apple outside of school. Almost everyone at home had a Commodore with a few Atari’s and the occasional PC. I’d say Commodore made a huge impact on the early home computer market.

      1. Ataris (400/800) and Commodores (PET, C64) came quite a bit later, so you may have missed the era where they peaked. The old Apple II systems were expensive but highly expandable, so you’d see them in small businesses as often as at home. In the early 1980’s I saw TRS-80 around more than Apple, Atari, or Commodore. But Radio Shack was hugely popular in my area and the main sort of electronic store we had.

  2. annualizes out to 19-21%/yr depending on where in the 1978-1982 time frame he bought it. (i assume he didn’t get it any later.)

    pretty good return. buying AAPL in ’80 would’ve only gotten you about 18%/yr.

  3. “If you think Apple products are overpriced now, wait until they’re 50 years old.”

    Well that checks out. My 2012 Mac Mini i7 quad core is already worth more than I paid for it 6 years ago.

  4. I have my mint MakerBot Cupcake #551 stored in a cupboard. Hahahaha!

    For a while there were analogies being drawn between MakerBot and early Apple, but then the wheels fell off.

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