Vintage Apple computer could fetch US$500,000


Sun, Jun 23, 2013 - Page 13

It is the kind of electronic junk that piles up in basements and garages — an old computer motherboard with wires sticking out.

However, because it was designed and sold by two college dropouts named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak — the founders of Apple Computer, Inc — it could be worth more than US$500,000.

An Apple 1 from 1976, one of the first Apple computers ever built and forerunner of today’s MacBooks, iPads and iPhones, goes on the auction block at Christie’s next week. The bidding starts at US$300,000, with a pre-sale estimated value of up to US$500,000.

“This is a piece of history that made a difference in the world, it’s where the computer revolution started,” said Ted Perry, a retired school psychologist who owns the old Apple and has kept it stashed away in a cardboard box at his home outside Sacramento, California.

The 11-by-14 inch (28cm by 36cm) green piece of plastic covered with a grid of memory chips above a labyrinth of wires was one of the first 25 such computer elements and sold for US$666.66. About 200 were made.

Vintage Apple products have become an especially hot item since Jobs’ death in October 2011.

Another Apple 1 was sold last month for a record US$671,400 by a German auction house, breaking a previous record of US$640,000 set in November. Sotheby’s sold one last year for US$374,500.

“This is the seed from which the entire orchard grew and without this, there would be no Apple,” said Stephen Edwards, professor of computer science at Columbia University.

The latest auction at Christie’s, “First Bytes: Iconic Technology from the Twentieth Century,” is being conducted online only from tomorrow to July 9.

Perry, 70, acquired his Apple 1 in either 1979 or 1980, as a secondhand item he saw advertised. He paid nothing for it; it was a swap with the owner.

“I traded some other computer equipment I had for the Apple 1,” he said.

At the time, he was working as a psychologist in a school in Carmichael, a town near Sacramento. While observing special needs children, he noticed that a teletype machine “made a huge difference” in how a deaf boy using it responded and learned.

As the first computers came on the market, Perry learned to program them. Then he approached Wozniak, who agreed to provide what the psychologist calls Apple’s “internal code” so he could create interactive lessons for his students using the new technology.