Why the hefty price tag? For starters, it's in nearly mint condition. Corey Cohen, an executive board member of the Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists and Apple-1 expert, booted up the computer for Bonhams. He told Not Impossible Now that this Apple-1 is "the most pristine" model of its kind that has come up for auction.
"Picture someone walked into a barn and there was a Corvette that was sitting in a plastic bubble," Cohen explained.
Another reason for the Apple-1's high value may be its place in computing history. Cassandra Hatton, a senior specialist in fine books & manuscripts and history of science at Bonhams, spoke with Not Impossible Now about the Apple-1's significance. (This interview was conducted before the final sale took place and has been edited and condensed.)
NIN: How much did an Apple-1 computer cost back in 1976?
Cassandra Hatton: The first Apple-1 computers sold at the Byte Shop in Palo Alto, California. Those retailed at $666.66. The last fully operational Apple-1 to sell at auction sold for $672,000. That was in 2012, I believe. So ours is also a fully operational Apple-1. We put in an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. In light of the past auction results, we think it’s a pretty conservative estimate.
Who do you expect to bid on the Apple-1?
Cassandra: This is one of those pieces that we love to have, because it’s interesting to a lot of different types of parties. So you would have private collectors and then you would also have institutions that would be interested. And we’ve had both of those types of people inquiring about it.
Can you give Not Impossible Now’s readers some perspective on the Apple-1’s impact on the world?
Cassandra: I think you have to go back to the reasons why Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak made it. There was this big time-sharing computer in Palo Alto, and they, as everyday people like you and me, couldn’t afford to buy a terminal to access that computer. It was really something that was for the elite, for people who had money, for people who had relationships with the people who owned the large computers. It was not for you and me. It was not for schoolchildren. It was not for teachers. It was not for the people.
Something like the Apple-1 computer was the beginning of bringing computing to the everyday person. That was the first thing that allowed someone like you or me to sit down and email each other or write a paper at home and you didn't have to be a special person or have a lot of money to be able to do that.
The Apple-1 launched Apple Computer as a company. If they hadn’t built this, if they hadn’t succeeded in selling those first 50 motherboards to the Byte Shop, we wouldn’t have iPhones, we wouldn’t have iPads. I think we would have eventually gotten personal computers, but they would look very different.
Steve Jobs was really a visionary thinker. And I think people with that kind of vision are pretty rare. Prior to him and Apple Computer, the whole computing industry was focused on business machines. They didn’t think that personal use was something viable for them to go after. They didn’t think that people would want computers in their homes.
This Apple-1 computer is kind of a symbol of what Steve Jobs was trying to do with the computer and succeeded in doing. I’m doing this interview on my iPhone. You’re probably talking to me on an iPhone. We would not be doing this if this Apple-1 hadn’t been created.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Apple-1 computer sold for $905,000 at the Bonhams auction house on Wednesday.
Top photo of the Apple-1 computer courtesy of Bonhams.
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