Christie's First Byte auction generates interest

June 27, 2013 // 8:41 a.m.

Tags: #apple #apple-1 #auction #christies #computer-history #retrocomputing #steve-jobs #steve-wozniak #vintage-computing

Auction house Christie's is in the process of conducting an online-only auction of some iconic pieces of 20th century computer history - including an original Apple 1 with signed documentation which is expected to sell for more than $300,000.

Entitled 'First Bytes,' because auctioneers love puns as much as anyone, the auction is being conducted through the company's website rather than in person in order to ensure world-wide interest. Officially opened on the 24th of June and due to run through to the 9th of July, the initial pricing has attracted interest along with a handful of early bids.

With a heavy Apple slant, the auction includes such rarities as a Macintosh SE in translucent plastic casing with an opening bid price of $5,000, an unreleased prototype of a Macintosh Portable laptop at $2,000, a somewhat less unusual Apple //e with external disk drive at a wallet-friendly $300 - which contrasts markedly with the sleeker prototype Apple //c at $5,000, or the prototype Apple //GS at $10,000 - along with a limited-edition Macintosh released as part of the company's twentieth anniversary celebrations at $2,000.

The jewel of the lots, which has been provided to Christie's for sale by an unnamed private collector, is undoubtedly the Apple-1 - a rare example of the very first Apple personal computer, constructed by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs with colleagues in Jobs' parents' garage and sold for $666.66 to attendees of the famous Homebrew Computer Club and local retail outlets.

It was the small-scale success of this machine that drew the interest of Intel's Mike Markkula, who invested $250,000 in the nascent company to help market the machine's successor, the Apple //. The rest, as the saying goes, is history, with Apple sitting pretty as one of the most valuable companies in history.

With only 200 Apple-1 systems produced, Christie's example is already a rarity - but the lack of PCB etching company logo and a date stamp on the processor suggests that it could have been one of the first 25 ever made. The machine, which was purchased by its original owner without the optional case and mounted into a block of wood, comes complete with original operation manual, schematic, and black-and-white photograph of Jobs and Wozniak building the machine - all three of which have been signed 'Woz.'

Christie's clearly has high hopes for the piece, setting initial bids at a whopping $300,000 and offering a guide price of up to $500,000 - on top of which any buyer will need to add a buyer's premium of around 21 per cent, local sales tax and a loss damage liability (LDL) insurance premium, bumping the final price up considerably. This is in contrast to a model sold by the same auction house back in 2010, which had a guide price of £100,000 to £150,000 (around $153,330 to $230,000.)

The only non-Apple item to appear in the auction, aside from some early software for the Apple //, is a prototype Tiger Learning Computer - which, unsurprisingly given the theme of the collection, is based on licensed Apple //e technology despite being produced in 1997.

So far, the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, high-priced Apple-1, Macintosh SE and prototype Macintosh Portable have all received a single early opening bid each and thus will sell, while the Apple // software, Apple //e, prototype Apple //c, prototype Apple //GS, prototype Tiger Learning Computer and an Apple Lisa have yet to receive a bid - the latter of which is priced at an opening bid of $20,000.

If you're feeling flush, the full auction listings are available on Christie's website.
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