Sotheby's sells Apple founding contract for $1.6M

Florida buyer pays 10 times the estimated sales price for 35-year-old document signed by Jobs, Wozniak

The contract that founded Apple was purchased Tuesday for nearly $1.6 million, far above the estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 put on the 35-year-old document by Sotheby's.

The auctioneer sold the contract, part of a larger sale of rare books and manuscripts, Tuesday morning for a total of $1,594,500, which included the 12% buyer's premium, or the commission taken by the auction house.

Bidding stopped at $1,350,500, with the documents going to a bidder on the telephone.

Sotheby's identified the buyer as Eduardo Cisneros, CEO of Cisneros Corp., a Miami company, and a director on the board of the south Florida-based Gibraltar Private Bank & Trust.

The three-page contract, dated April 1, 1976, was signed by co-founders Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and the lesser-known Ron Wayne.

Wayne was instrumental in the founding of Apple, according to Sotheby's, which earlier this month cited the recent biography of Jobs penned by Walter Isaacson. Forty-one at the time, now 77, Wayne was recruited by Jobs to convince Wozniak to launch the partnership. For his part, Wayne was offered a 10% share in the new company, Apple Computers.

Wayne relinquished his part of the deal just days later, receiving $800 for his shares. He bowed out in part because of past business venture failures as well as the fact that all the partners were personally liable for any debts the new company might accrue.

At Apple's current market capitalization, Wayne's 10% would be worth approximately $3.6 billion.

During the last minute of the bidding, the contract stuck at the $1.3 million price point until Cisneros upped the amount by another $50,000.

"The founding contract of the Apple Corporation is the first chapter in the story of one of America's most important companies," said Richard Austin, the head of the books department at Sotheby's New York, in a statement Tuesday. "Collectors recognized the importance of this piece of technological, corporate and social history, sending the price to $1.6 million -- many multiples of the $100/150,000 estimate."

The sale included the contract and an agreement documenting Wayne's withdrawal from the fledgling firm, as well as a signed statement by Wayne authenticating the lot.

The last minute of bidding at Sotheby's auction house on Dec. 13, 2011 for the 3-page document that incorporated Apple Computer (and the 2-page document with which Ron Wayne withdrew from the partnership). The buyer was later identified as Eduardo Cisneros, chief executive officer of Cisneros Corp.

Jobs died Oct. 5 at the age of 56, just six weeks after resigning as CEO, a position he had held since 1997.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

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