Christie's hopes to snare $242K for 34-year-old Apple computer

But a U.S. seller unloaded one on eBay two months ago for 'just' $22,766

Later this month, the high-brow Christie's auction house will try to get $242,400 for an aged Apple computer.

Not just any Apple computer, but a 1976 Apple-1, one of about 200 designed and hand-built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, according to the description posted on the Christie's site. It was shipped from the garage of current CEO Steve Jobs' parents' house in Los Altos, Calif., where the pair assembled and tested the computers.

Apple-1
The Apple-1 that's up for sale includes original packaging, manuals, cassette interface and basic tape, early documentation and provenance, and a commercially rare letter from Steve Jobs.

The Apple-1 was Apple's first computer and was sold between April 1976 and March 1977. It was replaced in June 1977 by the much more famous Apple II.

Although the Apple-1 was sold without a case, power supply, monitor or keyboard -- much less a mouse -- it was a "major step forward" compared to the do-it-yourself computer kits then the rage, Christie's explained.

The computer is essentially just a motherboard, and boasts 8K -- "K" as in "kilobytes" -- of memory and an 8-bit 6502 processor from a long-gone Pennsylvania company called MOS Technology. The customer had to supply a keyboard, wire it into a connector, and provide a television as the display.

Christie's estimated the Apple-1 will sell for between $161,600 and $242,400 (from £100,000 to £150,000).

When Wozniak and Jobs sold this Apple-1 -- No. 82 of the bunch, said Christie's -- they priced it at $666.66. The included invoice is for $741.66 because the buyer, a Frank Anderson of Great Falls, Mont., also ordered the optional cassette interface.

Like many personal computers of its day, the Apple-1 lacked a floppy drive, but instead loaded programs into memory from cassette tapes. One tape, complete with a typewritten label of "BASIC," is included with the Christie's computer, and was used to load that programming language into the Apple-1.

The package that's up for auction includes "the original packaging, manuals, cassette interface and basic tape, early documentation and provenance, and a commercially rare letter from Steve Jobs," Christie's said.

Christie's did not say whether the Apple-1 still works.

Two months ago, another Apple-1 sold on eBay for $22,766.66. That computer also included the optional cassette interface, but the seller couldn't locate the BASIC cassette tape.

"I have not applied electricity to the motherboard in well over 10 years, and do not intend to for this auction," said the seller, identified as "oldcomputers" on eBay. "Thus, you should assume this is an auction for a museum-quality historical artifact, not a working computer."

A replica may have to suffice for those on a budget. Dubbed "Replica-1," the $149 kit can be assembled into a working clone of the original Apple-1.

Christie's will put the real deal on the block Nov. 23 in London as part of a lot that also includes manuscripts and papers by Charles Babbage and Alan Turing, as well as a German Enigma cipher machine.

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

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