Rare working Apple-1 computer to hit auction block this month

German auctioneer pegs likely price at between $261K and $392K

A German auctioneer will put a working Apple-1 computer on the block later this month, and expects the handmade computer to fetch between or between $261,000 and $392,000 at Thursday's exchange rate.

The record price for an Apple-1 was $640,000, paid last year in an auction also run by Breker, of Cologne, Germany.

On May 25, Breker will try to sell a different Apple-1, one of only six in working condition, the auctioneer said.

The Apple-1, a circuit board hand-built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, was made in 1976, and sold at the time for $666.66. About 200 units were produced, but by an estimate last year by British auction house Sotheby's, only 50 survive.

Included in the May 25 lot is the original manual and a Jan. 19, 1978 letter signed by co-founder Steve Jobs. In the letter, written to the Apple-1's original owner, Fred Hatfield, Jobs offered to exchange Hatfield's Apple-1 for an Apple II 4K motherboard if Hatfield ponied up another $400.

The 4K -- as in "kilobytes" -- Apple II went on sale in June 1977 for $1,298.

An Apple-1 expert believed that the machine would sell in the estimated range.

"That is the Fred Hatfield machine listed in my registry," said Mike Willegal, an engineer with a major technology company who has identified and indexed 41 Apple-1 computers. In that list, Willegal tagged the Hatfield Apple-1 as "#37."

"It's been cleaned up and brought into operating condition," said Willegal in an email Thursday. "I have no clue about what will win it, but it seems like the European auctions seem to be gathering the highest bids, so it may well reach its estimated value."

Willegal was referring to the sale last November by Breker of another Apple-1. That computer went for approximately $640,000. The Apple-1 was also in working order, according to Willegal.

The Apple-1 sold late last year came from the stockpile of Austrian vintage computer collector Rudolf Brandstotter, who at the time owned at least four of the 37-year-old systems, as well as a host of other machines, including 18 Lisa computers, the 1983 precursor to the Macintosh.

Breker's latest Apple-1, listed as Lot 14, also sports a signature that reads "Woz," Wozniak's nickname.

The same Apple-1 was posted on Breker's website last November, apparently for the auction that resulted in the $640,000 sale of Brandstoetter's antique, but with a much lower estimated auction range of $156,000 to $260,000. It was unclear why it did not sell last year.

Breker has posted photographs of the Hatfield Apple-1 on its website, and also added a video to YouTube to prove the computer still works.

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@ix.netcom.com.

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