Antique Apple-1 sold out of Jobs' garage goes on sale next month

Christie's will auction off a working Apple-1 with a history so unique it spawned a book

Apple-1 for auction

A 38-year-old Apple-1 that was sold directly to a buyer out of Steve Jobs' garage -- rather than through the iconic Byte Shop -- will hit the auction block next month.

The vintage Apple-1 -- the first personal computer designed, built and sold by Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs -- will be auctioned by Christie's in New York on Dec. 11. Christie's has estimated the computer will go for between $400,000 and $600,000.

Other recent auctions of Apple-1 computers have sold for more than those estimates, including $671,000 for one in May 2013 and more recently, a record $905,000 paid two weeks ago by The Henry Ford, a museum in Dearborn, Mich.

"I'm still amazed at these prices," said Mike Willegal, an engineer with a major technology company who has identified and indexed more than 60 Apple-1 computers. "A lot has to do with the success Apple Computer's had over the years."

In fact, the Apple-1 that Christie's will auction next month has an even stronger tie to Apple and its founders than most survivors, said Bob Luther, the computer's seller.

Included with the Apple-1 is a canceled check from the original owner, Charles Ricketts, made out for $600 to Apple Computer in July 1976. After digging through the papers Jobs donated to Stanford University, Luther was able to find only one record of a direct-to-a-customer sale of an Apple-1: The sale to Ricketts.

While most of the known Apple-1s have had multiple owners -- Willegal said that collectors have been trading and acquiring the computers for decades, and "a lot of them have moved through different hands" -- Luther's account of how he got his Apple-1, and more importantly, the back story of the computer, were unusual.

So unusual that Luther, who described himself as "definitely not a techie," wrote a book about the years he spent investigating the history of the circuit board-cum-computer he acquired. Luther's book, The First Apple was published in 2013.

After seeing a classified advertisement in the Washington Post in 2004, and even though he "didn't know what an Apple-1 was," Luther purchased the computer at a sheriff's sale of items seized from dot-com-era entrepreneur Bruce Waldack after Waldack fled the country. Previously, Waldack had tried, but failed, to sell the Apple-1 on eBay.

Luther, who paid $7,600 for the Apple-1 in 2004, was so intrigued by the story of the machine that he spent years interviewing people who were at the beginnings of Apple Computer, or who had somehow been involved with his specific computer.

The story, which Luther recounts in his book, involved a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer who let others use his name in a 1999 sale of the computer, a dumpster-diving California songwriter who founded a used computer store after selling software manuals at flea markets, and the son of Charles Ricketts, who inherited the Apple-1 when his father passed away.

"It was a gut purchase," Luther said in an interview Monday. "I thought that anything associated with Steve Jobs was kind of unique."

Luther had first been drawn to the sheriff's auction because he knew that the sale was to include several Segways, perhaps some of the earliest off the manufacturing line. But the Apple-1 had caught his eye even before he went to the storage facility where authorities sold off Waldack's possessions.

And one thing led to another.

"The project [of researching the Apple-1] was all-consuming," said Luther as he explained why he was selling the computer. "I loved doing it, and at the end of the day, it was an incredible experience, but it's like it never ends. I've devoted a lot of time to it, and [the sale] marks the end of this project for me."

Luther's Apple-1 is in working condition after some minor restoration.

"Most Apple-1s can be made to work with a little effort," said Willegal, who builds reproductions as a hobby. "Parts are still available, although some are harder to find than others."

Also on the block at Christie's on Dec. 11 will be a collection of documents from Ron Wayne, the third -- and little-known -- co-founder of Apple. Wayne, now 80, was offered a 10% share in the new company, but days after joining the partnership in April 1976, he backed out. Wayne received $800 for his shares.

Among the items in the Ron Wayne Archive: Original working proofs of the Apple-1 manual, Wayne's original company logo -- perhaps the oldest copy of the logo in existence -- and design renderings of a proposed Apple II case. Christie's has pegged Wayne's collection at $30,000 to $40,000.

The original contract drawn up between Jobs, Wozniak and Wayne went for $1.6 million three years ago in an auction by Sotheby's. Wayne was the not the seller, however, as he had sold the contract earlier to an autograph collector for mere hundreds.

Meeting Wayne was one of the highlights of Luther's rooting through his Apple-1's history, Luther said today. "Meeting the people involved [with Apple] was pretty neat," he said.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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