An Apple-1 computer, the original machine built by fledgling tech company Apple, has sold at auction this week.
With bids starting at $225,000, the device eventually went for $400,000. Factoring in a 25% buyer’s fee, this means the unnamed winner, based outside the US, will pay $500,000 for an iconic piece of computing history.
Released in 1976 simply as the Apple Computer, the device wasn’t just designed by computing legend Steve Wozniak, it was hand-built by him too. Steve Jobs encouraged him to sell the device as a single circuit board that could form the heart of a computer.
Together, Jobs and Wozniak hand-built the devices themselves in Job’s garage. Featuring an 8-bit MOS 6502 microprocessor, the standard model came with 4kB of memory, though this could be upgraded to 8kB or 48kB with expansion cards.
The model on auction is one of 50 sold to Byte Shop, a computing shop that added the Byte Shop KOA wood case. The device comes packaged with a Panasonic video monitor, user manuals, software cassette tapes and cables. It was previously owned by a professor at Chaffey College in California, who sold it to a student in 1977.
With a piece of computing history going up for sale, here are some facts about the first step Apple took on its journey to become one of the biggest companies in the world.
1. The Apple-1 turned 45 this year.
Originally released in July 1976, production continued for over a year before being discontinued in September 1977. Its successor, the Apple II was released in June 1977.
2. It wasn’t cheap to build.
While operating out of Steve Job’s garage helped cut overheads, building the first Apple computer didn’t come cheap. The two Steves needed around $1,000 to design the computer, and $20 per board to manufacture. To help fund the project, Jobs had to sell his VW Microbus, while Wozniak sold his HP-65 calculator.
3. The designs were originally given away for free.
After building the first version of the Apple-1, Wozniak and Jobs gave the schematics away for free to members of the Homebrew Computer Club in California. They also helped people build and test their own versions.
4. Only 200 of the devices were built.
Originally, Wozniak hoped to sell 50 of the boards for $40 each to cover the costs. But an order for 50 by the Byte Shop helped increase production. Currently, there are an estimated 60 Apple Ones still circulating out there, but only about 20 of these still work.
5. The device originally retailed at $666.66.
The reasons for such a devilish number? Partly to mark-up the price by a third compared to the $500 wholesale price, but Wozniak noted later that he just liked repeating digits.
Accounting for inflation, the Apple-1 would cost around $3,200. Pricey, considering an iPhone 13 Pro starts at $999, but a steal compared to the Apple Mac Pro, which starts at $5,999.
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6. The Apple-1 has increased in value.
In 2014, an Apple-1 went for $905,000 in New York, the highest price for an Apple-1. The last one to go on sale was in March 2020, for $458,711.
An Apple-1 was put up for sale on eBay earlier this year for $1.5 million. That was equivalent to 2,250 times the original price tag. Like the one going up for auction, is it is one of the six Byte Shop models currently known about. As of writing, it is still available.
But perhaps the greatest prize of all, the original Apple-I prototype hand-built by Jobs himself, sold for $815,000 in August 2016.
7. What happened to the other devices?
There was only one man on the tech support team. Steve Wozniak himself. He was the only person capable of answering customer support questions during the nascent computer age. But given the small number in existence, this wasn’t too difficult a task.
However, this contributed to their modern rarity – Apple-1 computer owners were encouraged with discounts and trade-ins to upgrade to an Apple II. The recovered Apple-1s were then destroyed, making the quarter or so left today collectors’ items.