Going Once, Going Twice...$161,600 for that Apple Computer?

Apple 1

If you're a gadget geek with some spare change - make that a lot of spare change - here's a golden opportunity to indulge. Later this month the first Apple computer - including a letter signed by none other than Apple co-founder CEO Steve Jobs to the original owner - will go on sale at a famous London auction house.

Apple 1 - a "steal" at $161,600

The Christie's brochure describes the computer as a "historic relic," and judging by current technological standards, I suppose that's an accurate description. Just in case you can't remember, the Apple-1, introduced in 1976, came without a casing, power supply, keyboard or monitor. Still, it was enough to turn Apple into a household name as it also was the first personal computer sold with a fully assembled motherboard. Back during those rollicking days of the early personal computer era, most personal computers got sold as self-assembly kits. Based on the standards of that era, this was consumer-friendliness with an underscore.

Jobs and his co-founder Steve Wozniak priced the first Apple-1 computers at $666.66. The machines were shipped to customers from Jobs' parents' house. Christie's says that all of the components are still in their original box. The machine will get put on the auction block Nov. 23. Bidding is set to begin at $161,600.

Here's the description issued by Christie's:

APPLE-1 -- Personal Computer. An Apple-1 motherboard, number 82, printed label to reverse, with a few slightly later additions including a 6502 microprocessor, labeled R6502P R6502-11 8145, printed circuit board with 4 rows A-D and columns 1-18, three capacitors, heatsink, cassette board connector, 8K bytes of RAM, keyboard interface, firmware in PROMS, low-profile sockets on all integrated circuits, video terminal, breadboard area with slightly later connector, with later soldering, wires and electrical tape to reverse, printed to obverse Apple Computer 1 Palo Alto. Ca. Copyright 1976.

[With:] Apple cassette interface card, numbered 2 in black ink manuscript to obverse and lettered G within triangle in black ink manuscript to reverse; Scotch C-60 cassette with typed printed label 'BASIC'; Apple-1 Cassette Interface. Palo Alto: Apple Computer Company, (n.d., but 1976). 2 bifolia to form oblong 8° (140 x 216mm). [8pp.] Original company logo of Sir Isaac Newton under the apple tree to upper cover, 2 diagrams, 1 full-page -- Apple-1 Operation Manual. Palo Alto: Apple Computer Company, (n.d., but 1976). 4° (280 x 215mm) 12pp. 8 circuit diagrams, 2 on one folding sheet printed recto and verso, one full-page. (Light vertical crease to folding sheet, marginal light pink ink marks to full-page diagram.) Original printed wrappers, stapled, with original company logo to upper wrapper and warranty within decorative border to inside rear wrapper (short split at foot of spine) -- double-sided illustrated advertisement sheet with prices -- original typed invoice for Apple-1 and Apple cassette interface totaling $741.66 dated 12/7/76, with salesman named as Steven -- undated TYPED LETTER SIGNED 'STEVEN JOBS' to original owner, on ruled paper, one page folio -- typed letter signed by Apple Technical Support Specialist John Fenwick dated 19 January 1982, one page folio.

ALL CONTAINED IN THE ORIGINAL SHIPPING BOX, typed label to upper cover, 'fragile' stamps in red ink, various shipping marks in ink and manuscript (extremities rubbed, parcel tape fraying, lightly soiled, but in remarkably fresh conditon). 455 x 290 x 70mm. Provenance: Electric City Radio Supply, Great Falls, Montana (shipping label to box, invoice address) -- Frank Anderson (of Great Falls, Montana, possibly the original owner of ECRS, letter addressed to him from Apple Technical Support) -- Keith Purdy (of Scotts Valley, CA, business card) -- unknown owner (photograph of owner with Steve Wozniak, Wozniak's business card included).

THE FIRST APPLE COMPUTER, AND THE FIRST PERSONAL COMPUTER WITH A FULLY ASSEMBLED MOTHERBOARD, HERALDING THE HOME COMPUTER REVOLUTION. Introduced in July 1976, the Apple-1 was sold without a casing, power supply, keyboard or monitor. However, because the motherboard was completely pre-assembled, it represented a major step forward in comparison with the competing self-assembly kits of the day. Priced at $666.66, the first Apple-1s were despatched from the garage of Steve Jobs' parents' house - the return address on the original packaging present here. It is not clear how many Apple-1s were sold, but by April 1977 the price was dropped to $475, and it continued to be sold through August 1977, despite the introduction of the Apple II in April 1977 (a major advance with integrated keyboard, sound, a plastic case, and eight internal expansion slots). It was officially discontinued by October 1977. A SUPERB EXAMPLE with the original packaging, manuals, cassette interface and basic tape, early documentation and provenance, and a COMMERCIALLY RARE LETTER FROM STEVE JOBS.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.