Apple's first computer could fetch $450,000

Driven by the company's rabid fans, the few working original machines are selling for hundreds of thousands. Is it another tech bubble?

By Aimee Picchi May 24, 2013 3:27PM

Apple's (AAPL) fans are known to be a devoted lot with deep pockets, and that's playing out in the skyrocketing auction prices for the few remaining original Apple 1 computers hitting the block. 


Adding to the appeal is the scarcity of the machines, produced in 1976 by Stephen Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs. With Wozniak creating the hardware, Jobs was the business visionary behind the design, which produced only 175 to 200 of the machines in the Jobs family garage, The New York Times notes


Only six working models are known to exist, and one is hitting the block Saturday at the German auction house Breker, which has placed the opening bid at $136,000. The estimated sale price is pegged as high as $453,000. The original cost of the computer was $666.66, or about $2,700 in inflation-adjusted dollars.


So what does one do with a working Apple 1 computer? Based on a video posted on YouTube by the auction house, the computer can create black-and-white pixelated images of young Jobs and Wozniak and produce a list of integers in ascending order. Back in the 1970s, that was pretty mind-blowing stuff for tech geeks.


The auction comes just a few months after another working Apple 1 sold for $640,000. 


Given that most other obsolete computers get tossed in the scrap heap, the sky-high prices on working Apple 1 computers raises the question of whether a bubble has been created by Apple fanatics, especially given the iconic status of Jobs, who died in 2011. 


But some say there's a rationale behind the prices. 


"It is Apple's creation story, the physical artifact that traces this incredible success to its origins," Dag Spicer, a senior curator at the Computer History Museum, told the Times. 


The Apple 1 was outsold by the Apple II, with the company creating an aggressive trade-in campaign for owners of the original computer. 


The device that goes on the block Saturday was originally owned by Fred Hatfield, a former Red Sox baseball player who died in 1998. Although Jobs sent him a letter (which he signed) offering him a new Apple II and a $400 check for the original computer, Hatfield declined the offer. 


The new seller isn't identified, although the auction house say he's a young American who works for a software company. 


Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 


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