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An Apple 1 computer that will be available at auction in Boston next month. (RR Auction Photo)

A rare piece of computer history is headed to auction next month in Boston, shedding light yet again on the earliest work of Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

The fully functional Apple 1 computer — one of about 200 or so produced by the computer pioneers around 1976-77 — will be offered by RR Auction on Sept. 25.

According to the auction house, the consignor is a self-described “mainframe guy” who once attended an early meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto, Calif. The man purchased the Apple 1 a year or so later from a co-worker for $300 and began learning BASIC and writing small programs. RR Auction said the man held onto the computer, recognizing it could one day be a valuable piece of computing history, and even attempted, and failed, to sell it to Wozniak in 1982 for $10,000.

This machine was restored to its original, operational state in June 2018 by Apple-1 expert Corey Cohen.

Lāth Carlson, executive director of Living Computers: Museum + Labs in Seattle knows the Apple 1 well. The Paul Allen-founded Living Computers is home to some of the most noteworthy computers in existence and prides itself on allowing the public to put its hands on many of them.

“Apple 1’s have become the most collectable microcomputer,” Carlson told GeekWire on Monday. “This is due to their rarity (around 200 built), and the legacy of Woz and Jobs. They are not the most rare — that would probably be the Kenbak-1 or the Micral N, both of which the museum has, and are arguably the world’s first personal computers.”

(RR Auction Photo)

Last year, Living Computers unveiled a permanent exhibit dedicated to Apple, the centerpiece of which was an Apple 1 that was once used as a demo model by Jobs and was recovered from a shelf in his office. The computer is housed in a prototype metal case.

The Jobs computer is among three Apple 1 machines on display at Living Computers. Aaron Alcorn, curator at the museum, described the other two in an email on Monday.

“We have a working Apple 1 that is available for public use,” Alcorn said. “We are pretty sure this is the only working Apple 1 available for public-use in the world. It is loaded with a copy of Woz’s Integer BASIC, which we obtained from the Apple 1 recovered from Jobs’ office. In order to ready this machine, we archived the original Koa Wood Case and keyboard, and fabricated a new acrylic case and modified an Apple II keyboard. We made these changes to protect the artifact. We also bypassed the original power supply, and used a modern replacement for the same reasons.”

Apple exhibit
Lāth Carlson, right, and Aaron Alcorn of Living Computers show off case holding Steve Jobs’s Apple 1 computer at Living Computers: Museum + Labs in 2017. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Alcorn said the third Apple 1 on display is on loan to the museum and is on display behind glass.

“It belonged to an Apple engineer and is well used,” he said. “It is missing ICs and is pretty dirty, but it is clear that its owner had a good time playing with it. I wanted to place it on display precisely because it wasn’t pristine.”

Asked whether Living Computers would have any interest in bidding on the Apple 1 being offered in Boston, Carlson said that the museum usually likes to have three to six spares for any of its computer systems that are available for public use.

“We are usually interested only in computers that we may be able to operate, and ideally make available for public use. So typically we are looking to fill a gap in the collection, or as a spare. But at the likely price these go for, we will not be bidding on this one,” Carlson said. “With the power supply modifications we have made to ours, we don’t foresee any maintenance issues. It has now been running daily since April with no failures.”

Carlson added that value on Apple 1’s “has been fluctuating widely from around $150,000 to over $900,000.”

More details on what’s included in Apple 1 up for auction:

  • original Apple-1 board
  • original Apple Cassette Interface (ACI)
  • original Apple-1 Operation Manual
  • two original Apple Cassette Interface manuals
  • a period surplus ASCII keyboard
  • a period Sanyo 4205 video monitor
  • a new period-style power supply with original Apple-1 power cable and connector
  • and period correct cassette interface cables

To highlight the upcoming sale, the Apple 1 will also be scanned by the online marketplace Invaluable with technology created by Artmyn, a Swiss company revolutionizing the way art is experienced, promoted and secured online. The scan reveals the Apple 1’s unique digital “DNA” as it heads to auction. Below is a video of an initial scan.

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