One of the few remaining examples of Apple Inc’s first computer, the Apple-1 from 1976, is being offered by private sale via Christie’s. The iconic American brand has garnered a cult following in recent years that has manifested at the highest levels of the re-sale market.
Launched in July 1976, the same year Apple was founded by Steve Jobs and partner Steve Wozniak, the Apple-1 was the company’s first desktop computer. It was famously assembled in a garage in Palo Alto, California. Featuring just a “motherboard” that could be modified and attached to a monitor, the 200 hand-crafted models assembled by co-founder Steve Wozniak, retailed between $450-700. Christie’s Head of Books and Manuscripts, Peter Klarnet notes about 70 to 80 are believed to have survived from the original edition. “These models were sold to hobbyists,” said Klarnet, who added that once the founders got their momentum with Apple computer in 1977 and rolled out the Apple-2 model, it marked a period of rapid advance in the burgeoning computer market—“which basically made the Apple-1 obsolete. By 1984 you had a Mac with a graphic usable interface, that’s how quickly this progressed.”
The high point of the market for an early Apple board was reached in 2014, when an Apple-1 model sold for a record price of $905,000 at Bonhams in New York, far exceeding its pre-sale expectations between $300,000 and $500,000. In March, Boston-based RR Auction sold a 1976 Apple-1 computer for a total of $458,711. And in May 2019, in a Christie’s London collectibles sale, another edition of the early prototype achieved just over $500,000. Since the high 2014 result, Klarnet noted the market has cooled to around $300,000 to $400,000 for the Apple edition— noting he believes the item currently on offer will go for the current market value.
What Klarnet notes about collecting rare tech items, and in the case of this piece in particular, is the difficulty in finding an early edition completed unmodified. As a collector’s items, the details of the board are an important value factor but the context of its creation is as well. “The more sophisticated collectors out there appreciate that these were designed to be tinkered with,” said Klarnet. “These were designed to be expanded upon.”
The computer on offer is in working condition with a few modifications. Klarnet confirmed the work comes from the private German collection and was acquired previously from a seller in Rochester, New York in 1978-79. Where the compture was originally purchased remains unknown.
Collectors of high tech share similar acquisition habits as fine art collectors, expanding a selection of curated holdings. “Most of our purchasers tend to be private individuals, who are adding this to their collections. These are the same people who are buying Isaac Newton letters; they own important Albert Einstein scientific manuscripts; so it’s the same drive. In the manuscript and book market, science has been a major focus and major high point in the past decade.”
And at the lower level of the secondary market, the brand has seen stunning figures for Apple memorabilia. In March, a pair of 9 ½ vintage Apple Inc. off-white sneakers sold for nearly $10,000 at Dallas-based collectibles auction house, Heritage auction— the shoe was produced for employees between the 1980s and early 1990s as a corporate promotion with streetwear brand, Adidas. As auction houses continue to cultivate a reclusive client base in Silicon Valley and new buyers remain a key stat in online sales, vintage tech sales are an emerging inroad to a growing sector of wealth still to be cultivated at auction.