The 1976 Apple 1 Is Up for Auction

Courtesy Bonhams

After toiling at his day job at Hewlett-Packard, Steve Wozniak would go home, eat a TV dinner, and then return to his office cubicle to build his computer. He figured out the right arrangement of cut-rate parts, soldered them onto a motherboard, and wrote the code by hand. On June 29, 1975, he hit a few keys on a keyboard, and the letters magically appeared on the screen. “It was the first time in history,” Wozniak later said, “anyone had typed a character on a keyboard and seen it show up on their own computer’s screen right in front of them.”

Courtesy Bonhams

When he showed his creation to Steve Jobs, his high school friend and neighbor, Jobs persuaded Woz to try to sell the computer, rather than give away the schematics to other hackers and hobbyists. “It never crossed my mind to sell computers,” Wozniak says in Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs. “It was Steve who said, ‘Let’s hold them in the air and sell a few.’” The rest is personal-computing history: The duo presented what would become the Apple 1 at the Homebrew Computer Club and won their first order from Paul Terrell, owner of the Byte Shop, of 50 fully assembled units for $500 apiece. One of those motherboards is going to auction on Wednesday as part of Bonhams’s “History of Science” auction, and it is expected to fetch from $300,000 to $500,000.

The Apple 1 was the first pre-assembled machine to come to market. “We made a very important decision to not offer our computers as a kit,” Jobs said in a PBS interview in 1990. Buyers still had to buy the keyboard and monitor, but the main computer board came ready to go. ”We were the first company in the world to do that,” he continued. “What that meant was there maybe was an order of magnitude more people who could buy our computer and use it than if they had to make it themselves.”
Courtesy Bonhams
The Apple 1 being auctioned at Bonhams is believed to be one of the first batch assembled in the Jobs family’s garage. It is still in working order and comes with a vintage keyboard, a Sanyo monitor, and a custom power supply. According to Bonhams: “Of the approximately 15 other working boards, it is not known if any of those are in as excellent condition as this one.” The board has been stored in a Plexiglas vitrine since 1989.

The first Apples sold well at the Byte Shop, fetching a retail price of $666.66, a 33 percent markup over the $500 wholesale price. The demonic reference wasn’t intentional. “I was always into repeating digits,” Woz told Isaacson. “The phone number for my dial-a-joke service was 255-6666.”

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