By Harry McCracken | Friday, November 12, 2010 at 1:03 pm
British auction house Christie’s has a precious heirloom up for bid: an original 1976 Apple-1, the first Apple computer. It says its estimated value is $161,600 -$242,400. That’s nearly ten times higher than the Apple-1 market value of $15,000-$25,000 I came up with when I wrote a story on collectible computers back in 2007. But this sounds like one of the best examples of the machine you’re likely to find, with the original box, cassette interface, documentation, BASIC on cassette, and a letter from Steve Jobs.
Christie’s listing says that the Apple-1 was a landmark personal computer because it was the first sold in assembled form rather than as a kit that required the buyer to solder components onto a motherboard. This seems inaccurate to me. For one thing, as this photo shows, Apple shipped the Apple-1 as a board without a case, keyboard, or video interface; it was still more of a nerdy hobbyist project more than anything else. (1977’s Apple II, Radio Shack’s TRS-80, and Commodore’s PET 2001, were the first major ready-to-use consumer PCs.) And the Apple-1 wasn’t the first non-kit computer, either: 1975’s MITS Altair was best known as a kit, but was also available in pre-assembled form.
Bottom line: The Apple-1 is important because it was the first Apple computer, not because it was a breakthrough piece of technology.
When I wrote that piece about collectible PCs, I tracked down Paul Terrell, the pioneering computer store owner who was the first retailer to buy and sell Apple computers. He was the guy who told Jobs and Wozniak that they should offer the Apple-1 as an assembled board, not a kit–and he sold the machine in a wooden case with a keyboard, making it a lot more personal than Apple’s stock model. His memories of the Apple-1 launch make for great reading.