Sotheby’s redefines antique books by offering a rare working Apple 1 computer. Techies, commence swooning.
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For a certain kind of collector, there’s nothing more satisfying than pulling a musty old volume from a shelf and showing your house guests its unique provenance—and Sotheby’s excels at making that possible. But this week, at its June 15 Fine Books and Manuscripts sale, the auction house is offering an entirely different kind of first edition: an impossible-to-find, fully functioning Apple 1 computer, with the original cassette interface, operating manuals, and a rare BASIC user’s manual.
Okay, so it’s not exactly a book or a manuscript, but there’s an undeniable logic to its inclusion in this sale. The Apple 1, the first Apple computer and the device without which Steve Jobs would have been just another meditating techno-hippie, helped not only to bring about the personal-computing revolution but started the chain reaction that would ultimately redefine media (and just about everything else).
Like all great inventions, the Apple wasn’t immediately embraced when Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak presented it to the Homebrew Computer Club in 1976. Only one man bit: Paul Terrell, who owned a chain of stores called the Byte Shop and decided to buy 50 of the computers for $500 each and sell them for $666.66.
Jobs and Wozniak didn’t have that many machines ready to go, of course, so they started a mad scramble, which lasted 30 days, to meet the order, and then produced 150 more immediately after, many of which they sold directly to friends. The best guess is that only 50 of those originals survive today, and just six are in working condition. Sotheby’s has one of them.
The Apple 1 did not come with a monitor, keyboard, power supply, or case, so the buyer of this lot will essentially take home a bunch of antiquated circuitry (for an estimated $120,000 to $180,000). You might want to commission a glass cube in which to display it.
In case you’re too much of a luddite to go for that, the Fine Books and Manuscripts sale includes more than a few other gems, including a single lot—estimated to fetch $50,000 to $70,000—of first editions of all 93 Pulitzer-winning novels from 1918 to 2011, including Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Those should look just fine on your bookshelf.