The Apple Falls

The downward trend in prices paid for working examples of the rare Apple-1 microcomputer continued last week when the latest example to be sold at auction went for only $330,000, a fall of over $57,000 from the previous Apple-1 sold by Christie’s in July and less than half the record price of $671,400 paid for a similar example in May.  The reason for this isn’t clear, as the computer was in excellent condition and included the original box plus monitor, software and peripherals.  It may be that the Apple-1 is no longer seen as quite so rare, as this was the fifth to come up for auction in only 18 months.

The auction, which was held by Auction Team Breker in Cologne, Germany, also featured an Arithmometer manufactured by Thomas de Colmar in Paris in the 19th century.  This rare example of the first mass-produced mechanical calculating machine sold for $313,000, a new world record price for an Arithmometer.  The date of manufacture was given by the auction house as 1835 but this is almost certainly incorrect, as Thomas did not finalise the design of his machine until 1848 and the presence of a serial number (No. 541) on the front panel suggests that it was one of a later batch of machines manufactured between 1867 and 1870.

Thomas de Colmar's Arithmometer

I’m a huge fan of early Apple computers, having used an Apple II and an Apple Macintosh extensively in the 1980s.  However, I always felt that they were overvalued by collectors in comparison to genuine antiques such as the Arithmometer, which are much older and in most cases rarer than early microcomputers, so it’s heartening to see signs that this disparity in prices may be coming to an end.


Another Bite of the Apple

I learned recently of another Apple-1 which came up for sale at an online auction held by the respected international auction house Christie’s in July.  The winning bid of $387,750 was over 40% lower than the price paid for the previous example sold in May.  The reason for this isn’t clear, as it was in similar working condition and is also believed to be one of the first batch of 50 Apple-1 machines supplied to the Byte Shop in April 1976 for $500 apiece.

Apple-1 Computer Auctioned by Christie's

The seller, a retired school psychologist, had acquired the machine from the original owner in 1979 or 1980.  Remarkably, he paid nothing for it, as it was part of a swap of computer equipment.  He used the machine as a teaching aid for children with special needs for a few years before relegating it to a cardboard box at his home in California.

The auction, which was entitled First Bytes: Iconic Technology from the Twentieth Century, also featured a rare Apple Lisa and three Apple pre-production prototypes.  Surprisingly, several items failed to reach their reserve price and were not sold.  It will be interesting to see if this downward trend continues when the German auction house which achieved a world record price for the Apple-1 sold in May holds its next specialist auction on 16 November.  The star of the show will be yet another example of a working Apple-1 computer from the first batch of 50, this time complete with its original box.  However, in what may be a tell-tale sign of lower expectations, the estimated price for this item has been set at $300,000 to $500,000.