Vintage Apple-1 computer sells for $388K

Christie's displayed a rare Apple-1 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. during a two-week online auction that eventually ended with a winning bid of $387,750. Credit: Image credit: KCBS Radio of San Francisco

But fails to come close to record $671K paid in May for a different working circuit board

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A working Apple-1 computer fetched $387,750 on Tuesday at auction, well off the record price of $671,400 paid in May for another of the rare personal computers.

The Christie's auction house hosted the online-only bidding, which opened June 24 and closed Tuesday.

The computer -- essentially a circuit board without a manufactured case, keyboard, monitor or even power supply -- was one of between 40 and 50 known to have survived from a limited run of about 200. According to a Christie's spokeswoman contacted last month, the Apple-1 was operational, making it even rarer: There are only a half dozen confirmed working Apple-1 computers in existence.

Just before the auction began, Christie's set an estimated sales range of $300,000 to $500,000. Although the Apple-1 ended within that estimate, the gavel came down at a price 42% below the all-time record set in May by Auction Team Breker of Cologne, Germany, which sold a different working Apple-1 to an unidentified buyer.

Even so, Christie's said the Apple-1 established a record for the auction house: "[It was] the highest-priced item to ever be sold through Christie's new online-only platform," the company said in a statement.

The Apple-1 had been owned by Ted Perry, a retired school psychologist who lives outside Sacramento, Calif., where he had reportedly stored the computer in a cardboard box. Perry had acquired the Apple-1 in 1979 or 1980, he told the Associated Press last month.

During the two-week online auction, the computer was displayed at the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, Calif. (San Francisco's KCBS Radio published a slideshow of the Apple-1 the day after it went on display at the museum.)

Prices for working Apple-1 computers have skyrocketed since the October 2011 death of co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs. In November 2010, 11 months before Jobs died, Christie's sold one for $213,000. Less than two years later, Christie's was bested by rival Sotheby's, which set a sales record of $374,500. Breker then sold two, the first in November 2012, the second in May 2013, for more than $600,000 each.

All the Apple-1s were hand-built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in 1976 and were sold at the time for $666.66. In today's dollars, that would be approximately $2,724, or about the price of Apple's current top-of-the-line 15-in. MacBook Pro notebook.

Perry's Apple-1 had been signed by Wozniak prior to the sale.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "Vintage Apple-1 computer sells for $388K" was originally published by Computerworld.

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