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Rare Apple-1, said to be Woz-built, up for auction


Get out your checkbooks, Silicon Valley geeks and Apple fanfolk! You have the opportunity to see – and even buy – a rare Apple computer, sold by the hand of the famous Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Well, maybe.

A leading expert and the auction house said the device – a broken circuit board that had apparently been in a drawer for years – was a Wozniak-built computer used by Steve Jobs, the other co-founders of Apple, in luring a pioneering retailer of a computer in the Mountain View shop in 1976. But others, including Wozniak, are not so sure.

“I’m not going to tell you what exact generation this board is,” the man known as “Woz” said Thursday in an email to the Bay Area News Group after being sent photos of the device.

In any case, everyone involved agreed, it was an early version of Apple’s first retail home computer, and extremely rare and valuable.

The Apple-1 will be on display this weekend at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Considered “lost,” the device contains a circuit board with solders identifying Wozniak’s work, and represents the “holy grail of Steve Jobs and Apple memorabilia,” according to the auction house that expects to sell it. at least $500,000. As of Friday morning, bidding totaled $407,029, with the auction live until August 18.

Very rare "Apple-1" computer, the first Apple product, launched by the company's co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976. Will be auctioned until August 18, 2022 and displayed at the Computer History Museum on July 6-7, 2022, the device said nor the auction company and a vintage computer association to be a prototype hand-made by the legendary Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and used by another co-founder Steve Jobs to court the first retail Apple's vendor, but its role in Apple's history is disputed.  (Courtesy of RR Auction)
A rare “Apple-1” computer, the first Apple product, launched by company co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976. Auctioned until August 18, 2022 and on display at the Computer History Museum in July 6-7, 2022, the device is said by the auction company and a vintage computer association to be a prototype hand-wired by the legendary Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and used by another co-founder Steve Jobs for courtship of Apple’s first retail vendor, but its role in Apple’s history is disputed. (Courtesy of RR Auction)

While revolutionary at the time, the device had 256 bytes of memory. Today, a modern Mac computer has four to eight million times that.

Mike Graff, a spokesman for Boston-based RR Auction, said Jobs gave the Apple-1 to its current owner, who wished to remain anonymous, around 1990. The circuit board languished for years in a drawer. “with things above it and below it” in the famous “Apple Garage” where Jobs and Wozniak did their first work in Jobs’ childhood home in Los Altos, said Corey Cohen, a board member of Vintage Computer Federation and a prominent Apple-1 expert.

Cohen and the auction house said in 1976 that Jobs used this prototype to show the Apple-1 to Paul Terrell, owner of the Byte Shop in Mountain View, one of the world’s first personal computer stores.

However, Terrell told the Bay Area News Group this week that he’s not convinced it’s the same device.

Now 78, Terrell recalls watching Jobs and Wozniak — “kids with long hair and sandals trying to start a company” — announce their new computer in 1976 at a monthly meeting of the now-legendary Homebrew Computer Club. As the owner of 13 Byte Shop computer stores, Terrell regularly attends the gatherings, he said.

Terrell recalled Wozniak telling club members in the auditorium of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park that if they wanted to see the device in action, they should stop by the exit for a demonstration.

“When I walked out the door and saw what was going on there I said, ‘Oh my God – I would love to have that in my Byte Shop to sell,'” Terrell said.

He invited Jobs to come to his store in Mountain View the next day. “I told him I wanted a fully assembled and tested computer that I could sell to people like programmers and stuff,” Terrell said. “And I’ll give them $500 each.”

Here’s where things get murky: Terrell believes the Apple-1 for auction is a production model from the “first delivery” of 50 computers he received for sale, and not the prototype Wozniak and Jobs which was brought to the club meeting.

Achim Baqué of Germany, administrator of the “Apple-1 Registry” that tracks computers, shared Terrell’s belief that the computer being auctioned was not the unit from the Homebrew meeting. He also didn’t think it was sent to Terrell’s store for retail sale. However, Baqué said he thought it was the factory’s “one and only production prototype,” representing a final design before mass production, not hand-made by Wozniak but with some changes he made by hand. However, since it is a one-of-a-kind Apple-1 and represents an important moment in computer history, Baqué expects it to sell at auction for more than $1 million.

Cohen begs to differ. Initially, the device up for auction was sold by hand, with traces of Wozniak’s work, Cohen said.

“The wires run in a very tight fashion and the shape of the solder is unique to how the soldering process is done,” Cohen said. Wozniak “is famous for doing this. He puts the soldering iron in one hand, puts the wire in the other hand, and he puts the lead solder in his mouth. Very few people do this. They use tape to put the thing in place. Because he’s doing it with his mouth, there’s a little inaccuracy. It’s literally an up-and-down motion from his head.

Another spokesman for the auction house, Bobby Livingston, called Cohen a “world-renowned expert on Apple 1s” and “the definitive historian that auction houses use for Apple-1s.” Cohen, unlike Terrell and Baqué, had been inspecting the computer for the auction for weeks, Livingston said. “We are confident … that it is accurately described,” he said. “We guarantee it.”

Cohen and Terrell agreed that the Polaroids of the device up for auction were taken by Terrell in 1976, but Cohen insisted that Terrell “certainly misremembered” by saying the photos showed one of the first 50 devices he received to sell and not the prototype shown by Jobs and Wozniak. “This was also 40 to 50 years ago,” Cohen said. “People’s memories are wrong but you can’t argue with the facts. We have the evidence.”

A Polaroid photo taken by pioneering Byte Shop computer store owner Paul Terrell, of a rare early Apple-1 computer.  Which generation of Apple-1 is shown in the photo is disputed. (Photo courtesy of RR Auction)
A Polaroid photo taken by pioneering Byte Shop computer store owner Paul Terrell, of a rare early Apple-1 computer. Which generation of Apple-1 is shown in the photo is disputed. (Photo courtesy of RR Auction)

Beyond the alleged Wozniak-signature soldering, the device is made of a composite board that is too fragile for mass production through “wave soldering” or retail sale, but is mostly used at the time for prototypes, Cohen said. The retail devices have fiberglass circuit boards, he said, which look very different than the one up for auction.

What does Woz think? He could not say which iteration of the Apple-1 computer the device represented because the photos gave “no real clues” and showed the standard features he used.

“My thought,” said Wozniak, “is that it was one of the first but not that we sold the hand.”


WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT

See the Apple-1 along with other famous computing relics during the Vintage Computer Festival West 2022 at the Computer History Museum this weekend from 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and 9 am to 5 pm Sunday .



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