Total Pageviews

Monday, May 27, 2013

Vintage Apple-1 Sells for Record $671,400

Apple's stock price may be well down from its peaks last year, but the market for the company's oldest computers continues to set records.

An Apple-1 computer, made in 1976, sold for a record $671,400 on Saturday at an auction in Germany, including all fees and taxes, said Uwe Breker, the German auctioneer.

That surpassed the $640,000 record for an Apple-1, set last November at a sale at the same auction house in Cologne, Germany, Auction Team Breker. The fall 2012 sale was a sharp rise from the previous record price for an Apple-1 of $374,500, set in June 2012 at Sotheby's in New York.

The high prices paid for the machines seem to be explained by the combination of scarcity, a fascination with the early history of the computer age, and the mystique of Apple and its founders, Steven P. Jobs and Stephen G. Wozniak. And some irrational exuberance in the prices, for a machine that can do very little and originally sold for $666 (about $2,700 in current dollars).

“This really confirms the value of Apple-1's,” Mr.Breker said in an interview on Saturday.

The buyer, Mr. Breker said, was a wealthy entrepreneur from the Far East, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Part of the allure of the earliest Apple machines, Mr. Breker said, is not what they are, but what they represent. “It is a superb symbol of the American dream,” he said. “You have two college dropouts from California who pursued an idea and a dream, and that dream becomes one of the most admired, successful and valuable companies in the world.”

The anonymous buyer, who can afford to spend more than $670,000 on an old computer, seems to have enjoyed some version of the entrepreneurial dream come true, as well.

In an e-mail last week, and a later telephone interview, Mr. Breker said the original owner of the Apple-1 on sale was Fred Hatfield, a former major league baseball player in the 1950s, who died in 1998. I included that account in an article published on Friday.

Early Saturday morning, I received an e-mail from another Fred Hatfield, a retired electrical engineer living in New Orleans, saying he was the original owner of the Apple-1 that was auctioned on Saturday. Mr. Hatfield attached an image of a letter, dated Jan, 18, 1978 and addressed to him, signed by Mr. Jobs.

Mr. Hatfield had complained about the lack of software for the Apple-1, also commonly known as Apple I, and Apple had a trade-in program for Apple-1's. The letter offered to exchange an Apple II computer for the older machine, and to send a check for $400 as a further incentive.

When I called Mr. Breker on Saturday, I asked where he got his information that the original owner was Fred Hatfield, the ballplayer. Mr. Breker said he recalled that he was told that by Mike Willegal, who maintains an online registry of Apple-1's. Mr. Willegal said on Saturday that he did not recall saying Fred Hatfield, the Apple-1 owner, was the former professional baseball player.

In any case, Mr. Hatfield in New Orleans said he held onto his Apple-1 until earlier this year. Then, a young man from Texas in the software business, whom Mr. Hatfield would not identify, inquired. They negotiated a price - $40,000.

The Apple-1, Mr. Hatfield said, was not then in working condition. The buyer apparently put in some new chips and wiring, since it was a working model when it sold on Saturday. After picking up the machine, Mr. Hatfield said, the young man flew off to California to get the machine signed by Mr. Wozniak, who designed the Apple-1. That also enhanced its value presumably.

Told the of sale price, Mr. Hatfield said, “My God.” Then, he added, “Best to him. He's the one who fixed it up and figured the best way to sell it for all that money. Evidently, he's very good at this.”

Mr. Hatfield, 84, gives historic tours of New Orleans, his hometown. Not surprisingly, he's a jazz fan. He said he planned to use his proceeds to pay for some good dinners and nights of music on Frenchmen Street.

“I figure I might as well enjoy the money I got from that old machine,” he said.