A fully functioning Apple I computer is on display with its interfaces at Sotheby's in New York. Photo: AFP/Emmanuel Dunand
The same auction house that set a new world record when it sold an Apple I for over $600,000 is hoping to repeat the feat with another sale on May 25, featuring an autographed, working example of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs' first personal computer.
But as well as another fully working example of the first computer developed by what was then a fledgling tech startup formed by two friends working out of a garage -- but is now the world's most valuable company -- the sale boasts a number of other significant firsts from the first 350 years of computing.
The Apple I computer -- which is heralded with triggering the boom in personal computing that only now, 37 years later, appears to be slowing -- will no doubt be the star lot of the auction. There are only six surviving examples in full working order and Auction Team Breker, which is overseeing the sale, has put a cautious $260,000-$400,000 estimate on the device ahead of bidding.
However there are a number of equally if not more significant lots at the Auction of Firsts sale in Cologne, Germany. A 1974 MITS Altair 8800 -- truly the first personal computer, despite what Apple's press office or the company's most vehement fanatics will tell you -- is also up for auction. Expected to fetch between $4,000 and $7,000, the Altair was the first home computer that came preassembled, rather than as a kit, and was the reason why student Bill Gates and his best friend Paul Allen left college and moved into a motel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, across the road from the MITS factory -- to write software (namely Altair BASIC) for the device. A decision that led to the formation of Microsoft, and, just as with the success of the Apple I, the rest is history.
Other notable lots at the auction include an immaculate Apple Lisa 1 from 1983, the first personal computer to feature a mouse and the device that nearly destroyed the company due to costs and production overruns, and the forerunner of them all -- the Pascaline. Believed to be the world's first-ever mechanical calculator, the device was devised and built by French philosopher, physicist and mathematician Blaise Pascal, who started work on the contraption in 1642, aged 19.