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Apple Museum For-A-Day


Few Buyers for Aged Apples

By Leander Kahney
June 29, 1999 PDT
Re-published here courtesy of Wired Magazine, Copyright 1999-2002 Lycos, Inc..

SAN FRANCISCO -- The media may be interested in vintage computers, but no one else appears to be.

Of the dozen or so people gathered at Tuesday's auction of vintage computers at La Salle Gallery, there seemed to be an even split between reporters and potential bidders.

However, a quick straw poll of the audience revealed that no one was interested in bidding on the computers, most of which were early Apple machines. Everyone said they were interested in the estate auction that followed.

Of the five lots of vintage computers, only one sold: an early Apple I, originally billed as the first Apple made and sold by the fledgling company.

Though not the first Apple I, the machine was bought by Captain Owen O'Mahoney, a retired officer of the British Royal Air Force, who bid by telephone.

La Salle was hoping to get US$40,000 but got only half that: Captain O'Mahoney's bid -- the one and only bid made on any of the computers -- was $18,000.

"He was delighted," said Jack Sacks, an auction employee who handled O'Mahoney's bid. "He couldn't believe he got it so cheap. He was very keen to get it. I was authorized to go up to $25,000."

After the auction, O'Mahoney couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

"He's gone out to dinner to celebrate," Sacks said.

For $18,000, O'Mahoney got a pre-serial number Apple I, sold to Charles and Edythe Ricketts in 1976 for $600, according to La Salle's brochure. Steve Jobs made the sale in his parents' garage in Los Altos, California, the brochure said.

The only person who showed any interest in the computers was Monroe Postman, a retired computer engineer from Los Altos, who owns an Apple I signed by Steve Wozniak, the machine's designer and Apple's co-founder.

"I'm just seeing what they sell for," Postman said. "I think I'll hold onto mine for a little while."

Though disappointed by the absence of big money, Postman's trip to San Francisco wasn't a total waste of time. He left the gallery clutching a stained glass window.

Jef Raskin's three machines -- the second Apple II manufactured, one of the millionth Macintoshes, and an Apple I with a monitor described by Raskin as an early Mac prototype -- failed to sell after the bidding opened at $90,000.

The gallery's brochure estimated the collection might fetch between $100,000 and $140,000. No bids were placed.

"It's quite easy to see this stuff as junk," said Owen Linzmayer, who went down to the auction with a stack of copies of his new book, Apple Confidential. "Ninety thousand dollars for Raskin's stuff is outrageous."

Also on their way back to disappointed owners: An Apple II, which opened at $2,500; an Apple prototype called the GLM, or Great Little Machine, which opened at $1,200; and an Apple Lisa, believed to be the prototype, which opened at $3,250.

"This is a new type of antique," said auctioneer Risley Sands at the end of the sale. "These things have increased greatly in value in the last 25 years, but are truly speculative. We're disappointed on the one hand but heartened by all the interest."

"It's a shame, really," said Kelly Butenhoff, who attended for the estate auction. "I was hoping it would be pretty exciting, but it kind of fizzled."

"I like the Apple because it's easier to use than other computers," said another woman in the audience. "But this is really for techies."

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