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Apple I computer sells for $14,000

A longtime Apple programmer casts the winning bid for the vintage computer, which originally sold in 1976 for $666 and was created by company co-founder Steve Wozniak.

The cost to buy a piece of computing history isn't what it used to be.

An auction for a vintage Apple I computer, complete with a monochrome screen and cassette player, drew only a handful of bidders and ended up selling for $14,000--the minimum reserve price set by the seller. That's a far cry from recent years when similar machines sold for as much as $50,000.

"That's just not going to happen, at least not now or for the immediate future," said Salem Ismail, the producer of the Vintage Computer Festival, who set up the auction for a seller who wanted to remain anonymous. A couple of years ago there were a lot of people with disposable incomes and stock options that drove up the prices, he said. "I knew the bidding (this time) would be rather reserved."

Of course $14,000 it is still a lot more than the $666 that the Apple I circuit board sold for in 1976. However, buyers of the Apple I had to add their own accessories, including monitor, cassette drive and power supply, to actually use the computer.

Designed by Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak while he was still working for Hewlett-Packard, the Apple I was notable among computers of the day in that it could be hooked directly to a keyboard and screen. HP wasn't interested in the idea, so it let Wozniak have the rights to the computer.

Apple only sold about 200 of the machines, initially confirming HP's instincts. The follow-up product, Apple II, did considerably better.

The winning bidder in the auction that ended Friday was Roger Wagner, a longtime Apple programmer who bought an Apple II in 1978 and began writing software and programming books shortly thereafter.

Wagner is best known for creating HyperStudio, a top-selling educational program for creating multimedia projects. Wagner sold that product and his company, Roger Wagner Publishing, to Knowledge Adventure in 1998.

Wagner said buying the Apple I was a way of celebrating its connection to his life's work. It was the first really "personal" computer, he said.

"Built into that innovation was also a culture of creativity, with both respect and empowerment of the individual," Wagner said.

The Apple I Wagner bought came with a 9-inch amber screen, Magnavox cassette player, and other components that Ismail said might have been typical of an Apple I used at the time.

"Everything was cobbled together as one would have had to do in 1976," Ismail said.

Wagner said the Apple I will be the prized piece in his computer collection, though he also has an early Apple II, serial number 5,000, and an original Lisa with the so-called Twiggy drives.

Ismail said he was shipping the machine Tuesday as he was packing his things to head off to this weekend's Vintage Computer Festival Europe.

Wagner, who lives in San Diego, said he expects the machine to arrive any day now. Wagner said he hopes to have it running long enough to make a video of it working but is worried about using it too long. Many of the components are no longer made and could prove difficult to replace, he said.

The winning bid followed an earlier disappointment. Wagner had bid on the one that Ismail had for auction two years ago, but said that at $25,000, the bidding "went a little high."

ZDNet U.K.'s Rupert Goodwins contributed to this report.