Going once, going twice: An Apple-1 and a Steve Jobs autograph
Tech nostalgia is driving auction bidders to scramble for vintage computers and memorabilia.
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Abrar Al-Heeti is a video host and producer for CNET, with an interest in internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. Before joining the video team, she was a writer for CNET's culture team. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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Right now, an Apple-1 computer valued at $700,000 is being auctioned off, with a current bid of $140,000. And starting Oct. 20, a Newsweek magazine from 1988 signed by Jobs will be auctioned off at a starting bid of $1,000. It's estimated the magazine will sell for between $10,000 and $15,000, according to RR Auction Executive Vice President Bobby Livingston.
Even as Apple continues to build and launch devices like the iPhone 8, iPhone X and Apple Watch Series 3, there's a longing for the items of yesteryear that only grows stronger as the products become more rare. According to Apple expert and historian Corey Cohen, who authenticated the Apple-1 that's now up for bidding on Charitybuzz, there are only around 70 of the computers still in existence.
"It's become kind of the 'Mona Lisa' for technology collectors," he said.
The lure of owning a piece of Jobs' legacy through these collectible items is undeniable -- if you can afford it.
Special connection The Apple-1 that's up for bidding has been dubbed the "Schoolsky" in recognition of Adam Schoolsky, the original owner and a friend and colleague of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Donor David Larsen got the computer after placing ads in the '80s and '90s asking for pre-1980 microcomputers. Schoolsky responded to one of those ads in 1994, and in early 1995, Larsen bought his Apple-1 for $3,500.
"Adam and his wife were starting a business and needed some funds, and that's how they arrived at the price," Larsen said. "It was a good price."
Larsen, 79, collected vintage computers from 1970 to 2016, and even had a small computer museum in Floyd, Virginia. But last year he decided that as he was getting older, it would be best to ship his 13,000 items to the Computer Museum of America in Roswell, Georgia.
He kept two of the four Apple-1 computers he'd collected, but now he's downsizing even more.
"I think having one original Apple-1 computer is all the Apple-1 computers I need at this time," he said.
Ahead of its time The Apple-1 was a pacesetter in the personal computer industry. At a time when computers didn't come preassembled and had multiple circuit boards, the Apple-1 came with a fully assembled motherboard. It had a cassette tape interface that allowed users to save data, a precursor to the floppy disc. It also integrated support for a keyboard and a power supply.
Wozniak not only designed the Apple-1, but also hand-built 200 of the computers alongside Jobs' sister and their team in Jobs' parents' home. (They sold 175 of them.) In 1976, the Apple-1 retailed for $666.66 -- a steep price then but a shadow of what bidders are willing to pay today for a rare piece of history.
The highest bidder for the Schoolsky Apple-1 will also get other original items including the box, operation manual and basic user's manual.
Cohen said the computer is functional and in very good condition.
Signed, sealed, delivered Diane Williams of Escondido, California, is the consignor of the autographed Newsweek magazine that goes up for bidding next month on RR Auction.
Back in October 1988, while working as a senior buyer for software company Lotus Development Corp. (now Lotus Software), Williams attended the unveiling of Jobs' NeXT computer at the Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She stopped by the gift shop to stock up on mints ("I figured, I'm going to be close to him!") and a few magazines featuring Jobs and his new computer on their covers.
After the unveiling, she said, Jobs came down and sat on a table close to her. She froze, then fanned out the magazines -- Time, Businessweek, Fortune, Newsweek -- in front of him and asked if he would sign one. "I don't do autographs," he told her. Williams said she locked eyes with him and asked him to "write something from your heart then," at which point he smiled and his persona completely flipped. Jobs hesitated, then pulled the Newsweek, writing "I love manufacturing." He hesitated again. He underlined "love." He looked at Williams, then he signed it.
"It was like time stood still," Williams said.
She'd kept the magazine in a safe deposit box at the bank all this time before sending it off to RR Auction.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever image that I would let it go. But it needs to be let go," she said. "I hope that it's going to be an organization or an institution that puts it on display for others to be able to see."
In fact, she said, she hopes it ends up somewhere like Apple's lobby. But she's not willing to just give it up for free.
"It needs to be honored [through the purchase]," she said. Plus, she quipped, "Nothing's free -- especially what they charge."
Livingston, of RR Auction, said three in-house specialists made an initial assessment of the autograph before sending it off to third-party authenticators PSA/DNA, Beckett Authentication Services and JSA.
Steve Grad, of "Pawn Stars" fame, served as the authenticator from Beckett. He said the process involved comparing the autograph to authentic examples he's compiled over the years, as well as using a ProScope magnifier on his iPad to examine the ink and pressure. He said finding something signed by Jobs is "like finding teeth on a hen -- really rare."
"He just didn't like signing," Grad said. "That's why he's very tough to authenticate. There's just so little known of him."
In March, RR Auction sold a Jobs-signed poster promoting the 1992 NeXTWorld Expo in San Francisco for $19,600, and four years ago sold a signed contract from 1978 for $40,000.
Williams is optimistic -- she said she hopes the magazine will sell for over $1 million, and she plans to donate 20 percent of the proceeds to combat veterans organizations such as Connected Warriors and TM for Veterans.
She also serves as an example that you don't have to be hungry for the latest iPhone or Apple Watch to be into this kind of stuff.
"I'm not really totally sold on the Apple products, to be honest with you," she said. "I just knew [Jobs] was a genius. He was a master of being able to create."
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