Auction house puts pristine 39-year-old Apple-1 on the block

Estimate pegs gavel price as high as half a million dollars

This 39-year-old working Apple-1 computer will be auctioned Sept. 21 in New York by Bonhams, which has set a pre-sale estimate of between $300,000 and $500,000.  Credit: Bonhams

This 39-year-old working Apple-1 computer will be auctioned Sept. 21 in New York by Bonhams, which has set a pre-sale estimate of between $300,000 and $500,000. Credit: Bonhams

Auction house Bonhams will put a pristine Apple-1 personal computer on the block later this month, and has pegged the gavel price at between $300,000 and $500,000.

Bonhams has experience selling vintage Apple-1 computers: One it sold last year went for the still-record $905,000 after commissions and taxes.

The Apple-1, essentially a stand-alone circuit board sans keyboard, monitor or even power supply, was hand-built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in 1976, and may have been one of the first lot of 50, according to a penned identifier on the back. That mark -- 01-0059 -- was probably an inventory number assigned by the Byte Shop of Mountain View, Calif., the first volume purchaser of the computer.

Wozniak and co-founder Steve Jobs kick-started Apple 39 years ago when they secured an order of 50 units from Byte Store owner Paul Terrell. At the time, the Apple-1 sold for $666.66, equal to about $2,800 in 2015 dollars.

Another clue that hinted at this Apple-1's provenance was the lack of a circuit board manufacturer identifier; according to Apple-1 expert Mike Willegal, that indicates a unit from the first batch produced by Wozniak and Jobs.

Bonhams said that the Apple-1 is being sold by Tom Romkey, who owned a computer shop in Florida. Romkey acquired the Apple-1 when a customer traded it for a new NCR personal computer. NCR, better known as a cash register and ATM maker, entered the PC market in the 1980s.

According to Bonhams, the Apple-1 was used just once or twice by the owner who traded it to Romkey. For his part, Romkey simply put it on a shelf where it sat unused for decades.

The computer is in excellent condition, said Corey Cohen, a New Jersey-based Apple-1 expert who was called in by Bonhams to authenticate the device and verify that it was operational.

"This is a fully functional Apple-1 from 1976," Cohen said in a video showing him demonstrating that the Apple-1 worked. "It is in incredible condition."

Willegal's index of known Apple-1 computers -- one of the few authoritative lists -- did not show one that seemed to match the Romkey device.

Bonhams will auction the Apple-1 in New York City on Sept. 21. More information about the computer can be found on Bonhams' website.

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