eBay blast from the past: New-in-box Apple II, never opened

And then after paying US$2,600 for it, the buyer opened the box

Memories of your first computer can be priceless.

Or they can cost US$2,600. That's how much Dan Budiac, a New York Web developer, recently paid on eBay to buy the same model Apple II he grew up with two decades ago.

Though bidding on vintage computers can often start as low as $1, this Apple IIc from what was then called Apple Computer Inc. was more valuable: It was still in the original packaging and had never been opened.

"When this auction came along, I knew I had to have it," Budiac said in an interview. "The prospect of unboxing a mint, 20-year-old computer was simply too good to pass up."

He won the bidding on January 26, paying US$2,553 for the computer and another US$47 for shipping.

It was a small price to pay to get back a computer model Budiac hadn't seen since his father sold the family IIc in 1989. Though collectors may have been aghast at Budiac's decision to open up the computer - and some were - he didn't sit on the purchase long before breaking the seal. "Ultimately, I decided that I didn't buy it as a financial investment. I bought it so I could stay up until 4 o'clock in the morning playing Oregon Trail."

The unboxing was a surprise hit on the Internet, with more than 2.5 million visits to Budiac's Flickr photo album documenting the event. Visitors to his site have posted their own recollections of late nights spent with term papers, dial-up bulletin boards and Lemonade Stand.

That era offered a multitude of computer platforms, including the Atari ST, Commodore 64 and Radio Shack's own TRS-80, but the Apple II was notable for its hardware and software innovations. Though it was initially popular among hobbyists making their own computers in garages and basements - that is, after all, where Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs invented the Apple II - it was VisiCalc, the world's first electronic spreadsheet, that helped cement the machine's place in the office as a useful business appliance.

The Apple IIc was released in 1984, shortly after the introduction of the Macintosh, and was the fourth model in the Apple II line, following the Apple II, II+ and IIe. With a small, sleek case, inbuilt 5.25-in. floppy drive and a carrying handle, the IIc was advertised as the first "portable" Apple II (the "c" stood for "compact").

"The Apple IIc was to the Apple II platform what the PowerBook was to the Power Mac: a more portable version of a desktop computer," said Steven Weyhrich, curator of the Apple II History Web site apple2history.org. "Not as elegant as the PowerBook, but pretty good for 1984."

The Apple IIc originally sold for US$1,295, and included a 1.023-MHz processor, 128KB of RAM, a built-in keyboard, power supply and 9-in. monochrome monitor. Adjusted for inflation, the same computer would cost US$2,663 today - a little more than Budiac paid on eBay. It will likely be the first and last addition to his vintage computer collection, as he and his fiancee - he describes her as "surprisingly supportive" of the acquisition - can't spare much more room in their one-bedroom New York apartment.

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