Steve Jobs’ Apple-1 prototype set to fetch $500,000 at auction

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A landmark piece of computing history appeared in an online auction earlier this week. For sale as lot #5006 (opens in a new tab) on RR Auctions is an Apple Computer A prototype, allegedly assembled by none other than Steve Wozniak and owned by Steve Jobs. If that’s not a fine enough pedigree to excite bidders, there is photographic evidence that this is the production prototype of the Apple 1 and was instrumental in securing the first “big” order from Apple; sale of 50 pre-assembled Apple 1s at The Byte Shop in Mountain View, California. Bidding for the PCB pictured above and below is $278,005 at the time of writing and is expected to exceed $500,000 by the end of the auction (August 19).

The PCB has not been carefully maintained by owner Steve Jobs. After securing the landmark order, it is believed to have been shelved in the Apple garage for several years before Jobs offered it to the current owner some 30 years ago.

Evidence of its mishandling are the chipping and cracking of the circuit board and the fact that several chips and capacitors are missing, presumably donated to production computers or later projects in the garage. Additionally, the working example photos show that several large orange Sprague Atom capacitors are missing from the top right of the layout. The CPU is also missing.

As this is the prototype of the Apple 1, we know it should have featured a 6502 1 MHz MOS processor, 40 x 24 character display output, 4 KB of RAM, expandable to 8 KB or 48 KB using expansion cards, and 456 KB storage (tape). However, as a prototype, this Apple A computer was a bit more flexible, as auction information indicates that it could have run a pluggable Motorola 6800 processor instead of the MOS 6502.

Several other differences exist between this prototype and the first 50 Apple 1 computers delivered. RR Auctions says this model is the only one welded by Woz using his signature “three-handed” technique. The auction listing implies that the first batch of Apple 1 machines were a product of $40 or less in components, but with the value added by assembly, software, etc., plus profit, The Byte Shop sold them for $666.66 a machine.

Would it be wrong to repair it and restore it to working order? Its condition is terrible and it’s not a very nice PCB. Nevertheless, we believe that the fate of the machine is behind glass and preserved in its current state of disrepair by a collector or a company.

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