Museum pays record-breaking $905,000 for Apple-1

By

A working motherboard for the Apple I, circa
A working motherboard for the Apple I, one of the rarest personal computers ever made. Photo: Bonhams

An ultra-rare working 1976 Apple-1 computer — thought to be one of the first 50 ever produced — has sold at auction for an incredible $905,000, between twice and three times the expected asking price.

The computer was part of Bonhams History of Science auction in New York City. It sold to the Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, a museum dedicated to showcasing the ingenuity and innovation that helped shape America.

The machine had been expected to fetch “just” $300,000 to $500,000.

“It’s very rare to be able to collect the beginning of something, but the Apple-1 is exactly that,” Henry Ford curator Kristen Gallerneaux told Cult of Mac, speaking after being onsite at the auction earlier today.

The Apple-1's new home. Photo: The Henry Ford
The Apple-1’s new home. Photo: The Henry Ford

“It changed home computing,” she continued.

“But the Apple-1 isn’t just a technological interface – it reveals a complex network of interaction between science, technology, and economics. It can teach through the lens of social history and innovative engineering. It shows the increasing complexity of all of these things in our everyday lives. When Wozniak and Jobs started to assemble this first batch of Apple-1, they had no idea what the future would bring. And here we are today.”

Well put.

While today we think of a device like the iPhone 6 Plus as being somewhat rare due to supply constraints, only 200 units of the Apple-1 were ever created. Of this tiny number, just 64 are thought to exist today, and a minuscule 15 are known to be operational.

The Henry Ford’s purchase comes with the central Apple-1 motherboard, hand-built keyboard interface, power supply, facsimile copies of the owner’s manual and schematics, Sanyo monitor and Apple-1 Cassette Interface.

Also accompanying it are printed materials from the Cincinnati AppleSiders enthusiast group, whose founder originally owned this Apple-1 unit. These include “Poke-Apple” newsletters and two VHS tapes documenting early Apple fan conventions.

“The opportunity to acquire an Apple-1 is a rare one, given their low production numbers,” Kristen Gallerneaux said. “The likelihood that a unit as complete as this will come up for auction is slender. The Henry Ford would have been remiss in holding off much longer in acquiring one for our collection.”

Last November an Apple-1 sold for $330,000 at auction in Germany. The Henry Ford plans to exhibit its Apple-1 on permanent display, although there is currently no word on when this will happen.