Rare Mac laptop rakes in more than $16,000 at auction

By

Hap Plain
This early backlit Mac laptop sold on eBay for more than $16,000.
Photo: Hap Plain

An Apple prototype of an early laptop, one of only four known to exist, sold on eBay Tuesday evening for more than $16,000.

It was the second time the owner of the Apple Macintosh Portable M5126 – fully functional and with a rare-for-its-time backlit screen – tried selling the test device on the auction site. Last month, bidding closed at just over $10,000 but the buyer backed out.

Well worth the hassle for Apple prototype collector Hap Plain, who earned $16,225 from the sale that attracted 93 bids during the one week it was posted for sale on eBay.

Plain acquired the clear plastic prototype from an engineer on the team that developed the portable laptop, which went into production in 1991. Plain already owns another backlit M5126 and wanted the money to buy more for his collection.

Plain, by his estimate, is one of about 20 serious prototype collectors worldwide. He is well-known among vintage tech collectors and his stable of historic test pieces include a pair of iPhones, each with a different OS, that was likely handled by Apple founder Steve Jobs and other well-known company figures.

Prototypes, often crude test devices used to work out glitches before production, vary in value to collectors. Apple may make hundreds of pre-production units for one device or less than 10 for others.

If there is an official record for bidding on Apple prototypes, it was set in August 2016, when Glenn Dellimore paid $815,000 for an Apple 1 prototype computer believed to have been assembled by Jobs himself.

Plain could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but on Tuesday, he told Cult of Mac he was feeling good about the bidding, which at the time had just surpassed the $15,000 mark.

“This is more in the range of where I expected,” Plain said. “I certainly am not going to complain about anything at this point.”

More than the hardware, Plain loves a good back story with the pieces he collects. The M5126 has a good one. Plain purchased it from the former Apple engineer who owned it for more than 25 years after he rescued it from the trash. It was tossed out by a retiring colleague who was cleaning out his workspace.