Incredibly rare Chaffey College Apple-1 sells at auction for $500,000

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Only six examples features the koa wood case.
Only six known examples features the koa wood case.
Photo: John Moran Auctioneers

Lots of Apple fans know the company’s first product was the Apple-1 personal computer. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs initially put the machines together in a garage in 1976. Now one unit in their early run of 200, known as the “Chaffey College Apple-1” because its first owner taught there, has sold at auction for $500,000.

The company offering the auction on November 9, John Moran Auctioneers, had estimated the machine’s value at $400,000 to $600,000. It’s one of 60 Apple-1 machines still in existence.

The machine, rated in mint condition and in working order, features original and period-correct parts. Those include the motherboard, monitor, keyboard, two cassette tapes, three wires and a period Xerox-copy of the original owner’s manual.

The auction for the Apple-1 (Lot 2063) were part of the auction house’s Post-war & Contemporary Art + Design Sale. The buyer has remained anonymous. Their winning bid of $400,000 became a cost of $500,000 with the auction house’s fee added. That’s 750 times what the computer sold for back in the 1970s.

Still, the sale doesn’t come near the record for an Apple-1. The Bonhams auction house sold one for $905,000 in 2014.

The storied history of the Apple-1

The first version of the company’s personal computer built by Steve Wozniak essentially amounted to a motherboard and a manual. The instructions indicated which components to purchase to assemble and use the machine.

Wozniak contemplated making computer-building instructions available for free to anyone who had the patience to create one on their own. But Steve Jobs convinced him to combine the motherboard and its connections into a magazine box and sell them as a kit.

And so, Wozniak, Jobs, and a skeleton crew built 200 Apple-1 computers by hand in the garage that belonged to Jobs’ parents. The nascent company sold 175 of them for $666.66, a figure that catered to Wozniak’s love of repeating numbers. Fifty of those 175 computers went to Paul Terrell, owner of Byte Shop in Mountain View, California.

The birth of Apple upselling

But when Jobs delivered 50 boxes containing Apple-1 kits, Terrell was not happy. He had anticipated 50 all-in-one units that buyers could simply plug in — an unheard-of concept at the time.

Jobs, ever the marketer, pointed out that each box included all necessary elements to put together the machine. Then he further convinced Terrell he could make a profit by selling keyboards, monitors and power supplies in their store as a way to upsell the Apple-1.

Only 6 Apple-1 computers have the koa wood case

The wooden case housing the Chaffey College Apple-1 is made from koa wood in very good condition. In the 1970s, koa wood, native to Hawaii, was abundant on the West Coast. But Koa became more rare and expensive over time. This computer includes one of only six known examples of the koa wood case in existence.

Two previous owners

Only two people have owned the Chaffey College Apple-1 — an unnamed electronics professor from the school who bought it new and the student to whom he soon sold it. The professor was excited to get his hands on the next insanely great product, the Apple II (sound familiar, Apple fans?).

“I purchased this used from the original owner in 1977,” said the former student, Angela Bryant. “He was a teacher at Chaffey College, and I was taking his programming course. He was excited to buy the Apple-II and sold me this for about $650. Of course, nobody knew it would become a collector’s item.”