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A rare Apple-1 computer comes to auction – Christie's

It's odds on that the screen you are reading this on was bought as part of the computer/hand-held device you are using, but in the dawn of home computing this wasn’t always so. In 1976, when personal computing was very much the domain of hobbyists, all of the individual components of a computer would have been bought separately. But that was about to change.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were working out of Jobs’s garage and had the idea to produce the first personal computer sold with a fully assembled motherboard. The Apple-1 systems were still sold without casing, power supply, keyboard or monitor, but offering a pre-assembled motherboard was something that put Apple far ahead of its competitors.

An early uptake was from Paul Terrell, owner of The Byte Shop in California, who in 1976 ordered 50 machines at $500 each. After securing that initial order, Jobs and Wozniak scrambled to find cash for the necessary parts. Jobs sold his VW, his only mode of transportation, and Wozniak his HP-65 calculator to finance their operation.

In all, about 200 Apple-1s were made, and advertised at $666.66, a price which dropped to $475 in 1977. By the end of that year the Apple-II (first introduced on 10 June 1977) had taken over, and the Apple-1 was no longer offered for sale.

After Jobs and Wozniak officially discontinued the Apple-1 in October 1977, they offered discounts and trade-ins to encourage all Apple-1 owners to return their machines. These were destroyed, and fewer than half of the Apple-1s survived.

What had begun as the attempt by two techie friends to design and build a microprocessor became the first personal computer and launched Apple Computer Company, later Apple Inc., the perennially pioneering company that defined and redefined its industry — and changed the lives of its millions of customers — to become one of the world’s largest corporations.

Fifteen examples of the Apple-1 exist in public collections worldwide, including the Smithsonian Museum of Art. A rare example of the Apple-1 is offered in On the Shoulders of Giants: Making the Modern World, an online sale that runs from 16-23 May.

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The lot includes the extremely rare first manual issued by Apple Computer Company. Although not credited in the text, Ronald Wayne is generally accepted as having been its author. 

Wayne, who co-founded Apple Computer with Jobs and Wozniak, also drew the first Apple logo that appears on the cover of this pamphlet, and drafted their partnership agreement. He famously sold his share of the company, 12 days after its founding, for $800.

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