Apple I to be sold in auction of historic computers

Apple I to be sold in auction of historic computers

Summary: Some of the earliest personal computers - including a working Apple I and an Altair 8800 - are to go on auction in Cologne, Germany.

TOPICS: Hardware, Apple, EU

Some of the world's earliest personal computers – including the iconic Apple I - are to be auctioned in Germany.

The Apple I machine, one of six working Apple I computers in the world according to auctioneers, will be sold by Auction Team Breker of Cologne, Germany on 25 May.

The Apple I was the company's first machine and was hand built by Steve Wozniak in a garage in 1975/76 when Apple was a three-man company. The Apple I featured a 1MHz processor and 4KB of memory and went on sale  for $666.66 in 1976. It was sold as a fully assembled circuit board, with owners having to add the case, power supply, keyboard and display. Breker expect the Apple I to sell for between €200,000 and €300,000 ($260,000 - $400,000).

The Apple I circuit board shown with screen, keyboard and other peripherals. Photo: Auction Team Breker

An Apple Lisa-I PC, one of the first computers to feature a graphical user interface when it was released in 1983, will also go on sale for €15,000 to €30,000 ($20,000 - $40,000).

Busicom 141-PF calculator

Another historic device on sale will be a Busicom 141-PF calculator, the machine for which Intel designed the first microprocessor, the Intel 4004.

At the time of its release in 1971 other electronic calculators relied on multiple logic chips to work. The Busicom was able to carry out the same work using a single microprocessor that received instructions from onboard RAM and ROM. The Intel 4004 microprocessor was not very powerful – only able to process four bits of data and carry out 60,000 operations a second – but Intel would soon go on to develop a microprocessors that would power the first personal computer and help launch the modern information age.

The Busicom is expected to sell for between €8,000 and €12,000 ($10,000 to 15,000).

Altair 8800

An Altair 8800, the machine sometimes described as the first personal computer, will also feature among the lots.

The machine was released in 1975 as a kit, meaning users had to build the machine by slotting together its circuit boards. Programming the Altair as it initially sold was a painstaking affair, requiring users to flip switches on the front of the machine to input instructions in machine code. The Altair originally had no display, and instead lights would flash to let users know the outcome of programs on the machine.

The Altair came with the then new eight bit 2MHz Intel 8080 microprocessor and had a memory of just 256-bytes, and sold in its thousands. At auction the Altair is expected to sell for between €3,000 and €5,000 ($4,000 - $7,000).

The Altair 8800. Photo:

Another early kit computer on sale will be 1973 Scelbi-8H, which was built around Intel's first eight-bit microprocessor the 8008. The machine is expected to sell for between €15,000 and €20,000 ($20,000 – 25,000).


In 1642, more than three hundred years before the birth of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, French mathematician Blaise Pascal created the Pascaline, the first mechanical calculator to come to the public's attention.

The calculator was designed to add and subtract up to eight digit numbers using geared mechanisms. Using the device required users to rotate dials on the top of the Pascaline to enter numbers and to read the sum of those numbers from windows on its surface. Multiplication and division were also possible using by repeating addition and subtraction respectively.

Subtraction required the nines' complement method, which allows subtraction to be carried out via addition. A complement method is used by modern computer processors to manipulate binary numbers.

A Pascaline calculator. Photo: Science Museum

A working model of the Pascaline from the 1920s will go on sale for an estimated €25,000 to €40,000 ($30,000 to $50,000).

Other historical items include an Enigma coding machine, the device used by the Nazis to protect their communications during the Second World War, expected to sell for between €15,000 and €25,000 ($20,000 – 33,000) and the Marchande des Masques automaton by Gustave Vichy, expected to sell for between €30,000 and €50,000 ($40,000 – 65,000).

More information about the lots is available via Breker's website.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, EU


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • In 1971 being able to perform 60,000

    operations a second was impressive.
    • On a Single Chip, 60K Operations Was Impressive

      There were mainframes with much more power than that, and "rack-mounted" minis such as Digital's PDP series somewhere in the midrange, but they all used multiple chips to build the logic of the central processor. The rack-mounted devices (which had programming interfaces after which the first personal computers were modeled) were available mostly for scientific use, and unlike mainframes, could give 100 percent attention to an experiment being run by a scientist without the mainframe budget. Most non-time-critical and low-budget needs were fulfilled by "time-sharing" mainframes accessed over low-speed (110 to 9600 bps, notice there is no K there!) leased or dialup lines by printing keyboard terminals, and if in or near the mainframe location, decks of input data on punch cards, framed by "job control" cards to set up and call each program.

      The desktop computer concept was on many wish lists, and the 4004 processor, originally developed to "embed" into instruments, or in this case calculators, made that concept possible in the long run. We are accustomed to embedded computing today and do not notice it, but to engineers who had to spend time keeping instruments such as thermocouple-based temperature gauges physically calibrated, having a computer that merely COMPENSATED for the physical calibration error by instantly computing the final results would seem like a miracle.
  • Wonder how much my Sinclair ZX81 is worth?

    Now where did that go...
    • I loved my Sinclair (actually Timex-Sinclair) ZX81...

      I just threw it out a few years ago. There were lots of neat programming tricks you could use to make it fly (hiding assembly language code in line 0, for example). I actually wrote an expense program for myself with pulldown menus and all sorts of fun stuff.

      Plus, I've never seen a game like Mazogs anywhere else.
  • I guess I should have kept my signed apple

    Many years ago I sold an early Apple that had a wooden base that had three signatures on it. Wozniak was one of the signers. I thought that $500 was a lot of money for it, since I only paid $7 at a garage sale, down on the penninsula. Oh well, maybe I willfind another.
  • The Plessey Miproc - a 1970s 16 bit microprocessor

    I was introduced to microprocessors in 1976 via the Plessey Miproc, a 16 bit microprocessor comprising many chips - some large scale integration and a host of TTL gates - all mounted on a double eurocard sized printed circuit board. All the part numbers of the component chips had been removed to reduce the chance of a competitor copying the design. The "development kit" had a hexadecimal keypad and a 4 (hex) character display. I remember the sense of achievement when I got it to add 2 and 3 and output 5 on the display. A couple of weeks after programming in machine code, I moved on to assembler - what an amazing improvement! I remember a development project where I used a Miproc to drive a plasma display (a little different from today's plasma displays) comprising 4 rows of 20 characters.
    I was also responsible for a Calma Printed Circuit Board CAD system which had 2 terminals, each comprising a cathode ray storage tube (yes, the tube stored the drawing) on which it was easy to add a component or track but erasing anything was a major job as the tube had to be erased and then everything had to be redrawn which took so much processor effort that the second terminal was unusable during a screen redraw! Data storage was on twin 14 inch diameter hard discs, each with a capacity of 1.25 megabytes (yes, less than a 3.5" floppy) with backup to half inch tape on 10.5 inch spools.
    Happy days when there were no viruses and no-one except a few geeks/nerds had home computers so I was never asked for help with a friend's/relative's/neighbour's computer which had gone wrong or caught a virus.