A German auction house Breker announced Saturday that it has sold one of the last six functioning "Apple I" computers to a client at $668,000 (516,000 euros). The computer is one of 200 Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs handmade in a garage in 1976.
The builders had originally sold the handmade machines for $666.
The machine bears Wozniak's signature and a transaction letter from Steve Jobs. The original buyer was an electrical engineer, Fred Hatfield. According to AP, what was sold to the original buyer really was a circuit board. The case, keyboard, monitor, transformers and power switch were purchased separately. In the early days of personal computing, It was left to the buyer to assemble the final product himself.
However, Hatfield, now in his 80s and living in New Orleans, was dissatisfied with his purchase. NPR reports he joined a user's group and tried to make improvements to the machine but he was disappointed.
In 1978, he contacted Jobs. According to NPR, Hatfield explained: "I called Steve Jobs, and discussed his machine with him. I complained to him about it. We had a long discussion. It was an interesting conversation... I didn't get anywhere."
Hatfield had expected the computer to come with the full set of accessories but when he received it he realized he would have to purchase other parts and assemble the final product himself.
Jobs offered to buy back the Apple 1 from the dissatisfied customer at a loss of $200. But Hatfield decided to keep it and use it for "decoding radio signals."
Unfortunately, the computer became obsolete quickly and Hatfield simply stored it away, never expecting that anyone would want to buy it. NPR reports he said: "I had packed it away, and just carried it with me from place to place for many years. It was just an old piece of electronics."
He added: "I've always been interested in digital machinery. As a kid I used to go to different junk stores and so on, to buy a pinball machine, to rewire it and make it do things like tic-tac-toe."
He explained why he was dissatisfied with the machine: "It was capable of doing some calculations and so on, but it was kind of short on necessary things that you needed to actually use it well."
But in 2010, after he entered his name on a registry of vintage Apple owners and posted a picture of his Apple 1 and the note from Steve Jobs in which he offered $400, a purchaser contacted him and offered $40,000. Thinking this was a good offer he sold it. He said: "It sounded like a good deal to me. I figured that was a pretty reasonable offer."
The purchaser, however, repaired the computer and got it working again and now it has fetched a whopping $668,000.
Global Post reports that pre-auction estimates had predicted the computer would sell between $259,000 and $388,000 (200,000 and 300,000 euros).
What does Hatfield think of this?
He said the interest in old computers was a good thing: "It's bringing back a lot of the romance of the old technology, when we were just learning. Sort of like being back in kindergarten, you know?"
He has no regrets about selling it at the price he did. He is too busy with new technology to care. He said: "I'm still playing with computers. I've got a new Raspberry Pi, the $35 computer. I'm going to write a program that will operate an Etch A Sketch. The interest goes on, there's just new technology now. I'd rather be working with current things."