Is this rare Apple computer up for auction a Woz-built original? We asked Woz ourselves – The Mercury News | Hot Mobile Press

Get out your checkbooks, Silicon Valley freaks and Apple fans! You’ll have the opportunity to view – and even buy – a rare Apple computer hand-soldered by legendary Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Maybe.

A leading expert and the auction house say the device — a broken circuit board that appears to have been tucked away in a drawer for years — is a Wozniak-built computer that Steve Jobs, Apple’s other co-founder, used to sell a pioneering retailer a computer in Mountain View advertised the shop in 1976. But others, including Wozniak, aren’t so sure.

“I can’t tell you exactly what generation this board is,” the man known as “Woz” said in an email to Bay Area News Group Thursday after receiving photos of the device.

In any case, everyone involved agrees that this is an early version of Apple’s first retail home computer, and is extremely rare and valuable.

The Apple-1 will be on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View this weekend. The device, once thought to be “lost,” has a circuit board with solder marks that hint at work by Wozniak and represents “the holy grail of Steve Jobs and Apple memorabilia,” according to the auction house, which has a sale for at least $500,000 US dollars expected. As of Friday morning, the bid was $407,029, with the auction running until August 18th.

An extremely rare “Apple 1” computer, Apple’s first product, launched in 1976 by company co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Up for auction until August 18, 2022 and on display at the Computer History Museum from July 6-7 January 2022, the device is said to be a prototype by the auction firm and a vintage computer association, hand-wired by legendary Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and by fellow co-founder Steve Jobs to woo Apple’s first retailer, but its role in Apple’s history is disputed. (Courtesy of RR Auction)

The then revolutionary device had 256 bytes of memory. Today, a modern Mac computer has four to eight million times more than that.

Mike Graff, spokesman for the Boston-based RR auction, said Jobs gave the Apple-1 to its current owner around 1990, who wishes to remain anonymous. The board sat in a drawer “with things on it and underneath it” for years in the famous “Apple Garage” where Jobs and Wozniak did their early work at Jobs’ childhood home in Los Altos, said Corey Cohen, a Vintage Computer Federation board member and prominent Apple -1 expert.

According to Cohen and the auction house, Jobs used this prototype in 1976 to demonstrate the Apple-1 to Paul Terrell, owner of the Mountain View Byte Shop, one of the world’s first personal computer stores.

However, Terrell told the Bay Area News Group this week that he’s not convinced they’re the same device.

Terrell, now 78, recalls watching Jobs and Wozniak — “kids with long hair and sandals trying to start a business” — compete in 1976 at a monthly meeting of the now-legendary Homebrew Computer Club for their new computers advertised. As the owner of computer store 13 Byte Shop, Terrell regularly attended the meetings, he said.

Terrell recalls that Wozniak told club members in the auditorium at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park that if they wanted to see the device in action, they should stop by the exit for a demonstration on the way out.

“As I walked out the door and saw what was going on there, I was like, ‘Oh my god — I’d like to have this in my byte shop to sell,'” Terrell said.

He invited Jobs to come to his Mountain View store the next day. “I told him I wanted a fully assembled and tested computer that I could sell to people like programmers and whatnot,” Terrell said. “And I would give him $500 each.”

This is where things get grim: Terrell believes the Apple-1 up for auction is a production model from “the first batch” of 50 computers he received for sale, and not the prototype that Wozniak and Jobs brought to the club meeting brought.

Achim Baqué of Germany, curator of the Apple-1 Registry, which tracks computers, shares Terrell’s belief that the computer up for auction is not the machine from the homebrew meet. He also doesn’t believe it’s one that was sent to Terrell’s store for retail sale. Instead, Baqué said he believed it was the factory-made “single production prototype,” representing a final design before mass production, not hand-built by Wozniak, but with some modifications he made by hand. But because it’s a one-of-a-kind Apple 1, marking a pivotal moment in computing history, Baqué expects it to sell at auction for well over $1 million.

Cohen disagrees. For starters, the device up for auction is hand-soldered and bears telltale marks of Wozniak’s work, Cohen said.

“The wires run very closely and the shape of the solder is unique to the way the soldering technique is done,” Cohen said. Wozniak is “famous for it. He takes the soldering iron in one hand, the wire in the other hand and the solder in his mouth. Very few people do this. They use tape to hold things in place. Because he does it with his mouth, the precision is a bit less. It’s literally an up and down movement of his head.”

Another auction house spokesman, Bobby Livingston, called Cohen a “world-renowned expert on Apple 1s” and “the definitive historian that auction houses use for Apple 1s.” Unlike Terrell and Baqué, Cohen spent weeks inspecting the computer up for auction, Livingston said. “We are confident … that it is correctly described,” he said. “We guarantee that.”

Cohen and Terrell agree that Terrell took Polaroids of the auctioned device in 1976, but Cohen insists that Terrell “definitely misremembered,” claiming the photos were of one of the first 50 devices he received for sale , and not the prototype demonstrated by Jobs and Wozniak. “That’s 40 to 50 years ago, too,” Cohen said. “People’s memories are flawed, but you can’t argue with the facts. We have the evidence.”

A Polaroid photo of a rare early Apple 1 computer, taken by the pioneering Byte Shop computer shop owner, Paul Terrell.  Which generation of the Apple-1 the photo shows is controversial.  (Photo courtesy of RR Auction)
A Polaroid photo of a rare early Apple 1 computer, taken by the pioneering Byte Shop computer shop owner, Paul Terrell. Which generation of the Apple-1 the photo shows is controversial. (Photo courtesy of RR Auction)

Beyond the alleged Wozniak soldering, the device consists of a composite board that’s far too fragile for mass production by “wave soldering” or retail sale, but was commonly used for prototypes at the time, Cohen said. The retail units had fiberglass circuit boards, he said, that looked very different from those up for auction.

What is Woz thinking? He couldn’t tell which iteration of the Apple 1 computer the device represented because the photos “proved no real clues” and showed the standard parts he was using.

“My guess,” Wozniak said, “is that it’s one of the first, but not that we hand-soldered.”


WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT

Catch a glimpse of the Apple-1 and other notable computer relics during Vintage Computer Festival West 2022 at the Computer History Museum this weekend from 10am to 6pm and Sundays from 9am to 5pm.

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