Monday, April 9, 2012

Do NOT Delete

QUESTION: I was rooting around in my attic recently and came across an old Commodore 64 computer that belonged to my late husband. Does this have any value or should I just recycle it?

ANSWER: Before you give that old computer the heave-ho, you might want to read on. It’s been 30 years since the Commodore 64 first appeared on the market. In that relatively short time, personal computers—better known as “PCs”—have turned the world upside down and inside out. In fact, most people do very little without computers today, and businesses, especially, couldn’t operate without them.

As technology progresses, people, especially nerds who grew up with computers, seek out their first computers. Like most parents, they always fondly remember their first. And in the retro movement, twenty- and thirty-somethings are also trying to discover the computers from before they were born. In fact, someone out there collects just about any pre-1990 computer, but it’s the ones from the 1970s that are hot.

With 17 million units sold during its long lifetime, there are probably more Commodore 64 computers stashed away in closets and attics than any other model. Some say the Commodore 64 was the best-selling single computer model of all time. Collectors can usually find one or two available on eBay for anywhere from $10 to $300, with some in their original box.

Of all the early computers, the Apple models are the overall favorite among collectors. The most sought after one is the Apple I. Of the 200 assembled in a wooden cases in 1976, only 35 still exist. When they first appeared, they sold for $666.66 and even at that price, Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak struggled to drum up interest in their new creation. Originally, they had planned to sell the Apple 1 as a bare circuit board that electronics hobbyists could turn into a working computer by soldering in the chips themselves. But it was only a modest success. In today’s Apple IPad world, it’s become the most famous collectible computer, bringing in $15,000 and $25,000 when one goes up for sale.

With over 5-6 million sold, the Apple II isn’t that rare. Originally selling for $1,298, today about the most a collector will pay for one is $250. Some call this model one of the greatest PCs of all time. Of all the ones that appeared on the market in 1977, it was definitely the most advanced. The hottest one today is the plain-vanilla II model.

Garage sale and dumpster divers have no trouble finding discarded computers. But the more valuable ones, like the Apple Lisa, are harder to come because of their age and collectability. By 1983, Jobs and Wozniak had refined their computers with a graphical interface—that is users were able to display fonts, illustrations, and photos on the monitor. This put the Lisa way ahead of its time with a hefty price tag of $10,000 to match. It even came with a mouse, a feature that wasn’t to appear regularly until the MacIntosh. Unfortunately, this computer was also temperamental and thus failed in the market. Its historical significance makes it one of the most valuable computer collectibles, valued at $10,000,  the same amount it sold for 29 years ago. To add to its mystique, Jobs and Wozniak ordered 2,700 unsold Lisas buried in a Utah landfill in 1987.

In February 2005, Christie’s held an “Origins of Cyberspace” auction which offered old documents detailing the foundations of computing. The auction drew a lot of attention to vintage technology and placed value on items once used only by geeks. Unfortunately, that attention caused vintage computer prices to skyrocket, thus pricing a lot of collectors out of the market. 

Cover-featured in a famous issue of Popular Electronics magazine as a do-it-yourself project, the Intel 8080-based Altair wasn't the first microcomputer, but it was the first one that truly caught on, spawning an entire industry of clones, add-ons, and software suppliers. Bill Gates, through his company Micro-Soft, developed the first operating system for that computer, launching a company that operates to the present day. And because the Altair was such a big seller, it isn’t as valuable as some of the other early computers, however, models in good condition do sell today for over $2,000.

The first clone of the Altair was the IMSAI 8080 which sold for $600 in 1975 and has a value nearly that now. It’s main selling point was its compatibility with the Altair 8800. It’s probably most famous today as the computer that Matthew Broderick used in the 1983 movie “War Games.”

Two of the most popular computers to catch the eye of consumers and now collectors are Radio Shack’s Tandy TRS-80 Model 1, which hit the stores in 1977 for $599, and the TRS-80 Model 100, which appeared in 1983 for $799. The TRS-80 became the first computer sold in shopping malls while the second became the first popular notebook computer, with nearly 6 million sold, making Radio Shack the world's leading computer retailer for a while. Both sell today on eBay for $25 to $250.

Last but not least is the IBM PC, first coming on the computer scene in 1981 at a staggering price of $1,565 and now worth between $50 and $500. More formally known as the IBM 5150, it foretold the end of the early days of the Computer Age. The PC revolutionized computing for the average consumer, becoming the first to use hardware and software made by third-party companies. After it’s introduction, no computer company, except Apple, had a monopoly on their wares. And in its January 1983 issue, Time Magazine named it the “Machine of the Year.” And today, in all of its many forms, that machine still is.

No comments: