One of Apple's first computers became the highest priced item ever sold in a Christie's online-only auction this month. The Apple “I” from the batch made in Steve Jobs’ famous garage, went for nearly $400,000.
Dave Larsen has an 800 foot storefront in downtown Floyd where he displays only a tiny fraction of his collection of historic computers. He says it’s one particular period that captivates most collectors; 1971 to 1981 when the first personal computers were being developed.
When Apple I came out in 1976 it didn’t have a keyboard, a monitor or even a power source on board. But today, it’s a highly coveted artifact from the dawn of the computer generation.
“There are groups of people willing to spend money for that icon and there are only 200 of them made and they were taken as trade ins for the apple 2 so they disappeared rather quickly. But right now it’s felt that there’s between 40 and 50 in existence in private collection and museums.”
In a glass-topped showcase, lie 4 bright green circuit boards from 4 of those early Apple 1s. Their neatly arranged microprocessors look at once futuristic and outdated. Larsen says the buyers of these first personal computers had to figure out how to put them together and add components themselves. There was no such thing as plug and play.
“Ok so this would be a case with a keyboard and you set a monitor on the top and this would be a functioning Apple I. But I don’t keep them here in my museum I keep them in the bank vault because they’re a little too expensive.”
Larsen began collecting before most people thought these might be valuable some day. He was just fascinated by electronics and later computers. That began in 1957, when the navy sent him to learn about Univac – the second commercial computer ever made. Larsen continued collecting through his decades as a professor of Computer Automation at Virginia Tech.
Today, he has warehouses full of artifacts of artificial intelligence practically calling out to be seen and appreciated by the public. In 1976, few may have guessed that Apple1 was on a path to becoming the world’s biggest company. Chances are, what ever captivates the growing world of historic computer collectors next, Dave Larsen will know its story.
Find out more about Dave Larsen's project here.