By Mike Elgan, Houzz
One of the first Apple-1 computers ever created sold for $671,400 in May at an auction in Germany. That’s a lot of money, especially for a computer with less processing power than a cheap digital wristwatch and that doesn’t even have a keyboard or monitor.
The computer was originally purchased in 1976 for $700. It came with — then and now — a letter personally signed by Apple cofounder Steve Jobs. But here’s the best part: It still works. According to the man who sold it, there are only six working Apple-1s left in the world.
The auction price was the highest ever paid for an Apple-1. But the going rate is still in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Two other Apple-1s sold at auction last year, one for $640,000 and the other for $375,000.
The Apple-1 is especially valuable for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the cofounders were personally involved in its construction, that it was the precursor to the first real personal computer (the Apple-2) and also because Apple went on to become kind of a big deal.
Ancient Tech Gadgets as Modern Helpers
Other iconic but obsolete technology products make fantastic functional art objects in the home.
By “functional,” I mean that sometimes you want some narrow-purpose device — say, a way to leave notes for other members of the family or to keep a shopping list, a diary or a to-do list. And you want that device to sit somewhere specific, like on a kitchen counter, bedside table or even the coffee table. Ancient gadgets are a fun choice for this purpose. Best of all, iconic computers rise in value over time. In 10, 20 or 50 years, they may be priceless.
A Surprise Bonus
Many obsolete computers have one advantage over modern computers: security. The chances that your Internet-connected Mac or Windows PC is infected by malware or vulnerable to hacking is very close to 100 percent. It’s possible for ethically challenged coders out there to hijack your machine with bots running in the background without your knowledge to harvest data from your system or contribute to some distributed attack — and even turn on the computer’s camera to spy on you and your family. It’s also possible that none of this will happen to you. It’s hard to tell these days.
If you really want great security for storing passwords, financial data and private journals, there’s no substitute for an obsolete computer not connected to the Internet.
Where to Find Old Gadgets
Look anywhere used goods are sold: eBay, Craigslist, yard sales — you name it. Shopping for old tech is like antiquing — except an “antique” in Internet time is anything older than 10 years. Here are some fun and inexpensive ways to combine history, nostalgia, beauty and function through the acquisition of obsolete but still functional technology.
One of the easiest-to-find and most iconic pieces of obsolete technology is the original “toaster” Apple Macintosh. With its tiny screen, high keyboard and boxy mouse, the first Mac is still a goofy pleasure to use.
You can often buy Macs with a stack of original application discs — the Mac was the first computer to use 3½-inch “floppies.” Or you can buy them separately. A Mac is not only a conversation piece, but also a fully functional computer for basic word processing.
You can typically find these for around $250 on eBay. You can also pay a lot more or a lot less, depending on the model and condition of the computer. Someone even sold one of the very first 1984 Macintoshes still in its original, unopened box on eBay for a little over $3,500 — a bargain, if you ask me.
You can also find peripherals on eBay, such as Mac-compatible old-school printers for making hard copies of your shopping lists.
One of the great ironies of modern gaming is that despite the sophistication of super-high-resolution screens on everything from phones to TVs, and despite the monster computer power in dedicated game consoles, the most popular type of gaming is “casual gaming” — relatively simple games that can be played in minutes, rather than over hours, days and weeks.
One of the most popular subgenres of the casual gaming world is “classic” arcade games like Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Missile Command and the original arcade game: Pong. These can be played on websites and in mobile apps.
But to gain the full Atari experience, why not buy an old Atari-2600 console? They are widely available for far less than $100 and often come with a variety of game cartridges.
Long before the Apple iPad, before the iPhone and even well before the iPod, Apple’s most famous foray into mobile tablet computing was called the Apple Newton MessagePad.
Big, bulky and low-res by today’s standards, the 1993 MessagePad was designed to understand handwriting. At first the device gained a bad reputation because of problems with the handwriting recognition, but later it got pretty good for the time.
Today if you can find a Newton in good working order, it can serve as a kitchen gadget for quick shopping lists or note taking. It runs on AA batteries. Prices are all over the map, but for the rare and highly coveted version with a clear case, built for employees and developers, expect to pay about $1,000.
These are just some examples of the kinds of iconic tech of yesteryear that can adorn your home and bring history, fun and curiosity into your life. The best obsolete gadget, of course, is the one you have the fondest personal memories of. Because it’s not obsolete if you still love it.
Photo by Grant Hutchinson