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May 1, 2017

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Apple I computer fetches US$374,500 at NY auction

NEW YORK -- A rare, still-working Apple I Computer from 1976 sold at Sotheby's auction house on Friday for US$374,500, more than 500 times its original retail price.

The computer, one of only a handful in full working condition, had been estimated to sell for about US$150,000 at the auctioneer's sale of books and manuscripts.

The Apple computer, built by the company's founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, included the original cassette interface, operating instructions and BASIC computer language user's manual. But like all Apple Is, it did not come with a monitor or power supply.

Two bidders competed for the machine, the first compact computer to allow casual users to type on a keyboard and operate basic programs. An anonymous telephone bidder prevailed for a final cost of just under US$375,000 including commission.

The Apple founders created the personal computer in 1976 and presented it at a Palo Alto computer club, but there were few takers at the time. Paul Terrell, owner of a retail chain called Byte Shop, placed an order for 50 of the machines and sold them for US$666.66 retail — once Wozniak and Jobs agreed to assemble the circuit boards rather than offer them as kits, Sotheby's said.

The pair then produced 150 more and sold them to friends and other vendors. Sotheby's said fewer than 50 original Apple Is are believed to survive, with only six known to be in working condition.

Other highlights of the sale, which took in a total of US$2.67 million, included an unpublished F. Scott Fitzgerald story, "The I.O.U.," which sold to an unidentified U.S. institution for US$194,500, far above the US$75,000 pre-sale estimate, and an autographed letter from Oscar Wilde calling his work, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," his swan song. It fetched US$134,500, or more than three times the estimate.

Another unpublished Fitzgerald story, "Nightmare," from the early 1930s, doubled its pre-sales estimate and sold for just over US$80,000, while artist Andy Warhol's illustrated book from 1954, "25 Cats Named Sam and One Blue Pussy," also doubled its estimate, selling for just under US$60,000.

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