Modern personal computers need to be on the cutting edge of technology if they are to be successful in the market, but is there also a place for antique or vintage computers? After all, there seem to be subcultures that appreciate other kinds of vintage technology—such as turntables that play vinyl records, classic cars, retro video game systems, and even vintage fixed gear bicycles—so it stands to reason that there would be a market for vintage computers as well. As it turns out, there is such a market out there. There probably isn’t anybody throwing out their state-of-the-art desktop PC in favor of a Commodore 64, but there are plenty of people out there who like to collect antique computers.
So, what appeal do these obsolete antiques hold for so many people? For some, they really are legitimate collector’s items. While not every old computer will command a huge price tag from collectors, some of the rarer and more influential machines, such as the Altair 8800, can sell for thousands of dollars in the right circles. Some people like to have old computers on hand to play old games that simply won’t run on a newer system. Still other collectors simply have an appreciation for computer history and like to own a piece of that history.
So let’s take a look at a few of the most collectible antique computers on the market today.
Altair 8800 (MITS, 1975)
The Altair 8800 may not have been the first microcomputer on the market, but it was the first that truly caught on with consumers. This Intel 80800-based machine began as a do-it-yourself project that had to be assembled with kits that were sold to hobbyists, but it gained national attention when it was famously featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics and spawned countless imitators, clones, and software suppliers, one of which was a small company known as Micro-Soft. The Altair 8800 sold well enough that it isn’t as valuable today as some other vintage computers, but there are collectors out there who may be willing to pay over $2,000 for one that is in good condition.
Alto (Xerox, 1973)
With the Alto, Xerox introduced many innovative features that wouldn’t become standard in the computer industry for several years. The Alto boasted a sophisticated graphical interface, ethernet capability, a mouse, and a laser printer, all of which wouldn’t be made available to mainstream consumers for at least a decade. The Alto was never sold commercially; it was used internally by Xerox and donated to universities. However, these machines can go for $5,000 to $10,000 on the collector’s market today.
Apple 1 (Apple, 1976)
Apple may be a giant in the computer industry today, but that clearly wasn’t the case back in 1976. The first Apple computer was appropriately named the Apple 1 and was primarily sold as a bare circuit board that hobbyists could convert into a working computer by soldering in their own chips. Apple 1s were eventually sold as fully assembled boards by electronics retailers. The Apple 1 was a modest success in its day, but few people could have predicted how influential Apple Computers would become. Today, the Apple 1 can be sold to collectors for up to $25,000. Apple’s hold on the PC market would be cemented the following year with the Apple II, which was the most sophisticated computer to be sold commercially at the time. But a working Apple II is only worth between $15 and $250 on the collector’s market.