The Apple-1 is the very first product from the minds of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and when one of the 50 or so boards known to still exist sells at auction it’s a big deal. These fragile pieces of computing history regularly fetch upwards of $US300,000 ($382,321).
Jimmy Grewal recently acquired one such board (the board would have been the heart of a computer you’d build yourself) in a private sale through Christie’s, seller anonymous, and original owner unknown. He’s been covering his restoration of the board on Twitter. The board itself wasn’t listed on Apple-1 expert Mike Willegal’s registry, making it a rare find indeed, and one Grewal had been looking to acquire for some time.
The Apple-1 boardPhoto: Jimmy Grewal
“I have been collecting vintage Apple computers since the mid/late 90’s when I was a student at Duke … though I got my first Apple in 1983 [a 1979 Apple II+] when I was in the first grade,” Grewal wrote to Gizmodo in an email. His connection with Apple goes even deeper. Before moving to Dubai and starting his own company – Elcome – he was Microsoft’s project manager on Internet Explorer for Mac.
Though a self-described “software guy” Grewal has an ace in the hole for what might otherwise be a difficult and delicate restoration: he manages a company with a circuit board repair division. “The team there helped me assemble an Apple-1 replica last year on the off chance that I ever got my hands on an original…that effort has paid off now as we have the knowledge, tools, and most importantly experience to tackle restoring something this rare and valuable.” While the first step remains basic cleaning, and he only received the board this weekend, skills gained from that dry run will already come to bear.
Testing for electrical anomalies Photo: Jimmy Grewal
“We’ve just begun electrical testing and have found an issue today that we are working on resolving. We’re not sure if it’s a single component or several that are causing the anomaly,” he wrote. It could be something easy, or it could required desoldering whole sections of a decades-old relic. And every worn-down component has to be replaced with as close to identical parts as still exist. “Over the past two years, as I became more serious about acquiring one, I’ve been sourcing the parts and accessories anticipating that they would come in hand later. Some are salvaged from similar vintage equipment like arcade machines, specifically 1975/76/77 Atari arcades. Some are [new old stock]. Some are components that I bought specifically for this purpose on eBay. In all cases we will only use the exact same replacement component and match the production date range of the Apple-1.”
While Apple-1s often fetch hundreds of thousands of dollas, Grewal had the chance to buy one from a former Apple employee back in 1999 while living in San Fransisco. “She wanted $US25k and I had a fraction of that to spare being fresh out of college. I instead invested what money I had in AAPL [stock]. I sold some of those shares to buy this Apple-1 primarily to “complete” my collection,” Grewal wrote. Financially, it seems he’s made the better choice, though his collection hasn’t suffered for it.
A portion of his collection. Starting at the top left and going clockwise: Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, original iMac G3, G4 Cube, G3 iBook, Powerbook 100, and Macintosh Portable.Photo: Jimmy Grewal
Some people dedicate their lives to collecting every make, model, and prototype from a specific hardware company. Grewal is less obsessive. “Many of those in my collection I owned from new, or were ones I lusted after in the past. My goal wasn’t to have one of everything, just the ones that mean something to me personally.”
Though he considers the Apple-1 the crown jewel of his collection, he doesn’t intend to keep it on a shelf in his office. “I hope to eventually find a museum or other public venue near me to put it on display. I want as many people as possible to be able to see it rather than keeping it in my office like some sort of trophy. It has already spent the last 40 years hidden away.”
Photo: Jimmy Grewal