Apple-1 Mystery Is Finally Solved 45 Years Later

Apple-1 Mystery Is Finally Solved 45 Years Later
Photo: MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Getty Images

About 45 years ago, Apple sold 200 of its first-ever product: the Apple-1 computer. Of those, around 82 still exist and about 80 in the first batch of 100 are said to have a handwritten serial number on the mainboard (these appear as “01-00##”). Only a few dozen of those 80 are still around. For decades, a handful of Apple fanatics wondered who penned those serial numbers, but nobody within the company would fess up. Now we finally know who scribbled on those computers, as reported by 9to5Mac.

Let’s back up: Steve Wozniak said he didn’t do it; Steve Jobs supposedly said it wasn’t him, either; Daniel Kottke, who assembled and tested some of the boards, denied it; and all of the board makers maintained their innocence. One of the leading theories was that the Byte Shop, which had purchased the first 50 Apple-1 computers, was responsible, except that owner Paul Terrell said he hadn’t done it, either.

Achim Baqué, the curator of the Apple-1 Registry — a database of every known Apple-1 computer — was determined to solve this long-standing riddle, so he jumped on a plane from Germany to Los Angeles with two Apple-1 computers and put them in the hands of PSA, a handwriting authentication company dealing mainly in sports cards.

Along with these rare, valuable computers (last year, an Apple-1 sold for $US500,000 ($694,100)), the PSA collected photos of every handwritten number on Apple-1 computers and various other writing samples. The company then set about evaluating the evidence by identifying various characteristics, including slant, flow, pen pressure, and letter size.

After three months of research and examination, Achim Baqué with help from the PSA had finally solved the mystery: It was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs who had penned those numbers. Why he marked these particular units is a secret that will forever remain unsolved. It’s possible he forgot, but I prefer to think he did so knowing that he was planting the seed of what would become the world’s most valuable company.

You can read the full story over at the Apple-1 Registry, where you’ll find letters of authentication documents signed by PSA. Here is a link to one of the certified boards, which notes: “Steve Jobs did not sign the circuit board, however, all writing was written in his hand.”