Letting go is hard

January 16th, 2012 12:00 PM
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In the Vintage Computer Forums, a thread was started last week entitled "Letting go of a collection is hard". The author, who joined the site for the purpose of sharing his plight, wrote:

I've finally decided to sell my large collection of Apple II clones. It's a big step for me but it needs to happen. So today, I began testing and photographing the systems and writing the formal listings for eBay. Ugh. This is depressing! I knew it would be hard but geez. I didn't expect to feel so sad about it. The odd part is that I haven't even seen these computers (out of the box) in at least 10 years so why should I feel so sentimental about them? I don't know but I'm not enjoying letting go.

As a collector and historian, I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. I also enjoyed taking each system apart, cleaning the grunge off, and restoring them to working order. I would try to discover whatever I could about the companies who made these computers and whenever possible, I made contact with the actual people who helped design them. I cultivated friendships with fellow vintage computer collectors and spent hundreds of hours building a website about what I had found. So in many ways, it's not just a bunch of old computer junk that selling, it's more like I'm letting go of a part of my life that I thoroughly enjoyed at one time. Letting go of these systems IS the right thing for me to do, but it's not a pleasant experience at all.

Ernest didn't detail why he's getting rid of the machines: is it a financial matter? Is he downsizing his house? Has a significant other dictated, "That old junk has to go"? All these reasons are more or less valid, and as someone who recently moved for the first time in ten years, I can appreciate the desire to have less "stuff" to truck around. But it's also hard to know what the future will hold. After I decommissioned my dial-up BBS in 1997, my Apple IIGS sat unused for more than a decade. It was only three years ago that I dusted it off and booted it back up, adding a physical component to the emulation I'd relied on in the meantime. Having that machine back up and running serves many purposes: it's a point of pride, a necessary aspect to a file transfer setup, and a workplace conversation piece.

And, as with Ernest, the Apple II is a touchstone. It represents and parallels the course of my life, reminding me where I come from, what I do, and why I do it. To lose the Apple II would not rip those qualities from my heart, but it would make me infinitely sadder to not have a physical reality that mirrors what I know and feel inside. I'm glad to know I won't need to experience that disconnect anytime soon.

Have you ever had to get rid of once precious inventory? What made you do it, and how did you feel? Have you ever regretted it?

Ron Wayne's document cache

December 22nd, 2011 3:43 PM
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Earlier this month, Apple's founding contact was auctioned from the estate of Wade Saadi by Sotheby's. Its estimated value was in the range of $100,000 to $150,000 USD.

It went for $1,350,500 — almost ten times more than expected. For comparison, an actual Apple-1 computer went for $213,600, or 15% as much as the contract.

It's hard to see this sale as yet another unfortunate transaction in which Apple co-founder Ron Wayne was involved. He sold this same contract in 1994 ago for $500 (although some reports indicate it was several thousand dollars); if he'd held onto it, he could've sold it for 2,701 times more than what he got for it. Of course, that's nothing compared to the $800 for which he sold his 10% share of Apple stock in 1976. Today, it'd be worth $35 billion, or 43,750,000 times more.

But there may be hope yet. That contract was one of several documents that Wayne has kept in his possession all these years. Brian Heater of Engadget recently rifled through Wayne's archives:

The documents, stashed in a USPS mailer kept by the door of his office, were a veritable treasure trove of information, including pages of pages of plans and pencils drawings of an Apple I enclosure Jobs asked Wayne to build — his creation was ultimately rejected by Apple and lost to history as the company gained steam.

Also stored in the envelope were a facsimile of the contract signed by Wayne, Woz and Jobs, which recently sold on auction for more than $1 million — in fact, it was Wayne's original copy that hit the auction block. He had parted ways with it for far, far less some time ago. Wayne's Statement of Withdrawal is in the pile as well — the document effectively ended his term with the company, filed for a $5 fee. Also inside are an Apple I operation manual, with the company's original logo, designed by Wayne himself and an Apple II order form.

Will one of these documents end up on the auction block next? Will Wayne's brushes with fortune ever bear fruit? Or will he forever earn nothing more than a footnote in Apple's history?

(Hat tip to Jon Brooks and Bloomberg, both via Mike Maginnis)

Selling to Pawn Stars

March 3rd, 2011 11:10 AM
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Finding an Apple II for sale is not hard; one need only look on eBay, Craiglist, or any number of other online classifieds. Less common are in-person sales, and though they do occur at places like KansasFest, they rarely receive the publicity that an Apple IIGS did on a recent episode of Pawn Stars.

This show, a product of the History Channel, is a reality television series in which Las Vegas pawn brokers assess personal property and broker various transactions for people hoping to strike it rich in the city of Lost Wages. It's sort of an edgier take on PBS's Antiques Roadshow. I've never seen either show but was alerted to the Pawn Stars's Feb. 14 episode, "Wise Guys", described as follows:

The Pawn Stars take a mission briefing when presented with a fully functional 1941 M3 Armored Scout Truck from World War II. Will the gang head to battle for this bulletproof piece of military history or will an auto ambush force them to retreat? Then, Rick and Corey meet a man hoping to sell a check signed by notorious mobster Carlo Gambino. Will Rick make him an offer he can't refuse or will this deal sleep with the fishes? And later, Rick and Chumlee check out a 1987 Apple II GS Computer. Will they boot up some cash for this classic piece of technology or is the deal bound to crash?

I watched as a woman in her thirties tried to sell an Apple IIGS with boxes, manuals, and duplicated floppies. I was annoyed by the broker who said that he'd "sell it to someone who would turn it into an aquarium." His disregard and contempt for our favorite retrocomputer was palpable. I mentioned this to Emily Kahm, the vocal talent of the Open Apple podcast and the person who first pointed me to this episode. A regular viewer of the show, Kahm provided some context:

Rick is a shrewd businessman, and his whole business is buy low, sell high. Even when he thinks things are very, very cool, he always points out the flaws and the trouble to the seller so that he has more room to talk down the price. (and seriously, as a regular watcher, I've seen him go from the "interview" portion raving about the utter rare-ness of the coin/document/autograph/toy and saying there's nothing else like it in the world to telling the seller that it's just not worth that much because he would need to get it graded/refurbished/verified/whatever and that he doesn't have a great market for it…all true statements, but he selectively shares them with the seller). If you have any doubts about whether or not he was really interested in the Apple II, you need to watch the last minute of the episode :-)

Indeed, the background to the closing credits almost redeemed the show's star. The lot's television debut was briefly available for free streaming from the History Channel's Web site. The episode has since migrated to a $1.99 purchase from the iTunes Store.

But that's not the end of the story! As seen in this episode, the Apple's seller didn't get her original asking price. The show's hosts graciously allowed her to renege on her handshake in favor of a better deal on eBay:

This is the Apple IIGS (2 GS, ][GS) from the Pawn Stars episode “Wise Guys” (Season 4, Episode 10) – not just one LIKE the IIGS on Pawn Stars, but this is the ACTUAL COMPUTER FEATURED ON THE SHOW!!

So, you may ask, "Didn't you sell that computer to the pawn shop?" Well, I had agreed to sell it during the taping, but immediately afterwards regretted letting it go for only $100. So they said it was no big deal – I could keep my computer, and they could keep their money.

So why sell it now? Well, I've been out of work for quite a while. I've also recently moved into a smaller home, so I don't have the room to keep it set up anymore, and it's taking up a lot of room in storage.

And finally, "How do I know it's the same one from the show?" Well, in the listing I'm including a picture of myself with the computer – check it against the episode, it's me! Also, the F1 Racer disk (the one shown being played in the episode), is autographed by Chum Lee! In addition, the game Rick was playing at the end of the show (Thexder) is in the stash also.

The auction closed on Feb. 27 for $315, plus $175 shipping for the many disks and peripherals listed in the auction description. What do you think — a fair deal? Worth the trouble of selling online vs. a quick trip to the local pawn shop? How much did the televised publicity contribute to the ultimate price tag?

(Hat tip to EddieDX4)