Apple-1 'prototype' history questioned as auction continues

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Doubts have been raised about the history of a supposed Apple-1 prototype owned by Steve Jobs that is up for auction, with Steve Wozniak and others suggesting claims about the board may not be completely correct.

An original prototype Apple-1 computer claimed to have been owned by Steve Jobs is currently under auction, a specimen that is anticipated to hit $500,000 when bidding ends. However, a report checking the board's history indicates that not all of the claims may be true.

The auction listing claims the board was handed over to its current anonymous owner in the early 1990s. The board, which is missing components and has visible cracks, was also said to be the prototype used to demonstrate the computer to Paul Terrell, the owner of The Byte Shop, which agreed to buy 50 units.

The listing also says the board was hand-soldered by Wozniak himself.

However, a report by the Mercury News calls into question whether the history of the board is actually true. Checking in with some key witnesses, the report casts considerable doubt.

Wozniak's "hunch" is that it's "one of the first but not that we hand-soldered," after looking at photographs of the board. Woz couldn't definitively tell, as the photos provided "no real clues" and displayed standards parts used in the board's construction.

"I can't tell you what exact generation this board is," said Woz.

Paul Terrell, owner of the Byte Shop, recalls the meeting with Wozniak at the Homebrew Computer Club in 1976 when the board was demonstrated to him. However, he believes the board being auctioned was a production model from "the first delivery" of 50 computers, not a prototype.

Apple-1 Registry curator Achim Baque agrees that the board is probably not the Homebrew meeting board, but also that it wasn't sent to Terrell's shop. Rather, Baque things the board is the factory-made "one and only production prototype" before the board entered mass production, one that may have received some Woz modifications by hand.

According to Corey Cohen, board member of the Vintage Computer Federation, the board was soldered with tell-tale signs of it being worked on by Woz. These details included how the wires were run "in a very tight way" and a unique shape of solder that reveals the technique used by Woz in its construction.

The artifact is also produced by composite board which wasn't used for mass production, but instead was switched out for fiberglass circuit boards.

Cohen also points to Polaroid images taken by Terrell in 1976 showing the board, but says the store owner is "definitely misremembering" by saying the images showed one of the first 50 units and not the prototype. "People's memories are faulty, but you can't argue with the facts. We have the evidence," insists Cohen.

RR Auction stands by Cohen, calling him a "world-renowned expert on Apple 1s," and insisting the listing "is properly described. We guarantee it."

As of August 8, the board stands at a bid of $407,029, with the "Apple, Jobs, and Computer Hardware" auction set to run until August 18.

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