Raab in Forbes: The hunt for autographs of Steve Jobs

This piece first appeared on Forbes.com at http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanraab/2014/11/17/is-this-apple-computer-worth-1-million/.

Is This Apple Computer Worth $1 Million?

Are people willing to pay tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars for something you created? Does the world of the seasoned collector open its embrace for your autograph, your art, or your creation?  It doesn’t happen a lot.  But with Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and Apple, the answer is yes. The hunt is already on for things they made or signed and, in some cases, those things cost a pretty penny.

Next month, an Apple-1 computer, purportedly sold by Jobs himself out of his garage will be offered for sale. The antique, which evidently still runs, could fetch a million dollars. Last month, another Apple-1 computer, also functioning, sold for $905,000. The buyer?  The Henry Ford Museum.  In 2011, the Apple Computer Company Partnership agreement signed by Wozniak, Jobs, and Ron Wayne, sold for more than $1.3 million. Even less historically significant pieces of Steve Jobs sell for thousands. If you look hard enough, you can even find and buy an original copy of his high school yearbook.

And interest is widespread. The Henry Ford Museum, in its acquisition, was bidding against at least one other motivated buyer. My business, The Raab Collection, has carried Apple-related historical documents, and inquiries for them come not only from New York and San Francisco, but also Beijing, Oslo, and Delhi, to name a few places. Buyers did not wait for Jobs’s passing to show a steady interest. That collectors have come to the table so early and enthusiastically and with few age or geographic limitations is unprecedented in our experience.

So what’s the deal? Why is this happening? Here are a few possible explanations.

First, look to the long lines outside the closest Apple Store.  People collect material that means something to them personally and emotionally, material they can connect with, and people love their iPhones, Macs, and iPads. This is the antique / collectible corollary of long lines for the newest product. Even in the elite circles of refined collectors, Apple relics see pent up demand.

Second, there is legitimate scarcity. It would be much easier today to find a document signed by Abraham Lincoln than one signed by Steve Jobs. It’s not a close call, and we are looking. Jobs signed things. But people who have them are, by and large, not selling them, and so they are hard to find.

Third, people who grew up in the ever-evolving technological age have gotten older and now have more money, and they are spending it.  They are often bidding against older, well-heeled collectors in more traditional demographics. It’s a confluence between a younger, world-wide, and increasingly affluent generation and an older group, both of which are devoted to Apple products.

The last factor is that this material is truly historically important. In other words, this is not a fad. “When acquiring artifacts for The Henry Ford’s Archive of American Innovation, we look at how the items will expand our ability to tell the important stories of American culture and its greatest innovators,” said Patricia Mooradian, president of The Henry Ford Museum.  People collect material that is historically or culturally significant and the personal computer falls into both categories. The creation of the Apple-1 computer and its creators’ continued influence on the personal computer industry and in technology in general has made a true mark on our lives and will survive in the history books.

So here is an interesting way to assess legacy.  Consider Steve Wozniak, just 64 years, who has been witness to a legal document he signed and a computer he built as a kid selling for around a million dollars each.  I believe the craze has just begun.

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