this week I found out that an Apple-1 Operation Manual that was sold at RR Auction for 42,600 USD is a reprint from the early 80ies.
Below is the copy/paste version of my latest blog feature:
Hope you enjoy the read!
Collector bought original Apple-1 Manual for $42.660. Or – did he?
On March 17th, 2022, the hammer fell at 42,660 USD for an allegedly original Apple-1 Operation Manual from 1976. Half a year later, the story takes a spectacular turn. Did the buyer purchase a reprint from the 80ies?
In the spring of 2021, I dived into a crazy project: Recreate the Apple-1 manuals from scratch (see picture to the left). The primary reason for doing this had been laser-printed copies of awful scans that people sold for 100 USD on eBay. I wanted to create an alternative.
Once I finished this crazy task, I posted about it in several forums. One user commented: "I have such an Apple-1 manual here. It does not seem to be from a scan. Maybe it is an original."
I was shocked and excited at the same time. Mind you: An original Apple-1 manual is supposed to be much rarer than the Apple-1 itself! So I asked the user if he could share more pictures – which he did. He also remembered that he won the manual back in 1983 in a competition of the "Apple User Group Europe" (A.U.G.E.), a German computer club founded in 1979.
While inspecting the scans provided closely, the story suddenly got a surprising twist: The fold-out schematics featured a handwritten note "6502" that appeared to have been printed rather than added later. Even more suspicious: I believed the order of the fold-out schematics was wrong. I have to say "I believed" because I have never laid my hands on an original Operation Manual, so I can not be 100 percent sure about the correct order of the schematics. But as they are labeled 1/3, 2/3, and 3/3, the proper order seems a no-brainer. In this manual version, though, the first two schematics appeared in the wrong order. But this made no sense: If this was not an original, who created it and why?
It was an Apple connoisseur who completed the mosaic. He told me that in the 80ies, a reprint had been produced in Germany as a giveaway for a local developer's conference. The template used for the reprint was an original Apple-1 Operation Manual. That particular specimen had been written into, thus featuring the note in the entire print run of a few hundred copies. Apart from the handwriting, the manual is an excellent reproduction that only differs in very few details, like the position and distance of the saddle-stitch binding, compared to an original. We will come back to this point later. For now, the main takeaway is that a reprint from around 1983 of the Apple-1 Operation Manual exists. And I bought that exact copy of the reprint from that forum user for 1,000 euros.
Fast forward to March 2022 when rrauction.com featured a group of 51 items in "The Steve Jobs Revolution: Engelbart, Atari and Apple." Because of the relatively large quantity and high quality of the items, the auction had no shortage of international media coverage.
The collection featured manuals, magazines, photographs, hardware – you name it. And among them: An Apple-1 Operation Manual estimated by RR Auction at 15,000 USD. And rightfully so! In the past, Apple-1 manuals in lesser good shape were auctioned for around 10.000 USD to 15.000 USD. So the price was absolutely in the range you would expect. I even wanted to bid myself – but as RR Auction does not accept American Express, I was out of the race before it started. And probably that's why I didn't bother to look at the pictures of #8025 more closely.
By coincidence, that changed this week. While chatting with a friend at my place, I mentioned that an Apple-1 Operation Manual auctioned for more than 40,000 USD back in March. He did not believe me, so I opened up the website. And I suddenly remembered something: When I redesigned the Apple-1 manuals from scratch in 2021, I could never 100 percent confirm the correct order of the schematics. So I checked the auction's pictures to see if there were new insights to gain. To my disappointment, the order was swapped around, just like in the reprint I bought. And that meant: My very own replica, although following the logical order of 1/3, 2/3, 3/3, was not faithful to the original.
Or … … was it?
On closer inspection of the pictures of lot #8025, I suddenly noticed the same handwritten note that the reprint I bought features. My heart rate doubled in seconds, and all kinds of theories surged in my head: There must have been more than one version of the original manual. And the one in the auction must be a "corrected" version. Yet, I wondered: Why didn't I learn about other versions of the manual during my extensive research (when I created the replicas)? So a different theory took over: This must be the original used as the template for the reprint. Yes, that must be it. Then again: How likely would such a coincidence be? And shouldn't the color of the handwriting differ at least a bit from the rest of the printing? But it doesn't.
The final nail to the coffin: The saddle-stitching. First, I compared the position of the staples shown in the auction's pictures with the reprint I bought from the forum user:
They were identical.
Then I compared them to other photos of original manuals shown online:
Not. Even. Close.
So it became overwhelmingly clear to me that somebody out there paid 42,660 USD for a reprint. I double-checked and triple-checked what I thought had happened. Finally, I wrote to Bobby Livingston, Executive Vice President of Public Relations, to share my findings and some questions regarding the case. Within a few hours, Bobby wrote back:
As I hope you know, RR Auction takes authenticity very seriously, and we'll look into your concerns. Kindly allow us time to examine the copy that we have sold.
48 hours later, Bobby came back again:
We agree with your findings that this is a replica. We were unaware of the replicas made in the 1980s. Thank you for educating us. We reached out to the winning bidder and offered him a full refund. He's asked to purchase the replica for a few thousand dollars because he enjoys it. We will be refunding the balance. The consigner is very well known to us and not a nefarious person. We did show it to our expert, but we only provided him with scans. Upon further review, and again with gratitude, we agree that the annotation is printed. We will make sure this never happens again.
The seller, according to applemust.com, bought the reprint at a German flea market in 1986 (which totally makes sense as the reprint was done in Germany in the first place – see above). Not being aware of the existence of a reprint, he assumed it must be an original and kept it in a drawer for decades before he eventually decided to auction it.
I appreciate the swift action and transparency that RR Auction has shown over the whole matter. Selling a reprint as an original is the very last thing any auction house wants to be convicted of. After this week's news, I can well imagine that stress levels rose to an all-time high at RR Auction. Still, RR Auction kept a professional and decent demeanor throughout. And while you could argue that this is nothing to praise but to expect, I have experienced it differently with other companies.
There is one more thing: When I created the Apple-1 Manual replicas, a few Apple enthusiasts blamed me for opening the doors for deception and fraud. That my work would be used as a basis by hordes of forgers who would flood the market with "originals." All of this is utter nonsense, of course. Apart from the fact that you can tell "my" manual replicas from an original quickly, it would be much more convincing to simply scan and reprint an original manual. How do I know? Well, in March 2022, that approach fooled an entire auction house, including their external experts. But in the end, all is well. The buyer got his money back, and everybody learned a bit. And that's never a bad thing, I guess.