Vintage Computing: Turning Trash into Treasure

Vintage Computing: Trash to Treasure
Side Hustle

Ever since I was able to resell a “vintage” typewriter for a profit, my wife and I have been propelled to look for other potentially valuable items. We went as far as driving around garage sales of wealthy neighborhoods hoping to find a “hidden gem”: a 19th-century necklace, an oil painting from the next Vincent van Gogh, or perhaps a copy of the Declaration of Independence (not too long of a shot because we live near Philadelphia). But most of what we have sold, so far, was our own household items that we’ve likely purchased new. It seemed like our luck had been fully exhausted. Fortunately, we are doing this just as a hobby.

While she’s mostly focused on personal items like jewelry, shoes, and clothing, one category that I’m particularly interested in is vintage consumer electronics.  You and I know that technology has a very short lifespan. For instance, if you’re not living a frugal lifestyle, chances are, you are tossing away your old phones in favor of new ones like they’re your soiled diapers. And before you know it, you have a stockpile of uselessly outdated electronics. Some get recycled, but many end up in one’s basement or attic for a very long time until someone decides to give them away for next to nothing.

If you’re guilty of this stupid behavior, you should at least let the “special” ones appreciate in value to compensate. That’s because some could fetch quite a lot of money on popular online and traditional auctions. One such item is the original Apple iPhone, which if stayed unopened can command as much as $9,500 on eBay.

First Generation iPhone For Sale for $9,500 on Ebay
First Generation iPhone For Sale for $9,500 on eBay

You can argue that at that price point, one could have bought a two-year-old Ford Focus (yes, that’s how fast a brand new car depreciates in value). Why would anyone in their right mind buy an obsolete $9,500 phone? The answer is simple: speculative price appreciation. With the soaring stock market prices, some would-be investors are resorting to speculative investments hoping to profit. Buying a $9,500 outdated phone seems outrageous at first. But keep in mind that what’s an exorbitant amount of money for me and you could be the price of a biscuit from the perspective of someone who is worth over 20 million dollars.

Would this make you rich?

I’m not suggesting that you start buying speculative investments, very few people got rich from them. Most self-made millionaires got wealthy by carefully, patiently, and consistently investing their hard-earned money in traditional equity investments or maybe real estate. If you do, make sure that you are buying the junk at a low price. Just like investing in real estate, the money is made at the buy. Lucky you if you already have something potentially valuable in your possession. In either case, you should wait for it to appreciate in value before selling.

A case in point is the first Apple computer. Buddies Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak made and sold about 200 units to computer hobbyists in 1976 for $666 (and you thought Microsoft was evil). It didn’t even come with its own case. It was sold as a kit– the buyers had to improvise. The result was a piece of crap like the one shown below.

Apple I
The first Apple computer

Yet it didn’t stop investors from outbidding the crap out of each other’s wallets. Because of its historical significance and the fact that very few had been sold, this collector’s item is skyrocketing in value. At its peak, it had fetched close to a million dollars. Yes, it fell to $815,000 in 2016. But the overall trend is upwards.

Apple I winning bid over time

In fact, the Apple I auction price trumps Apple Inc.’s stock price in terms of capital appreciation in the same period as shown in the following chart.

Apple I vs Apple stock

Finding an original 1984 Apple Macintosh computer

Our luck had a fresh breath of new life not long ago while we were driving around a community not far from where we live. I found this really old Macintosh sitting alongside a pile of junk, left abandoned by its owner.

Found original Mac

Being an Apple computer (not the phone) enthusiast since the tender age of 13, I quickly recognized it as the first Apple Macintosh. I didn’t hesitate one bit and took the system straight home (yes, it’s legal to take someone else’s trash).

My concern was that the computer had been exposed to the elements. It is typical for electronic waste products to be left outside for days at a time without someone picking them up.

Another concern was that it didn’t come with any software. Any computer literate person over 25 knows that older computing machines do not have access to the Internet, let alone a WIFI connection. But I knew that this baby needed a home.

As soon as we arrived home, my kids curiously followed me as I placed the vintage computer on the kitchen counter. “Is that an old computer?” my 8-year-old asked. “Yes, it is. And your tablet is probably a thousand times faster than this.” I replied.

The moment of truth came soon after I plugged the power cord into the wall outlet. Will this computer work when I turn it on? I asked my kids to count from one to ten as I placed my index finger on the power switch.

One… Two… Three…  I powered it on the tenth, and it worked!!! I heard the famous Macintosh startup sound– an indication that the computer is very much alive. Too bad, I didn’t have the software to complete the test. But at least, it didn’t catch fire.

Hunting vintage software and restoration

The next step was to acquire vintage Mac software on a floppy diskette. Not only did I need to research what’s the best software I can purchase to test the machine, but I also needed to find a supplier. After browsing the web for countless hours, I finally found someone online who is engaged in selling abandonware, i.e., software that is so old that the original owner of the copyright won’t support or couldn’t care less at least until they discover that you’re making a killing selling the old products that they’d start to sue you. I grabbed my debit card and ordered System 1.1, which comes with the famous MacPaint program.

Days later, when the software arrived, I inserted the thing into the disk drive and rebooted. Alas, nothing happened. I did it over and over again, but it failed to read the diskette every time.

I quickly realized that I need to open the thing to investigate further. Experience told me that I need to clean up the disk drive head. The problem is that the original Macintosh designers intentionally made it harder for people to service the thing. They used special T15 screws that are buried deep in the case that cannot be reached by ordinary screwdrivers. Fortunately, I was able to borrow the necessary equipment to disassemble this 34 -year-old machine.

Disassembled Mac

After the disk drive had been fully disassembled from the rest of the machine, all I needed to clean the disk drive head was a cotton swab dipped in a bottle of 70% Isopropyl Alcohol. A few sprays of WD-40 lubricant on moving mechanical parts is enough to get the thing back into a complete working state.

Reassembling the whole thing was way easier as you already know what to expect. This part goes here, but that part needs to go first. I just needed to be very careful not to touch that high-voltage anode cap and connector behind the CRT monitor, or it could be game over for me (and my pursuit of happiness).

Once fully assembled, I slid the floppy into the drive and turned on the switch. Lo and behold, it worked like a charm! I almost felt like I’ve traveled back in time– the only thing that ruined the effect was this picture of an older Steve Jobs in MacPaint. He looked much younger in the ’80s.

Vintage Computing: Trash to Treasure

This computer is very special because it’s the first Apple Macintosh model ever. Released in 1984, the Macintosh 128K is the first widely successful personal computer that came with a graphical user interface and a mouse! It was even featured in a Superbowl commercial directed by renowned English film director Ridley Scott

Hopefully, I’d be able to resell this for a much higher price than it is currently selling for on eBay today.

$1,984 Macintosh on eBay

Have you found something lately that you think is valuable? Please share below.

Great trash hunting. I didn’t know that you can open a disk drive and put a WD-40 which I use on my bike. Is there a processor? Do you have to put thermal paste on it? I have a desktop and didn’t bother checking or cleaning the parts which I often do in the Philippines since madaming alikabok from where I live.

I’m excited how much you can sell it and any thoughts of what you will do with the money? Apple stocks or new Apple gadgets? Or probably buy more vintage stuff to sell online. Not a bad idea at all.

No, I didn’t have to apply thermal paste. Not sure, if I really have to. Processors this old have lower clock speeds. I’m not going to open that thing again, but thanks for bringing it up 🙂


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