Did you know you could make money collecting vintage computers and gadgets?
Did you know that some of the old ones are now considered vintage?
Well it’s one of the fastest-growing areas of collectibles now, as people live and breathe computers and mobile phones and get evermore fascinated by the original ones.
Even failed old models are being sold for a surprising amount now. So if you think you have a battered old Amstrad or Betamax in the attic, get it out, dust it off and make some money out of it!
- Why would anyone want an old computer or console?
- What computers and consoles are people looking for?
- Where can I get my hands on a vintage computer/console?
- How much money could I make?
- That seems a lot of effort… should I just start from now?
In October 2014 one of Apple’s first pre-assembled computers – the Apple-1 – was sold for a staggering $905,000 at an auction in New York.
Allow yourself time to process that for a minute…
…that’s about £580,000 for something that would have originally have cost less than $700 (around $4000 if you take inflation into account) if you had bought it in 1976.
Admittedly this is a particularly rare example of a vintage computer.
It’s one of 50 Apple-1 computers that were made by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in Steve Job’s garage and one of only 15 in working condition.
Nevertheless there is an ever growing market for vintage computers and consoles, and it’s not impossible that you might have one.
Only last year a woman dropped off an Apple 1 computer at a recycling centre having no idea of its worth – it sold for £136,000!
Nostalgia for them is growing which means there is a real potential money-making opportunity here for you.
Read on to see how you can cash-in on this trend!
Good question – you could be looking at your computer now wondering why anyone would want this big lump of metal and plastic. However, there are three main reasons why old computers have become valuable.
Firstly, as is the case with the Apple-1, they are an important part of history. The Apple-1 was one of the first models made by the men who founded a huge multinational company and so museums were interested. If you can get your hands on a computer that is of historical significance then you’re laughing.
Many people who grew up using the old computers and consoles are now feeling a sense of nostalgia and so are compelled to get their hands back on a model that they have not had access to for some time.
Erik Klein, owner of vintage-computer.com who has amassed a large collection of vintage machines, says “Vintage computers are driven almost entirely by nostalgia. There isn’t a whole lot of practical use for an Atari 800 these days but there are people who remember how amazing that machine (and others) were when new and they want to feel and enjoy that again. The impact of Star Raiders or M.U.L.E on today’s working adults cannot be underestimated.”
Finally, some people simply enjoy collecting vintage computers and models and so will pay a tidy sum to add to their collection.
Rare and cool ones.
So…find yourself a museum piece, sell it for a fortune and retire early. Simples!
OK, maybe that’s easier said than done.
In truth you’re unlikely to find a vintage computer that will sell for anything like the price of the Apple-1. But there are still lots of vintage computers and consoles that people will pay a tidy sum for.
You need to know what you’re looking out for
- The most important factor in a vintage computer’s worth is its rarity – something that is mass produced simply won’t make a lot of money because, well, everybody has one. You’re best looking out for a computer model from the 1970s or 1980s as these weren’t produced in massive quantities and therefore are likely to be worth more.
- Check the serial number! The earlier in a production run a computer is, the more it is likely to be worth. Obviously you’d need to know your stuff to know if it is early in the production line, but if you can find an early model then it will likely be worth more.
- As with nearly every collectible, the condition will affect it’s price. This is particularly clear with early video games that can easily make hundreds of pounds in original packaging but which are more or less worthless without it.
Ideally you want something that was once popular (otherwise who’s going to want it now?) but was niche enough for there not to have been a whole load produced.
A good example is the Siemens CL4 SIMpad. This was an internet tablet that didn’t sell well because it ran Windows CE, a poor operating system. However it is possible to replace Windows CE with a version of Linux (an alternative operating system) which is very popular with some tech fans. This means you could get around £250 for selling the SIMpad on.
Oddly-enough, even failed vintage computers and other gadgets from the 80s and 90s fetch a high price, particularly if they’re rare (maybe because most owners threw them away in disgust!).
For example, a boxed Sega Saturn recently sold on eBay for £722 (RRP in 1995 was £399) and amazingly a BetaMax player, which you’d expect to be worth nothing, sold for £1,617.
The Saturn only sold 9 million units when it came out, compared to 102M Playstations and only 2M BetaMax players sold compared to 200M for VHS. This very rarity has made them more valuable than you would expect.
The bad news is that the awareness of the potential value of vintage computers has grown and so it’s getting ever harder to find a vintage computer/console for a good price.
It’s certainly not impossible, but you’ll have to dedicate time to sniffing out a good find, or, at the very least, raiding your own (or your parents’) attic to see what glories are mouldering there.
So it really needs to be a passion and not simply a money-making enterprise for you, if for no other reason than you need to have the knowledge to know a valuable computer/console when you see one.
Erik Klein, vintage computer expert, says “Finding vintage items is, in my opinion, a big part of the adventure. There are lots of possible sources, each with their own advantages and pitfalls.”
Where to look for your computer hardware
- Car boot sales – It’s entirely possible that you’ll discover a good piece of equipment at a car boot sale. There is a problem, however – you know when you see on TV someone had bought an antique for 50p at a boot sale that turns out to be worth £1,000s but when you go it all seems to be tat? Well that is still the case when you go looking with a purpose. In fact it can be even more annoying when you have something particular in mind. That’s not to say car boot sales aren’t worth checking out, just be realistic!
- Auctions – Auctions are more likely to produce a good lead, particularly if they’re auctioning off assets of a liquidated business that use computers. However, you are likely to be bidding against specialists and enthusiasts like you who know what to look for and know the value of items. You might not get such a good bargain.
- eBay – You could simply search on eBay for what you’re looking for. The trouble is you’re likely to struggle finding it a good price. Even if the seller doesn’t recognise the value of their item there will be a whole load of collectors who do. Still, always worth a try! eBay is one of your best bets when it comes to selling though.
- Hamfests – If you’re not sure what a Hamfest is (no, it’s not a celebration of pork!), a Hamfest is when people, interested in amateur radio, get together for a convention. There will also be flea markets and because those who go to Hamfests are likely to also be interested in computing as well, there’s a much better chance you’ll find something worth purchasing. If you want to find out what events are taking place near you visit the Radio Society of Great Britain.
- Freecycle/Craigslist – You may be able to find a good deal browsing these lists although don’t imagine you’re the only one looking – plan to strike fast if you see an item that you want.
- Message boards – Eric Klein says ” My site hosts message boards and a marketplace that are good sources for machines, parts and advice. There are others out there as well. Just be aware of the culture of these places. Collector oriented sites are going to be a little wary of picker types looking for a quick buck. Fortunately, though, most people are a little bit of both. They collect some and sell some to fund that next purchase…”
- Put an ad in your local paper – Why not put an ad in your local paper saying you’re looking for old computers (probably best you specify what you mean by ‘old’ – otherwise you might get a lot of recent tat!) You never know what people might otherwise just throw away!
There’s potentially huge money to be made from the right vintage computer, although most people won’t find one that a museum will pay big for.
Price is also very dependent upon the item you’re selling, the condition, how you sell it and the current appetite of the market at the time. You could make hundreds or even thousands of pounds, there’s no one set price.
Erik Klein says “At the ridiculously high end there are original Apple 1 machines being sold today that are approaching a million dollars. These machines were selling in the $15,000-$25,000 range just 7 or 8 years ago and originally sold for under $700 in 1976.
“As the prices on those have gone up (supply is a very limited 50 or so machines worldwide) the slightly newer and more common machines from Apple have ridden their coattails.
“Some stuff will likely never appreciate significantly. The Commodore 64 still holds the world record for most sold computer of all time, but even relatively common machines like the aforementioned Atari 800 are increasing in value as quality examples become harder to find.”
As a very British example, if you can get your hands on a Clive Sinclair’s ZX80 (their first home computer) with packaging you could get £400 for it.
To get an idea of how much you can make it’s best to checkout how much other users are selling theirs for on websites such as eBay, or sellmyretro.com. For vintage consoles and video games you can check out sites like retrogamingcollector.com which has a price guide for every gaming product available.
When you sell…
When selling it’s important to be absolutely honest about the item, and make sure to list everything included with the item for the maximum chance of selling. Including a photo will also help so people can be reassured that you have what you say you’re selling.
When it comes to selling you can use these sites to sell on, but it’s worth speaking to the guys at vintage-computer.com so you can get a quick estimate from computer enthusiasts on how much it might be worth.
You may be thinking that collecting vintage computers isn’t for you but wondering if you should start saving all your devices that you have now to sell on for a profit in the future.
The trouble is technology is mass-produced now so it’s very unlikely that the devices that most of us own will ever be rare enough to make any real money.
That being said, if you can get the first version of a device or a limited edition version, there’s a good chance that if you keep the box and everything that came with it that it may be worth something in the future! If you don’t open the box at all, that will increase the chances even more.
Basically you have to be one of those people who sleeps overnight outside your local Apple Store to be the one of the first to get the latest fab gizmo they bring out…then never take it out of the box.
Also, some game developers who make games for specific consoles get special ‘development kits’ – consoles that come out before the public get them – which are fairly rare and, therefore, become valuable later on. If you’re a developer, or you live with one, make sure you keep ALL of these kits.
Another thing to consider – if you have money to splash around – is to purposely go for computers and gadgets that are failing. Those are the ones that tend to produce fewer than the successful ones so, in the long term (if you can wait that long) they could rise surprisingly well in price.
So while it may not be easy finding devices today that will be worth something in the future, it’s something to always bear in mind when thinking about buying a technology product.
Are you a collector? What money have you made from your items? Tell us in the comments below.