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No bites (yet) for Apple collectibles after death of Jobs

Not everything Steve Jobs touched, as it turns out, turned to iGold.
/ Source: Reuters

Not everything Steve Jobs touched, as it turns out, turned to iGold.

With 12 minutes to go, an eBay auction ticked down, down, down Thursday afternoon for a trinket of Apple history dubbed "COLLECTIBLE-RARE": A set of demo floppy discs released between 1980 and 1983 for Apple III software programs.

The high bid: $7.50 for the set of seven, in pristine condition. And the top bidder, one of just two on the virtual auction floor, didn't even meet the reserve price. In the end, no one won the item and the disks went unsold, presumably to return to a dusty drawer in someone's basement.

Talk about a glitch in the program: When pop culture heroes die, their cultural artifacts are supposed to soar in value. But in the 24 hours after Jobs passed away from pancreatic cancer Wednesday, the news had yet to send prices on Apple regalia through the roof.

Elsewhere on eBay, the bidding activity was so silent you could hear a hard drive chug from 50 feet away. No bids on an Apple III external floppy disc drive, "buy it now" priced to sell at $160. Likewise for an Apple III System PFS Report software package, looking pristine and offered for $90.

Nor was there barely any love for newly-minted "Steve Jobs R.I.P." baseball caps, with the old-school Apple silhouette logo utilizing a profile of Jobs. Bidders cast a few scattered offers in the $12 range for the hats - maybe one or two per eBay vendor - and that was it.

It was as though Apple groupies, already disappointed with unveiling of the iPhone 4S, decided to cocoon with their MacBooks and pine for the good old days in private - avoiding their usual impulse to spend every spare dime on All Things Apple.

Yet as nostalgia and fondness for the high-tech guru builds over the next few weeks, that could well change. A Playboy magazine featuring an extensive interview with Jobs, from February 1985, was up to $71 in a mild sort of bidding frenzy. (In this case, it's assumed the winning bidder truly wants the Playboy to read the article.)

Then there are Jobs collectibles of a different sort. James Halperin, co-chairman of Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, owns with his wife a Maxfield Parrish painting previously owned by Jobs himself, and that was reputed to be one of Jobs' favorites.

"He was selling many of his favorite possessions at the time because he found them a distraction and wanted to hone his focus on Apple by simplifying the rest of his life," says Halperin, who purchased it from Jobs in 1985 for $70,000. Its value today? "$3 million to $4 million, or maybe more as of yesterday," Halperin says, "if only because more art collectors now understand the guy really had taste, and was always ahead of his time."

Meanwhile, finding old Apple computers and peripherals that have a sort of Smithsonian cache is hard because, well, Apple sold so many.

"There were huge, huge numbers of the machines sold," especially after Jobs returned to the company in 1997, says Roger Knuth, owner of Lapin Systems, an Apple specialty store. Besides repairing and selling Apples, Knuth also collects them; for many years a vintage spread of Apple machines graced the display window of his Evanston, Illinois store.

Knuth, who owns an ancient Apple 2E and an 1985 128K Macintosh - upgraded to a then-astonishing 1MB of computing power - hasn't been fielding any offers for his collection just yet. But he does know what some items were worth before Jobs' passing: "People already value the original 128K Mac and that has a pretty decent market value" as a collectible, he says.

Knuth's brother sold a 1984 Macintosh 128K for $1,300. That's a nice chunk of change for a tech dinosaur, but keep in mind the computer sold new for about $2,000, or $4,100 in 2010 dollars.

Will prices on the original Macintosh computers now go up? Tom Slater, Heritage's director of Americana auctions, doesn't think so. "Everyone has to die eventually, and real collectors are generally not affected much one way or the other when famous people pass," Slater says. "There is already active collecting interest in early Apple items; first-generation Apple computers have sold for tens of thousands of dollars." So Jobs' passing, he predicts, is unlikely to have any long-term effect on that market.

Knuth isn't sure how he'd react to any offers to buy items from his treasure trove. Right now, he's still a little numb. He and his Lapin crew, all Apple loyalists, had a rough go of it at work Thursday.

"I would love to do something in the store that commemorates Steve in some way," says Knuth, a leader in Chicago's community of Apple experts. "We're pretty sad about his loss. There will never be a replacement for Steve. It's just the passing of an icon."

Or, if you prefer, an iCon.