The World’s First Desktop Computer Heads to Auction

Two rediscovered relics of electronics history are headed to the block later this month.

Bulky desktop computer with light orange keyboard
The vintage computer could sell for more than $60,000. Courtesy Heritage Auctions/HA.com

Employees of a waste disposal company were clearing out a U.K. home late last year when they made an accidental—and valuable—discovery. After stumbling upon some old boxes, they resurfaced a Q1 Desktop Micro Computer from 1972, largely considered to be the first microcomputer ever created, and the sleeker Q1 Lite from 1976.

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Two of the world’s earliest desktop computers, they could sell for upwards of $60,000 each when they make their auction debut with Heritage Auctions later this month. “Keep in mind these have never been to auction and there is no record or precedent set for them—therefore we’ll have to see what the market decides,” Sara Balbi, managing director Heritage’s London office, told Observer.

Built by the New York-based Q1 Corporation, the Q1 Desktop Micro Computer was the first “true” microcomputer, a term used to describe small computers created for individual use. It was powered by a single chip, the Intel 8008, instead of multi-chip microprocessors and contained a built-in screen, keyboard and printer. Despite having since fallen into relative obscurity, the computer hit the market years before other microcomputers like the MITS Altair 8800 and the Apple (AAPL) 1, the latter of which was introduced by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in 1976 as Apple’s first product.

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The pioneering computers paved the way for the electronic devices we use today. “The shift to a microprocessor-based architecture allowed the Q1 to punch well above its weight and support capabilities usually reserved for larger systems,” said Valarie Spiegel, Heritage’s director of video games, in a statement. “This early machine’s capabilities were impressive and set a precedent in the computing industry; it hinted at the future of personal computing and marked a pivotal moment in technological history, demonstrating the vast potential of microcomputers to transform both professional and personal computing landscapes.”

The Q1 and Q1 Lite weren’t cheap

The original Q1 and the Q1 Lite, which stand as two of only three remaining Q1 microcomputers in existence, both sold for the modern-day equivalent of $90,000 in the 1970s, according to Heritage. Alongside a Q1 companion desktop printer, the lots will highlight the auction house’s upcoming Video Games Signature Auction on May 24 and May 25.

Shortly after their discovery, the devices were exhibited at London’s Kingston University with other relics of computer history like the BBC Micro and Sinclair ZX8 in an exhibit entitled “Creating the Everything Device: Showcasing the Machines That Build the Future.” “We rely on computers for our work, communication, productivity and entertainment, but without the early trailblazers none of these would exist,” Paul Neve, a lecturer at Kingston University and expert in early computers, said in a statement. “There would be no PCs, no Macs and no Apple or Android phones without Q1 Corporation, Sinclair and Acorn.”

The Q1 computers aren’t the only vintage computers to hit the auction block in recent years. Apple 1 computers, especially, have been known to fetch staggering prices due to their scarcity and the company’s enduring appeal. One example realized $905,000 in 2014, while another sold for $400,000 in 2021. An Apple-1 computer prototype used by Jobs to showcase the desktop computer to California’s Byte Shop, one of the world’s first personal computer stores in the 1970s, was bought for nearly $700,000 in 2022.

The World’s First Desktop Computer Heads to Auction