Valuable Apple I Computer Recycled By Mystery Woman

An Apple I computer, built in 1976, is displayed during a 2013 online auction at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Somewhere in Silicon Valley, there’s a woman who doesn’t know she has a $100,000 check waiting for her.  No, she didn’t win the lottery. She recycled a vintage computer worth an awful lot of money.

In this part of the world, people recycle a lot of computers. But you don’t see too many Apple I models turn up. Apple I, as in: the first generation of computers that the company produced. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne made about 200 of them in 1976.

The folks at the recycling firm that received the computer, Clean Bay Area, realized what they had only when they opened the box a few weeks after a recently widowed woman dropped it off and refused to get a receipt or leave her name.

"We want to just find the lady, seriously," says Victor Gichun, vice president of the firm. He says they sold the Apple I for $200,000 to a private collector, and it's company policy to split the proceeds 50-50.

Gichun didn't believe he had a genuine vintage computer when he first saw it. "I didn’t think it was real. I thought 'It’s fake.' I thought somebody was playing in a garage, trying to pretend he was Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak. Something like that."

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But his business partner recognized the computer as the real deal and began researching online to see what they were going for. The highest price he found was $200,000.

"He said, 'Guess how much it costs,' " recalls Gichun. "I said, '$1,000?' 'No, more.' I said '$10,000.' He said, 'Way more.' You’re kidding me. No way that this piece of wood and keyboard could cost $50,000!"

When a prospective collector came by to look at the unit and asked what they were selling it for, they said $200,000. The man came back with cash, and Gichon wondered why it was such an easy sale.

Turns out another Apple I fetched $671,000 at an auction in Germany in 2013.

“This guy just got a bargain!" Gichun says. "But you know, we don’t complain. Because we got it for nothing.”

So why put out the call for the woman? The company business model relies on clients, mostly businesses, trusting they’ll get an honest deal on the residual value of equipment.

“This is a very small world. Sometimes, we work with huge companies, and they get rid of equipment that cost millions of dollars 10 years ago. Now, it’s maybe $20,000 $50,000, $100,000, but that’s still big money, right? If they don’t trust you, how can you work with them?”

The woman has not returned, but Gichon has been getting a lot of emails offering various speculation as to who she is.

And whoever she is, she has a nice payday coming. If she'd only come forward, that is.

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UPDATE 6/12/15: Victor Gichun reports the woman still has not come forward, despite a flurry of media coverage.  CleanBayArea has set up a YouTube channel featuring 30+ reports.

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