It’s possible to make money collecting retro or vintage computers and gadgets that are no longer available.
Many older models are now considered collectables and are worth a considerable amount of money. Collecting vintage technology is now one of the fastest-growing niches for collectible enthusiasts. And, as technology evolves and new models replace existing ones, more and more items become retro and later vintage.
Collectors themselves are fascinated by older technology and track down items that are rare. As these items are no longer being manufactured or sold in the traditional way, they can be difficult to come by. Certain items may have been causally thrown away by their former owners when they either stopped working or were naturally replaced, as a result of this there is now a finite number of these collectables still in existence.
Even models that were not considered a commercial success when they were released are being sold for a surprising amount now – their notoriety has almost made them special!
If you think you have a battered old Amstrad or Betamax in the attic, consider getting it out, dusting it off and seeing what is may be worth today.
Games consoles are one of the most popular pieces of technology that collectors target, they undergo a particularly interesting journey from initial release to discontinuation. Many discontinued consoles have a resurgence many years later, despite much more modern gaming machines having replaced them.
The Sega Dreamcast is one such example; the console was considered a commercial failure when it was released, facing competition from an increasingly crowded market. Going up against the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, the Dreamcast’s failure was so catastrophic for Sega that it forced the company to completely rebrand as a software developer and abandon creating hardware altogether.
However the Dreamcast eventually became appreciated for it’s quirky innovation and underrated catalogue of games. Now the Dreamcast once again has servers up and running around the world, as fans went out of their way to resurrect a console (and network) that had ceased production over a decade earlier. Models of the console in working order are now valuable and difficult to come by without paying top dollar. The Dreamcast has graduated from its status as retro to vintage, and is enjoying the benefits that come from this status that it didn’t get to enjoy in 1999.
In October 2014 one of Apple’s very first pre-assembled computers; the Apple 1, was sold for a staggering $905,000 at an auction in New York. Imagine having one of these in working order that you’ve not touched for thirty years, only to discover this life-changing information.
To break it down further, that’s £580,000 for a product that would have originally cost less than $700 if you had bought it in 1976. Admittedly this is a particularly rare example of a vintage computer. It’s one of only fifty Apple 1 computers made in Steve Wozniak in Steve Job’s garage and one of only fifteen in working condition.
Nevertheless, there is an ever-growing market for vintage computers and consoles and if you own one like it, it could be life changing.
In recent years another Apple 1 computer at a recycling centre was sold for £136,000. The owner had no idea of what it was worth.
Nostalgia for these items is what’s fueling collector’s interest, and this interest is growing. It means there is a real potential for money to be made for those who are prepared to go routing around their attics.
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.
As we said above, history is important. Technology represents a roadmap of human innovation, genius and progress and deserves to be celebrated. These items are an important part of our lives.
The Apple 1 was one of the first models made by the men who founded a huge multinational company, which arguably changed the world, so naturally museums were interested. If you can get your hands on a computer that is of historical significance, then you’re holding a machine which will be potentially remembered for centuries.
Many people who grew up using the old computers and consoles are now feeling a sense of nostalgia and compulsion to re-visit moments from their childhood. It may be their first games console that encouraged them to be a gamer for life, or, it could be the computer they launched their own business on.
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.
Sometimes simply possessing the item is satisfying enough.
One interesting trend beginning to catch on is collectors using retro game consoles as ornaments. These are items that they grew up with, spent time with alongside their loved ones. To some, it could be argued that these machines are considered companions in their own right. This view is readily accepted when it comes to cars, so it makes sense to apply to other machines that also hold emotional value.
Rare and interesting computers and gadgets are the ones people are looking for. It may be for re-sale, bragging rights or any other reason. Why does anyone collect anything? It may just be the sense of purpose.
In truth, none of us are likely to find a vintage computer that will sell for anything like the price of the Apple 1. However, there are still lots of vintage computers and consoles that people will pay a large sum for.
You need to know what you’re looking out for
- The most important factor when establishing the worth of an item is its rarity. Items that are mass-produced are unlikely to make a lot of money because they are common and easy to find. Of course there are exceptions, like the Dreamcast, but scarcity is what ultimately creates value. You’re best looking out for a computer model from the 1970s or 1980s, as these weren’t produced in massive quantities. Also, many of the models that were made have probably been disposed of since then, making the working models even more valuable.
- Check the serial number. The earlier in a production process a model is, the more it’s likely to be worth. Original models tend to be rarer and possess fewer ‘tweaks’ than their more mass-produced and profitable successors enjoyed. The original iPhone, for example, although mass-produced, wasn’t produced on the same scale the newer models are. It will forever go down in history as the model that started the iPhone revolution, and because of this it’s likely to become more valuable in time than any successor models – regardless of how many bells and whistles they have!
- 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. If an item is ‘mint in box’ it’s bound to be worth a lot more.
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, an operating system that didn’t take off. However, today it’s possible to replace Windows CE with a version of Linux (an alternative operating system), which is very popular with some tech fans. This change in OS has breathed new life into a system that actually always did have plenty of potential. Today they still retail around £250.
Oddly enough, even failed vintage computers and other gadgets from the 80s and 90s fetch a high price, particularly if they’re rare. At the time, the owners didn’t see the value (and who can blame them?)
For example, a boxed Sega Saturn (the console released before the Dreamcast that was also a commercial failure for Sega) 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. It’s ironic that VHS made BetaMax obsolete, yet thirty years later it’s BetaMax that carries the most value. People are interested in the platform, as at the time many people never got to use one. This gives it a sense of mystery.
The bad news is that the awareness of the potential value of vintage computers has grown over the years, those doing it are very well researched, and so it’s getting ever harder to find a vintage computer/console for a good price.
Although the opportunity is there for those who have the time to go rooting through their lofts (or their parents’ attic) to see what technological gems are mouldering there. So it can be worth the effort. Especially if you know you used to own some older tech and have it stored away somewhere. It’s certainly worth locating and seeing if it still works, then researching its value. To many people it’s about the thrill of the hunt more than the potential pot of gold.
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.
Don’t shy away from the flaws, they may put some buyers off but not all of them. It’s best to be upfront so they buyer doesn’t request a refund or accuse you of false advertising. If the item has value it will sell to the right person regardless of flaws.
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!
Remember our Dreamcast example from earlier, well this generation’s Dreamcast is the Nintendo Wii U. Not as many were made due to it being a commercial failure. Due to it’s unique design and features, the Wii U may one day have a similar resurgence. Consider boxing it up and storing it instead of selling it. If you have one brand new and still in box then don’t open it, bide your time, that will increase the chances even more.
To succeed in this area, you have to be one of those people who has their eyes on the prize and recognises the trends when it comes to gadgets becoming vintage and valuable. It’s often the items that are less successful that become more legendary. This isn’t a rule but is a useful tip. The same applies to original models (think iPhone 1) or unique and special edition models of gadgets.
Also, some game developers who make games for specific consoles get special ‘development kits’, these are consoles that came out before the public their official release. They were designed to be usable prototypes and are fairly rare and, therefore, become very valuable later on. If you’re a developer, or you live with one, make sure you keep ALL of these kits.
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.
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Are you a collector? What money have you made from your items? Tell us in the comments below.