A single note on a piece of notebook paper that Steve Jobs probably spent 10 minutes writing in 1976 is going up for auction today, and the auction house running the whole thing estimates it could fetch $60,000.

It runs 84 words--meaning it's about 15 percent as long as this article--and it was written apparently in ball point pen.

Quite possibly, it amounts to the first-ever ad for an Apple product, as it describes the Apple 1 computer, on sale according to Jobs in the letter for $75, and which Jobs refers to as "a real deal."


Jobs apparently wrote it for a friend who was thinking of buying an Apple. Other main features he touts on the page include the fact that it had a screen -- a "full CRT terminal," which at the time was "revolutionary," according to an auction house summary, as "most other hobbyist computers required programming based upon a bank of flashing LEDs on the front panel."

Accompanying the notebook paper: two Polaroid photos of an assembled board, which the auction house surmises was "likely one of the rare lost Apple-1 production prototypes," plus a Polaroid screen shot of the CRT screen, which displays Jobs's address and phone number at the time.

By the way, that's 11161 Crist Drive in Los Altos, California, which was his parents' house and is now designated as an historic site, and (415) 968-3596, which if you dial it now leads to a recording saying that it's a mailbox that hasn't been assigned (I tried it.).

Among the other Apple-related items up for bid today at the privately owned international auction house, Bonhams: 

  • a working Apple-1 computer that Jobs gave as a gift to its current owner (est. bids: $250,000-350,000)
  • a working Apple Lisa, which is the computer that brought the mouse and graphical user interface (GUI) to the broader public (est. bids: $30,000-50,000).

But it's the single piece of notebook paper that's attracting the most attention.

Jobs was 21 at the time, working with Steve Wozniak out of his parents' garage, still together with Chrisann Brennan, and walking around "with his underwear hanging out, barefoot and hippie-like," as a neighbor later recalled.  

It was so early in the history of the company that Apple's third co-founder, Ronald Wayne, was either still a part of the firm or had just left. (The founding document that the three men signed went for more than $1.5 million at auction back in 2011.)

It's fascinating to put this ad into context: Jobs was still writing ads by hand a year before the Apple II that really jumpstarted the company. Five years later, he'd be a multimillionaire and IBM would enter the personal computer market; Jobs would respond by running a full-page "Welcome, IBM" ad in The Wall Street Journal.

Three years after that, Apple would produce one of the most iconic television ads in history--and certainly to that point: the 1984 Super Bowl Ad. 

But for now, it was still Jobs, with Wozniak--barefoot and long-haired, scribbling down specs on a single piece of paper.

And now it's likely worth tens of thousands of dollars, at least.

Published on: Dec 5, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.