Time Machine

Apple II, rev 0 (Photo credit: Howie Shen, used with permission)

I’ve got an exciting new exhibit in the Apple II History Museum! Thanks to the permission of Howie Shen, I have his photos of his recent acquisition of a true piece of history – An Apple II, originally purchased by someone in Palo Alto, CA. In July 1977, this person spent about $2000 for a 24K system, including the brown vinyl zipped carrying case. He apparently then made very light use of his new computer for a while, and then zipped it up in the vinyl case and stored it in the closet until after he passed away. His son contacted Mr. Shen, who was advertising his interest in purchasing an Apple II.

As Mr. Shen examined his new purchase, he found that he had taken possession of a very unique item. This was not just an early serial number Apple II; this is probably one of the earliest surviving examples of how the first few Apple II computers were built and shipped. A member of Applefritter.com, he posted pictures of his acquisition on the forum in October of 2011, and discussed it here:

I am the new owner of a very early 1977 Apple II system, serial number A2S1-0101. The machine is in amazing condition, having been zipped up in its brown vinyl Apple bag in the closet of the original owner for the better part of three decades. Remarkably, the components are all original, never upgraded, including the completely unmoved Revision 0 motherboard, serial number 1.303 with Integer BASIC ROMs. Also, the early case has no vents, and appears hand-painted and rather crudely finished at the edges. Best part is that the system works perfectly!

It really is a time-capsule find inside and out … I bought it from the son of the original owner who said he couldn’t remember it being used all that much, and the overall condition certainly supports that. The inner wall of the case has a stamp indicating “July 6 1977” so that’s either the assembly date for the complete system or just the case … Note the “16K 4K 4K” memory select blocks; this system was ordered with 24K that surely was a whopping configuration that early on.

There are relatively few online images of Apple II systems with early silkscreened logo power supplies and cases without ventilation slots, so maybe these photos reveal details that folks are curious about. (For example, I didn’t realize that the earliest power supplies had simple handwritten serial number stickers.)

In addition to the computer itself, I received a nice selection of documentation including the original direct-from-Apple sales receipt (check out the price in 1977 dollars!), and among the accessories and disks a pair of very early paddles. These were a big surprise, as they look to be the ones shown in the original advertisements, but I always thought they were just mockups that were replaced with the familiar square paddles with big round spinners when the systems actually shipped.

One of the most unusual characteristics of this early Apple II is the lack of ventilation slots in the sides of the case. As noted during his keynote given at KansasFest 2011, early Apple employee Bob Bishop had also purchased an Apple, with a serial number of 0013, and his Apple II also lacked the ventilation slots. Bishop used his computer quite a bit, and the heat build-up inside the case caused it to soften and sag. Bishop brought the problem to the company’s attention and was given an upgraded case with the ventilation slots. Most likely, most other early Apple II owners with these cases lacking vents also complained about the problem, and were upgraded to the proper type of case. The original owner of Howie Shen’s Apple II presumably did not use it enough to cause the case to sag, and so did not seek out a replacement from the company.

The only manual that shipped with these original Apple II was a collection of typewritten notes; this is the bound booklet that has the “Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication” advertisement on the top. According to an interview with Chris Espinosa that can be found here, this booklet was created by Apple’s first president Mike Scott, who went through employee’s desk drawers to get anything that he could to create some sort of documentation to include with this computer. Later, these notes were cleaned up and collated into the Red Book, which was apparently sent to early owners to replace that less-professional booklet. (Espinosa was later tasked with creating a better technical reference manual for the Apple II).

You can view more pictures in the Apple II History Museum here.


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