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One of Steve Jobs' earliest computers - Apple 1 - bought for a record £441,000

Model used to belong to major league baseball player Fred Hatfield

One of Steve Jobs' first Apple computers has sold at auction for a record €516,000 (£441,000).

An anonymous Asian buyer snapped up the digital antique, which Jobs built in a family garage with Steve Wozniak, Apple’s hardware-hacking engineer.

There remain 46 examples of the 37-year-old Apple 1 model, which boasts a keyboard set in wood. Last November one of those was sold for $640,000 (£420,000) at Cologne’s Breker auction house, the site of the most recent sale.

The sum surpassed a previous record of $374,000 set at Sotheby’s in New York five months earlier.

Uwe Breker, who runs the German auction house which specialises in vintage toys and office equipment, did not disclose the seller, only revealing that it was a young American who works for a software company who brought in the computer wrapped in a blanket.

Computer industry experts struggle to explain the growing demand and corresponding astronomical rise in the price of original Apple 1s. They point out that they were fetching around $2,000 at computer fairs in Silicon Valley’s heartland just a decade ago. Earlier this week, The New York Times attributed the cause to the “economics of scarcity and techno-fetishism, magnified by the mystique surrounding Apple – one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the world”.

Computer historians stress that the Apple 1 was a pioneering device which helped computing make the transition from being a nerd’s hobby into the huge commercial enterprise it is today. “It is Apple’s creation story,” said Dag Spicer, the curator of the Computer History Museum in California, “It is the physical artefact that traces this incredible success to its origins.”

The Apple 1 was first shown to the public at California’s Homebrew Computer Club in 1977. An estimated 175 to 200 of the rudimentary computers were produced in the family garage of the late Apple founder and visionary Steve Jobs who died in 2011.

The computer was designed by Wozniak, and all it offered was a computer motherboard and clusters of chips. The device could be used to run primitive computer games and write basic programmes. It had a mere 4 kilobytes of memory compared to today’s MacBook Air which has over 4 million.

Working examples in top condition and with original documentation are the Apple 1’s which have so far fetched the best prices at auction. It is also important that the device has a story. The latest sale would appear to fit all the necessary criteria. It was first owned by a major league baseball player called Fred Hatfield.

Mr Breker said the documents included a letter to Mr Hatfield signed by Jobs, offering an Apple II and a $400 cheque for his Apple 1. For some undisclosed reason Mr Hatfield declined.