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Don’t Throw Out Those Old Electronics

Date: October 15, 2014      Publication: Bottom Line Personal      Source: Eric Bradley      Print:

They Could Be Valuable

The old electronic gadgets gathering dust in your attic might be technologically obsolete, but they still could have value. Vintage consumer electronics have become collectible as the generation that grew up with these items waxes nostalgic for their youth.

Not every out-of-date electronics device is worth money, of course, but certain calculators, computers, telephones, video games, electronic kids’ games, calculator watches and more can fetch anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars on eBay. Rare models can be even more valuable—an Apple-1 computer from 1976 recently sold for $671,400 at auction.

This could be the right time to sell. Once it becomes widely known that electronics from the 1970s, 1980s and in some cases even the 1990s have value, people will start digging these things out of their attics and selling them on eBay in greater numbers, which could undercut prices.

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Helpful: eBay is the best place to sell most collectible consumer electronics, but a bricks-and-mortar auction house can be better for the rarest and most valuable items. Germany’s Auction Team Breker is the leader in high-end vintage electronics auctions (Breker.com).

To have significant value, vintage consumer electronics generally must be in working order, have all their parts and not be heavily worn or damaged.

To find out whether your old electronic items have value, check on eBay to see what items are going for. Check “completed listings” to see what items have actually sold for.

Here are examples of electronics worth listing for sale…

PERSONAL COMPUTERS

Apple-1 computers can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars, as mentioned above, but the odds of finding one of these are slim—only six working models are known to exist. But other old computers may have collectible value, too.

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MITS Altair 8800 from 1975 was the first personal computer to sell in significant quantities. It can bring $10,000 to $12,000 at auction.

P 13 Apple III-1980-Auction-Team-BrekerApple III in 1980 was the young company’s first significant failure. The design of the case took priority over technical features, including the lack of an internal fan, which led to overheating. It sells for less than $1,000.

Macintosh 128K from 1984—the original Mac—often sells for $200 to $300 on eBay.

Apple iMac G4 from 2002–2003 (pictured at top) can sell for $200 to $300 or more on eBay, even though it is neither new enough to effectively surf the ­Internet nor old enough to be considered truly vintage. The G4 is desired because of its stylish and distinctive design—a dome base and thin arm support a flat screen. Some buyers use these so-called “flowerpot Macs” to store and play their digital music.

CALCULATORS

An out-of-date electronic calculator might seem like one of the dullest items imaginable, but notable models are collected, often by engineers and other math-minded types. Calculators in excellent condition from the 1970s often sell for $20 to $30, and old, rare or notable examples can bring considerably more.

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JCE model ALK-1—a 1970s calculator featuring a red LED display—recently sold for $365 on eBay. It’s not uncommon for working 1970s-era calculators with red LED displays to bring $100 or more.

P 14 Busicom-141-PF-1971 Auction Team Breker Cologne GermanyBusicom 141-PF was the first commercially available product to include a microprocessor, the Intel 4004, when it reached the market in 1971. One recently sold for $19,200 at auction.

Casio FX-10, offered in 1974, was Casio’s first scientific calculator. It typically sells for $40 to $50 on eBay.

COMPUTERIZED KID’S TOYS

Some computerized toys are starting to be collected by both toy collectors and electronics collectors.

Texas Instruments Speak & Spell, a popular learning toy from the late 1970s and early 1980s, can bring $100 or more if it is in excellent condition and in its original box. Well-used examples with no box generally sell in the $20-to-$30 range.

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Coleco Pac-Man tabletop mini arcade game sells for $50 to $200, depending on condition.

VIDEO GAME SYSTEMS AND CARTRIDGES

P 14 Stadium-Events-Nintendo-gameHome video game consoles and cartridges from the late 1970s and early 1980s are very collectible. Even some from the 1990s have value. Extremely rare games sometimes sell for tens of thousands of dollars—a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) called Stadium Events has sold at auction for as much as $41,300. But even fairly common games often have value. Many games for the Atari 2600 or NES bring $5 to $15, assuming that they still work.

Helpful: Old video game consoles can be difficult to attach to modern HDTVs, which can make it hard to confirm that they still work. If you don’t have an old tube TV, find someone who does and ask if you can test your console and games on it before listing these items for sale. (Wondering if an old TV is collectible? Vintage sets that have very distinctive styling can be worth perhaps $100 to $200, but tube televisions are so heavy and expensive to ship that they can be difficult to sell on eBay. A ­local antiques shop that accepts items on consignment might be a better bet.)

P 14 Atari-Model-CX-2600 Video Game Console-onlyAtari 2600. Working consoles typically sell for $50 to $150, but values well into the hundreds are possible when the consoles are in like-new ­condition. Other early game consoles from the 1970s and 1980s, such as the NES, can fetch similar prices.

Jack Bros., a 1995 game for Nintendo’s Virtual Boy system, sells for $130 used or as much as $400 in excellent condition.

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Panzer Dragoon Saga, a 1998 game for the Sega Saturn console, sells for $300 to $500.

Snow Brothers, a 1991 video game for the NES, can go for as much as $400.

SONY WALKMANS

A vintage Sony Walkman played a prominent role in Guardians of the Galaxy, the most successful movie of this past summer. That could boost the collector’s market for these portable cassette tape players. Walkmans in working condition generally sell for just $10 to $25, but models from the 1970s can bring much more.

Sony TPS-L2 Walkman from the 1970s—the model featured in Guardians of the Galaxy and pictured at top—can sell for $500 to $1,200 on eBay in excellent condition.

TELEPHONES

The typical rotary-dial phone from the 1970s or 1980s is unlikely to be worth more than $10, if that—but other phones do have significant value.

Wall phones in colors from the 1950s and 1960s are hot now and sell for $50 to $100 or more. A 1964 orange Western Electric (pictured at top) sold for about $130 on eBay.

Bakelite phones from the 1930s and 1940s can bring $250 or more on eBay. An Automatic Electric AE40 desk phone in a rare mahogany color with gold trim recently sold for $2,250 on eBay, for example.

ATC Genie rotary-dial phone dates only to the late 1970s but sells for $10 to $30, depending on color and condition, thanks to its distinctive oval shape.

CALCULATOR WATCHES

Certain digital watches from the 1970s are collected. Seiko, Casio and Citizen are among the most desirable, with values typically in the $30-to-$100 range. Watches that have either lots of tiny buttons or a sleek 1970s style tend to be most prized. Early calculator watches are particularly collectible.

Casio CD-401 calculator watch can bring $100 or more.

P 14 Hewlett Packard Digital Watch 1977-ret-siloHewlett-Packard HP-01, considered the first digital calculator watch, can sell for $1,000 to $3,000. Models that still have their original stylus, which should be embedded in the watchband, tend to bring the highest prices.

Source: Eric Bradley, an associate with Heritage Auctions in Dallas, the world's largest collectibles auction house. He is the editor of the annual Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide and author of Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff (both from Krause). HA.com