Christie's to Auction Computer History

This isn't your average EBay auction. For those who want to own a bit of computer and Internet history, the venerable auction house Christie's International is putting on the block a collection of documents that follow the evolution of computing from the 1600s to the 1970s.

The sale of the "The Origins of Cyberspace: A Library on the History of Computing, Networking, & Telecommunications," slated for the end of the month, consists of 255 lots, contains 1141 items, and is expected to sell for over $2 million, the auction house says.

Items such as the original Arpanet documents written by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn (Lot 82, estimated value $2000 to $3000), or the deposition of Alexander Graham Bell in the suit brought by the U.S. to annul the Bell patents (Lot 61, estimated value $1000 to $1500) will be auctioned by Christie's in New York on February 23.

Owner Jeremy Norman is selling his collection of computing books, documents, and even children's games, which he began collecting in 1971. Also on sale are documents on the first general purpose programmable computer, on the first stored-program electronic computers, on the founding of the world's first electronic computer company, and on the earliest programs written for electronic computers. Additionally, Norman is parting with his life's work, "The Origins of Cyberspace Library."

Available Items

On the low end of the scale, an estimated $400 to $600 is expected for the original copies of two papers delivered by J. C. R. Licklider, whose work initiated the sequence of events leading to Arpanet, at the 1963 NATO symposium's session on "Man-computer communication" (Lot 144).

At the high end, an estimated $50,000 to $70,000 will buy the business plan for the world's first computer company, written by J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly (Lot number 238).

For fans of Charles Babbage, considered by some to be the "father of computing" for his contributions to the basic design of the computer through his Analytical Machine, there is plenty on offer. A great deal of the collection consists of work from Baggage, including an open letter to Sir Humphry Davy dated July 3, 1822, on the application of machinery to the purpose of calculating and printing mathematical tables, which is valued at between $10,000 to $15,000.

The collection will have viewings at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Burndy Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts (February 9-10); Stanford University in Palo Alto, California (February 14-15); and at Christie's in New York (February 19-22).

The collection can also be viewed online.

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