Collecting Old Phones?

A picture of  2007 Iphone in its original box. from PC Mah
Collecting Old Phones. (original 2007 Iphone in sealed box). Photo: PC Mag

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I read this week that an original iPhone sold for mega-money at an auction. I am always looking for a new business and like to go to flea markets and house sales on the East Coast. So maybe it’s would be a good idea if I start to collecting older phones and computers? I don’t find older phones to be particularly attractive or noteworthy, but perhaps other people do! Faith, New York

Dear Faith: The answer to your question rests in defining “noteworthy.” The item you mention, a 2007 iPhone sold for over $39,000 and fetched this price because it was from the first year of production and sealed in the original factory box. Earlier this year, a similar phone sold for $35,000 but did not get as much publicity. Would-be collectors, like you, might wonder how many other 2007 phones are stashed away in sock drawers. Others will shrug their shoulders and want to move on to brand new tech, like the Apple 14. It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, if that iPhone in the factory sealed box that sold for $599 in 2007 turned out to be a carefully crafted fake?

People collect and trade artifacts that are (1) rare or (2) aesthetic or (3) nostalgic, or a combination of these factors. Collecting old phones might unite nostalgia and rare. A couple of columns ago, a DearSmartphone reader wanted to acquire multiple ipods, not because the device was rare, but because Apple was no longer planning to make them. Personally, I would have like to have a few more older iPhones with the physical home button because seniors, and other learners, prefer the tactical controls. 

Collection Details:

But, back to the auction, and the issue of whether you should be collecting phones. If you have a storage shed or somewhere to stash the electronics, they will not take up much room. So, that’s a better hobby to manage than say than Jay Leno’s car collection, which needs acres and acres of garages. Still, there is some maintenance work to be done, similar to a car. You need to periodically check that the batteries do not degrade or leak, and the devices can turn on and off. There are museums, like Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Ca. that are probably scouting for the same rare devices. Perhaps check out their advice as you get started. 

From a collectible point of view, it’s not clear that phone devices are so aesthetic or beautiful. I am reminded of a scene in the movie, Space Odyssey 2000, where Hal comes across a black monolith. Initially it seemed to be a monolith without battery, electrical power, or a network connection. Old phones can also appear to be an inert black rock. In this sense they are quite different from other collectibles, say fine linen or a specialty watch. 

Watching the Market:

Speaking of watches, I came across another auction result that is relevant to your quest. Last year someone discovered a Seiko watch in their Ct. storage unit called a “Wrist Mac.” The Wrist Mac is important in Apple history because it connected to Apple Talk, a protocol for a Mac computer and a predecessor for the Apple watch. In 1991 it was used by NASA astronauts to send the first email from space, as well as to beep reminders to the crew. This particular watch was packaged in its original box, had a blank registration card, reference manual, original cables, a 1.2 floppy disk, and a holder for stability when plugged into a computer- each one of these a nostalgic item.

The ‘WristMac’ (not such a catchy name)  was expected to sell at the Com-Con (ComicsConnect) 2022 auction for close to $50,000.  It yielded “just” $7500. You will find that there are similar watches, and first generation Apple phones on the site. But if this is a new opportunity, there is also considerable research to be done.

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