10 Retro Tech Items Hitting It Big In Collectors MarketsImage via Yamaguchi Haruyoshi/Sygma via Getty Images Tech Lists Retro Tech
The second-hand market is hot. Nostalgia is in and over the past decade the sector has ballooned. According to a recent market report, the global luxury resale market in 2021 was valued at $32.6 billion, and is likely to reach $51.7 billion by 2026. With Apple retiring the iPod last month, I thought it might be fun to look back at other old tech that can be worth something if you’re lucky to find it in a yard sale, estate auction or the back shelf of any basement.
More than 20 years have passed since Steve Jobs first introduced the Apple iPod to the world. Retailing for $299, back in 2001, you may be surprised that it will cost you almost as much to buy a used 1st generation iPod today. If you’re looking for a sealed one for collector’s sake, you’ll really need to bust out your checkbook as one sold last month for almost $15,000. Groundbreaking consumer technology, whether it be computers, video games or music players has a tendency to hold its value with age, and in some cases, even skyrocket in price.
Seiko TV Watch
If you were conscious of culture in 1983, then you assuredly were aware of James Bond. In 1983, Octopussy was released into theaters and audiences around the world were given their first look at something they’d only seen in comic books previously, a tiny TV embedded in a wristwatch.
The Seiko TV watch was built with a 1.2-inch liquid crystal display screen and set in a standard digital watch. The watch was sold in 1982 in Japan for 108,000 Yen (approx $425 at the time) and in Sept. 1983 in the United States for a suggested price of $495. Since this was pre-internet, the watch was shipped with a small external receiver which could tune to UHF and VHF channels and connected to the watch with a cord. According to HighTechies, higher grade models in the original packaging sell for upwards of $1,000 and unopened containers of the rarer first model can sell for more than $2,000.
In the last few years, videogames have caught fire in the secondary market. Graded videogame classics such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. have sold for record breaking numbers. Last summer, a high grade copy of Super Mario 64 sold for $1.56 million, making it the most someone has ever paid for a videogame. Just a few months later that record rose to $2 million when an anonymous bidder paid a premium for the 1985 NES classic Super Mario Bros.
If you have games missing manuals and boxes laying around the house, they can still net you a few bucks, but for the most part the money is in unopened, graded games. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, if you’re talking about rare games. If you happen to see a cheap copy of Bandai’s 1986 exercise-centric game Stadium Events immediately buy it! Bandai only made about 2,000 and about 200 made it to store shelves in America. Graded copies can fetch tens of thousands of dollars. Here’s a fun list of the rarest via HowChoo, which features the Gold Nintendo World Championships game, a super-rare, promotional game at the top. In 2014, a copy sold for $100,000.
The Walkman changed how people listened and bought music in the 1980’s and the player itself revolutionized personal music devices moving forward. Since companies made so many Walkman’s throughout the years, they aren’t exactly rare, but sealed packages can fetch a couple hundred dollars on eBay. Collectors will shell out more cash for opened packages if they’re rare versions like Sony’s mini Walkman, the WM10, the Solar Walkman (WM-F107), the Double Deck (WM-W800) or the TPS-L2, the first ever commercially available walkman made by Sony. The most expensive and possibly rare Walkman was made in partnership with Tiffany & Co. in 1989. One of these particular Walkman, #101 of 250, was given to The Who, and later sold on the show Pawn Stars for $1,250.
When it was first released in 1976, the Apple I cost $666.66 (just over $3,000 in today’s dollars) and came with 4 KB of RAM, which was expandable to 8 KB or 48 KB using expansion cards. The Apple 1 did not come with a case and was either used as-is or with a custom built (mostly wooden) case.
In the past two years, fully functional Apple I computers have sold for around $450,000. According to RR Auction, the 2020 sale featured a computer acquired by Michigan computer store SoftWarehouse in the 1980s as part of a trade for IBM machines. It was displayed in a museum case before being placed into storage. The 2021 sale notched a bit higher at $500,000. In 2016, a prototype of the first Apple computer sold for $800,000.
If you’re feeling frisky, there’s a complete Apple I currently on Ebay for $1.5 million.
MITS Altair 8800
Known as the first widely selling microcomputer in America, the Altair was created by H. Edward Roberts in 1974 and retailed as a kit for $398 or assembled at $498. The kit offered by MITS represented the “minimum configuration of circuits” and came with a small amount of internal and no external memory, no printer, and no keyboard. According to the Smithsonian, Roberts, the Florida-born former U.S. Air Force officer who headed MITS, decided to design a small, affordable computer around the Intel 8080. His daughter named the new machine after the star Altair. Components of the Altair can fetch a few hundred dollars on the second hand market, and full machines can command a few thousand depending on condition.
Tamagotchi, translated to “Egg Watch” in Japanese, was a huge hit in the late 1990s and early 2000s and resulted in more than 80 million various units of the tech toy being sold. Tamagotchi never really went away; to this day major brands like Star Wars are creating new digital pets to care for. Tamagotchi even released an updated version of its flagship product last year called the Pix, that comes with a screen and more features for hardcore fans. Depending on the brand and condition, sealed Tamagotchi can fetch a few hundred dollars on eBay with rarer versions going for more.
HP01 Watch Calculator
Built in 1977 by Hewlett Packard, the HP01 Watch Calculator came in two versions, sterling silver and gold. Costing $650 and $750 respectively, the watches were built with six microprocessors and an LED screen. The watch face had 28 tiny keys and the package came with a small stylus that snapped into the clasp of the bracelet. A pen was also included which had a retractable ballpoint on one end and a retractable stylus on the other. In good condition these watches can now command a couple thousand dollars from the right collector. There are currently two available on eBay for just under $4,000.
1983 Motorola DynaTAC 8000X
Cell phone technology morphed so quickly it’s easy to forget its humble beginnings of backpack-sized cell phone kits and brick phones. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X became the first commercially approved mobile phone in the United States in 1983 and went on sale in March of that year. Considered a breakthrough, the phone offered 30 minutes of talk time and 8 hours of standby battery life for a $3,995 price tag. These phones are rare and considered collectors items, usually reserved for technology museums. There is currently one available for sale on Ebay at just over $40,000.
The pandemic exacerbated the market, but sealed VHS tapes (especially first print copies of nostalgic blockbusters) are on fire at the moment. Collectors have been snatching up copies for several years now, waiting for the market to catch up and now it’s finally happened. With grading companies like CGC now accepting and promoting collectible VHS tapes, prices have started to skyrocket. Copies of Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella and even something as modern as Cars, have been selling for thousands and in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars. Add in major fandoms like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Ghostbusters alongside classic films like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Jaws and you’ll see why collectors and speculators are clamoring to this market.