Back in 2001>, I recommended purchasing first-edition copies of Ayn Rand s "Atlas Shrugged" as a collectible likely to increase in value. Since that time, interest in the book has soared, with roughly 300,000 copies of sold in 2009, twice the number sold in 2008 and triple that of recent prior decades. Google searches for the book have also leapt, suggesting renewed interest. Today, first-edition copies regularly fetch more than $2,500 each.
Google Trend Searches for Atlas Shrugged since 2004>
A year ago, I wrote about bidding in the auction for Michael s Jackson s belongings, including costumes like his iconic white sparkle gloves, then estimated to sell at $10,000. The sale was ultimately canceled amid a legal dispute and Michael s tragic death. Given the resurgence of interest in Jackson, the value of related collectables has unquestionably risen. Ten thousand dollars for a glove now almost seems cheap.
With that sudden shift, I ve added another seemingly oddball collectible that -- although now gathering dust in a closet -- could end up a hot collectors item one day.
As we wrote this fall, Steve Jobs leadership of Apple since 1996 has turned the company into technology s dominant force. But prior to returning to Apple, Steve Jobs founded NeXT Computer, which released its now-legendary NeXT Cube Computer 20 years ago this year.
The NeXT cube was a stunning departure from the unmemorable beige boxes that dominated technology at the time. The groundbreaking computer was housed in an ultra-sleek one-foot die-cast magnesium cube which, according to Randall Stross s book, Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing, Jobs insisted be painted a particular shade of black with a low-gloss finish, identical to the black on the tone arm of a stereo turntable. Renowned designer Paul Rand was hired to create the multicolor logo. The aesthetic perfection cost the fledgling company millions of development dollars, yet remains one of the most striking examples of 20th century industrial design.
Its historical impact is also notable. Everybody born since 1985 has grown up in a world in which the Internet has always existed and been an integral part of everyday life. And, in at least one way, the Internet was invented on the NeXT Cube; in 1990, pioneer
used one as the first net server. The first web browser, which he called WorldWideWeb, was also created on the machine. To that end, owning a NeXT cube is almost akin to owning one of Alexander Graham Bell s first telephones.
And while Citigroup has nearly 23 billion shares outstanding, only 50,000 NeXT computers were ever built, giving the machine a tiny float when compared to other speculative endeavors. Back in 1999, USA Today named the machine one of the Top Collectibles of the New Millennium.
Modern Objects of Desire
Source: Design Within Reach, NeXT Brochures>
For the increasingly affluent Generation-Y raised in the Internet age, I could easily imagine a day in which NeXT Cubes become a highly collectible furnishing, just as the Fortuny lamp or Eames lounge did when they epitomized 2000s style. These are unique, historical pieces of modern art that have played an integral role in shaping our world.
Unlike shares of stock or a futures contract, collectibles such as antique books or computers are not fungible, meaning that condition is key. For items such as the NeXT Cube, I believe finding a working model in mint or near-mint condition is the only option. Prices range from a few hundred dollars on eBay to $2,995 for a pristine and fully refurbished system from specialists Black Hole.
Old computers don t pay dividends. Like wine, artwork or baseball cards, the value of such investments must always be measured in the personal enjoyment of those who acquire them. But for a few hundred dollars, collectors can own the remarkably beautiful piece of industrial design on which the Internet was partially created. That s worth finding room for in the closet.
At the time of writing, Hoenig owned several NeXT Cube Computers.