Retro: Cash in on your vintage PC

One man’s junk is another man’s jewellery, and nowhere is this truer than in the world of collectable computers. Flogging the home micro that’s been clogging up your attic is a win-win situation. It may be no more than a yellowing plastic case full of obsolete junk components to you, but it could make a serious collector a very happy person. And, of course, they’ll be willing to pay for their happiness.

Retro: Cash in on your vintage PC

Possibly the most sought-after computer for nostalgic Brits is Clive Sinclair’s first commercial home micro, the ZX80. This was a tiny machine, released in 1980, with a total memory complement of 1KB of RAM – literally a million times as small as the standard PC of today. We’ve seen good condition models with packaging go for over £400.

Pushing the price up

The ZX80 represents the perfect balance of a home computer that’s rare enough to command high prices but well remembered enough to create a serious demand. As with almost any collectable, the three key aspects affecting the price of a piece of retro kit are its rarity, its condition and the packaging.

You can make money on the ZX81, the successor to the ZX80, but many samples survive so it will only fetch more than £50 if it’s a very good example complete with packaging and manuals. A member of PC Pro’s editorial team paid £250 for an unbuilt ZX81 kit, boxed and in mint condition, in 2001; it’s now worth more than £300.

Scruffy examples without boxes are very common and won’t fetch more than £20-£30. Other stalwarts of the mid-1980s home computing boom are still very saleable, but too common to command high prices. The list includes BBC Micros, ZX Spectrums, Vic 20s, Dragon 32s and Commodore 64s, all of which are still changing hands on a regular basis. The most you could expect to get for any of those machines is £50 for an exceptional one, £20-£30 for a working model in a tatty box. Some of the limited-release variants command higher sums, though; the Dragon 64, for instance, was the Dragon 32’s bigger brethren, but was little known and consequently rarer. And the Acorn Atom, the immediate forerunner of the BBC Micro (which itself was originally called the Proton), is extremely difficult to find in good condition. Obscure machines, which are related to more common models, are invariably sought after as there are plenty of collectors looking to “complete the set”.

The sought-after Sinclair ZX80 can fetch £400.

On the PC front, things are more complex. Intel-based 286, 386 and 486 PCs were produced in their millions with little to distinguish one dull grey case from another. A standard 486 clone probably won’t fetch the cost of postage; 386s and 286s might pique someone’s interest, especially if it’s a genuine IBM model. But the rarities are the portable PCs of the late 1980s. These are usually referred to as “luggables”, since they were more like suitcases with tiny 9in CRT or plasma screens set into one edge. They were introduced by Compaq and Dynalogic (with its Hyperion) and later copied by IBM. Compaq’s Portable range went through a number of model iterations, from the original Compaq Portable with an 8088 CPU, to the Portable 486. If you have one of these knocking around, you can expect a collector to pay £400 or more.

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