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 Like us, you're probably bombarded with hi-tech industry news every day  whether it's about the latest Internet business idea or the latest computer gadget.

 But here's a bit of news that may surprise you: computers themselves are becoming sought-after collectibles.

 So, like porcelain figurines or silver candelabra, are people buying up old PCs and displaying them on their mantle?

Hi-tech collectible: the ''brain'' of the world's first computer.
Hi-tech collectible: the "brain" of the world's first computer.

 Not really, says George Glastris, director of the Science and Technology department at Boston-based Skinner auctions.

 Instead, collectors are seeking out early computer prototypes that have a hint of nostalgia and may even serve as a learning tool for those technology buffs, he said.

 "I think people can learn from the old technology... they learn the history."

 Mr. Glastris even presided over an auction of the "brain" of the world's first computer.

 The brain was a key component of the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), built at the end of World War II to help the U.S. Army.

 J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, two men associated with the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering, created it. It was an enormous machine covering 1,800 square feet, containing more than 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighing 30 tons that could complete thousands of equations in just one second.

 Skinner estimated the original brain the only piece of the ENIAC known to be in private hands to sell for between $8,000 and $12,000. "It's one of those things... you just don't know what it's going to sell for," said Mr. Glastris.

 Is the demand for computer collectibles that strong?

 "I think it's growing," he said.

 Mr. Glastris explained that collectors are interested in historically significant prototypes. For instance, he recently sold a calculator for $10,350.

 Unfortunately, there are only a handful of pieces like that. Possibly the most prominent is the first Apple computer constructed in the garage of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. That might easily fetch five figures, says Mr. Glastris.

 And what about that ENIAC "brain? Turns out, it sold for nearly $80,000.

 Well, there's some news for the computer industry to think about old machines don't die, they simply go to auction.



ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer by Scott McCartney; Hardcover

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