Purchasing vintage computer equipment

Buying vintage computer equipment is something I never even though of before about 18 months ago.

It started off with a conversation with a guy I work named Sean, regarding the awful keyboards we have at work. Sean had mentioned that all of todays’ keyboards should be like the old IBM clicky keyboards. That conversation got me thinking about some work I was doing, helping some folks put together a small private museum here in Las Vegas for the mentally and physically disabled. (I’ll talk more about that in a later post) Needless to say, I was interested.

So, I started looking around. The people I work with are wonderful. If you need something all you have to do is ask. So that’s what I started doing. I asked everyone I knew about the old IBM model M mechanical keyboards and if I could get one from somebody. Well, eventually one fell into me hands. One of my co-workers named Richard, finally came through for me. But the keyboard he handed me was different than what I was used to seeing. It turned out the Model M I was given was a terminal model, however, all was NOT lost. Yet another co-worker popped his head up and said, I have one of those!. But he had a standard model M. He wanted the terminal model for writing code, and so we made a deal. He had the keyboard he wanted, and I had the one I wanted and everyone was happy.

That model M keyboard was both the greatest and the worst thing to happen to me over the last two years, as not only do I use the Model M with my modern computer, and as my only keyboard, but ig also got me thinking about the computers these keyboards came with, specifically the IBM 5150 PC I had used in college.

That was a year ago. I started looking for an IBM PC, not knowing anything about them. Buying a vintage PC isn’t as easy as going to the local electronics outlet and picking one from the floor; no, one has to do a lot of research. That is, unless you get lucky. I was one of those who got lucky. Very lucky indeed.

The seller of the computer I eventually purchased offered his through the Vintage Computer Forums. VCF has also become a great source of information on all things regarding vintage systems. Users there will often sell computers to those looking for something in particular, however for a broader perspective, I would suggest you start your search locally. Most cities have a central hub for operations such as the Salvation Army, GoodWill, and others. Many of those operations also have outlet stores and thrift shops where they sell items donated to them. A lot of the members in the VCF have found many bargains by going through some of these thrift shops. Entore computers can be purchased for literally pennies on the dollar, and in almost all cases, these systems still work.

From there, look in Craigs’ List, E-Bay and other auction sites. A friend of mine actually gave me a computer he purchased through a Utah School District auction site. He paid only $5.00 for an Apple lle computer system complete with the original monochrome monitor, and double external floppy disk drive. The entire system was still working and with the exception of a small repair in the monitor’s circuitry, everything is still working just like it was when brand new!

The point is this, you have to look. Very rarely will one just pop up in someones garbage, but then again, many folks have found great systems being thrown out because the business needed to upgrade.

One additional point. This regards pricing. Please don’t look at E-Bay and see something selling for thousands of dollars and begin thinking that you’ll never get what you’re looking for. When looking at E-Bay and other auction sites, look for the items that have bids on them. In every case, if an item doesn’t have any bids, the price is too high. My complete IBM 5150 system was priced at the high end of the scale at $200.00, but it’s condition warranted that price. There were absolutely no signs of wear, no dings, dents, no yellowing of the plastics, the cables and cords were all like new, and in fact, the entire system looked as though it was never used. It even came packed in the original boxes! I have since upgraded the system as far as it can be taken. I have added in some very rare components and peripherals like an all original IBM 5161 expansion unit too. So the value of my system is much higher than the average selling price for a typical IBM 5150, which should be in the area of about $100.00.

The last item on today’s agenda is that of shipping. Yes, shipping is the bane of the vintage computer trade. Without shipping, there would be no way of getting vintage computers to the people who want them. The sad part is that it all has to be done between the buyer and seller, and it typically ends up being the sellers responsibility to choose a carrier and the buyer paying the fees. At this time, there really is no way around it. Unless you do as I did, and have a friend or relative buy and hold your purchase until your next planned visit, you are going to pay for shipping. Even on sales that list an item with free shipping, you are still paying for that additional cost. So please remember when you make that deal of a lifetime: watch for the total cost you’ll be paying to get the computer to your door.

Shipping also has another caveat. That is in the order of time. How quickly do you want your vintage computer to be delivered? Well, in a perfect World, we would all have everything delivered the next day, but in reality, when buying your dream, it is going to have to be shipped from one location to you. How long that takes is really up to you and the buyer, but again remember, the faster the service, the higher the cost.

This concudes my entry for today, May 4, 2012. Hope you got something useful.

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