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July 10, 2018

Think you’re an Apple fan? This collection of prototypes has you beat

by John_A

If you thought you were Apple’s biggest fan, Hap Plain likely has you beat. He owns more than 250 prototypes spanning PowerBooks, iBooks, iPhones, iPods and “pretty much everything in-between.” It may be the largest private collection of Apple prototypes in the world worth a good $1 million, if not more. The items aren’t just dead weights either: He purchases and fully restores these prototypes to working condition.

Despite his parents using Windows-based PCs, Plain jumped on Team Apple in school with the Performa 575 serving as his first computer in the 1990s. While looking for a job in the Bay Area just after college, he began restoring Power Mac G4 Cubes for extra money. During his search for additional Cubes, he stumbled upon a rare clear Macintosh SE. That ignited Plain’s desire to collect every Apple prototype on the planet.

You can see his collection here, which includes the clear Macintosh Color Classic, the developer’s edition of Apple Lisa, a prototype Macintosh TV, a very early stage 20th Anniversary Macintosh, and more. Note that every out-of-pocket purchase is a prototype that is typically not functional. Nearly every machine in his collection is restored and fully operational.

During the day, Plain works at a Lexus dealership in Monterey, California. After working hours, he’s not only collecting and restoring Apple’s prototypes, he’s selling them on eBay, too, if they don’t fit within his private collection. Using the “alittlebytedifferent” alias on eBay, Plain currently only has six items up for sale including four vintage Apple modems and the 20th Anniversary Macintosh.

But just in the past two months, Plain sold a fully restored clear Macintosh portable for $16,225 and a clear Macintosh SE for $22,600. He even pushed a $100,000 developer’s edition of Apple Lisa that raised a red flag at Apple. According to Plain, Apple isn’t “very keen on having individuals sell prototypes on e-commerce websites,” as the company’s legal team forced him to remove the listing.

Of course, Plain isn’t the only individual selling prototypes on eBay. The highest-priced prototype we found was the Macintosh LC for $9,999, the TechStep Diagnostic Tool for $3,563, a MacBook Pro for $2,999, a first-generation Lisa converted to a second-generation model for $2,799 and loads more. You can even find a clear iPod for $186.

But for Plain, collecting and restoring prototypes isn’t about making money.

“It’s about the hunt and finding these items and keeping them alive and making sure that they don’t end up in some type of e-waste facility because they are pieces of history and do tell the history of the company over time,” he says.

Plain’s “end game” is to see his collection on display at a museum so that Apple fans can personally see the prototypes they’ve heard about since the 1980s. But because hunting down every prototype is long, hard work, he’s now offering a “finders fee” to individuals who point him in the right direction.

“Finding Apple prototypes isn’t an exact science,” he says. “I appreciate everyone who has helped me get to where I am today.”

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