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Steve Jobs’ signature is up for sale in the Powersharing auction

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On November 30, 1988, members of the Boston Computer Society filled that city’s Symphony Hall to capacity. They were there to see Steve Jobs demonstrate the NeXT cube, the remarkable computer from the startup he founded after being fired from Apple three years earlier. I was lucky enough to be in Jobs’s audience — and even my 34-year-old memories of the evening are thrilling.

Charles Mann was also in the house that night. He recorded Jobs’s show for distribution as part of the Powersharing Series, an audio cassette series of presentations held by leading tech industries at the BCS, other user group meetings and the Computer Museum in Boston. After putting the project aside for decades, Mann came back to it in recent years: working with tech historian Tom Frikker, he digitized 134 of his recordings and started selling them on a $60 . USB stick. It’s a priceless record of what happened in the computer science field between 1982 and 1991.

In 2020, I wrote about Jobs’ demo and Mann’s recordings, and shared the NeXT audio in its entirety along with other Powersharing clips. What I didn’t know then: Mann didn’t just keep his master tapes. He also kept a wealth of documents related to the company, including the releases that speakers signed giving permission to use their presentations.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniakleft, posing with the creator of the Powersharing Series Charles Mann at an event at the Computer Museum in Boston in 1986. [Photo: courtesy of Charles Mann]

And now he has decided to say goodbye to that collection. Online Auctioneer RR auction will offer the contract that Jobs signed and dozens of others, usually in lots that bundle multiple items. Represented by their signatures among them: Bill Gates, futurist Esther Dyson, Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith, Jobs’ Apple partner Steve Wozniak, other Apple notables such as John Sculley and Bill Atkinson, AI eminences including Seymour Papert and Ray Kurzweil, all-round visionary Alan Kay, wearable computing pioneer Adam Osborne, spreadsheet inventor Dan Bricklin, Borland founder Philippe Kahn, PC boss Michael Dell and Sony’s Akio Morita. Even psychedelic booster and part-time technologist Timothy Leary is included.

The auction will go online this Friday at 11 a.m. EDT and close on August 18. Mann’s archive is so abundant that only a fraction of it has been included. Another batch will be offered later.

Steve Jobs’ signed 1989 release, in which he formally identified himself as Steven P. Jobs. [Photo: courtesy of Charles Mann]

Why is Mann, soon to be 88, selling these artifacts? He explains that he wanted to tackle them now rather than burden his children with the task one day. All the while, he saw his recording efforts as an act of historic preservation as a business: “The amount of sales was minuscule compared to what I put into it,” he says. “But it was just that motivation.” Since he had never made much money selling the Powersharing series on tape and USB drive, he might find the auction to be the most profitable aspect of the entire experience.

Even in the 1980s, Jobs’s obsessive perfectionism was legendary.

Mann also ponders the fate of the shooting. They’re already available in the Computer History Museum’s permanent collection, but he would also like universities and libraries to license them for use by professors, students, and other researchers — today and for many years to come. He sees the auction as a way to generate publicity for the Powersharing series and plans to spend some of the profits to raise awareness.

His goal in getting the recordings into schools and libraries, he says, is “not to monetize them, but to make sure they’re there. I’ve long given up trying to recover money from [the recordings]unless this auction catches fire unexpectedly. But you know, that would be ironic, because I’d never thought about that before.”

Signed by Steve Jobs

Just as Jobs’s NeXT presentation is arguably the most important Powersharing recording, his contract, which he signed with NeXT on February 16, 1989, is the flagship of the upcoming auction. He didn’t like signing autographs, which he claimed to be a form of credit-hogging. That makes every surviving Jobs signature a sought-after rarity, and RR Auction has developed something of a specialty in it, as well as other unique items related to Apple’s history.

A 1988 letter from Mann to Bill Gates, who was discussing the future of the Mac at a Boston Computer Society meeting. [Photo: courtesy of Charles Mann]

In 2021, the auction house sold a signed 1983 Jobs letter — in which he cunningly declines a signature request —for $480,000. At the same time, a copy of the first issue of Macworld magazine signed by both Jobs and Wozniak went for $201,000. Last month, a 1976 check signed by Jobs spent $55,000.

Even in the 1980s, Jobs’s obsessive perfectionism was legendary. So Mann thought it was very meaningful for the Apple co-founder to give his blessing to the audio-only Powersharing Series version of his NeXT presentation. “My happiest moment was when I got a letter back from someone in his office saying, ‘We really liked the band and here’s Steve’s release,'” he says. (That letter was attached to RR’s auction release.)

Mann even saved his ship’s equipment. [Photo: courtesy of Charles Mann]

Mann may have decided to part with his vintage paperwork, but the memories are his only and remain precious.

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