Steve Jobs memorabilia soars to record heights

The market for Steve Jobs-signed items and original Apple tech shows no signs of slowing

Cover Image for Steve Jobs memorabilia soars to record heights
A signed Steve Jobs business card sold for more than $180,000 last month. (Credit: RR Auctions)

Steve Jobs really hated signing autographs.

Approaching the Apple founder in public for his signature usually resulted in rejection.

“He famously would refuse to sign things presented to him, making whatever he did actually sign a rarity,” Apple Insider Reporter Malcolm Owen said.

How rare? Boston-based auction house RR Auctions said it has only seen “a select five scarce examples obtained in-person over the course of two decades, ranging from October 1988 to June 2008.”

Chris Fralic, a partner at First Round Capital, recalls an attempt to have Jobs sign his Apple II, after already securing an autograph from Steve Wozniak.

For dedicated Apple collectors, a pair of Jobs' Birkenstocks is a priceless collectible.
For dedicated Apple collectors, a pair of Jobs' Birkenstocks is a priceless collectible.

“Oh, look, I see Woz signed it... and he turned around and walked away.”

Last month, a Jobs-signed business card and check sold for $181,183 and $176,850, respectively — both records.

Those shocking results reflect more than just the scarcity of a Jobs autograph — they are also indicative of a clearly accelerating trend for Apple memorabilia, a market surge fueled by $150,000-sealed iPhone sales and million-dollar documents.

The Cult of Mac extends far beyond the lines snaking outside Apple Stores.

More than 12 years after his death, everything about Jobs and Apple continues to connect with fans, who are much more than merely Apple customers.

From Apple’s life motto disguised as corporate messaging — “Think Different” — to the endless lore surrounding Jobs as the world’s resident creative genius, it’s not surprising swaths of Apple-lovers pay exorbitant sums of money for collectibles from the company and its founder.

Owen, who has a front-row seat to the fandom, compares Jobs’ effect on his admirers to Taylor Swift, whose fans generate record merchandise sales from their desire to own a tangible connection to the artist and her concerts.

"[They’re both] an experience and fandom that has spanned decades, for a company selling iconic products around the world,” Owen said.

Few understand this better than RR Auctions, which has sold an estimated $7 million worth of Jobs and Apple-related memorabilia since 2020.

A job application from Jobs' pre-Apple days changed the fate of RR Auctions.
A job application from Jobs' pre-Apple days changed the fate of RR Auctions.

Originally founded as a sports-oriented venture in 1976 (the same year as Apple’s founding), things changed dramatically in 2012 when the company sold a Jobs autograph for $5,794. Just six years later, a job application from Jobs sold for $174,757 at RR.

“After getting all the press... we started getting people coming out of the woodwork,” RR Auctions CEO Bobby Eaton said of how his company earned a reputation as the industry’s leading purveyor of Jobs autographs and Apple memorabilia.

The job application auction became a watershed moment for RR. A manuscript dealer originally purchased the piece from Bonham’s in December 2017 and had it shipped directly to RR. Three months later, the rare Jobs collectible sold for nearly $175,000.

“[We] became the center of the universe for Steve Jobs,” RR Auction Executive Vice President Bobby Livingston said.

The extreme rarity of authentic Jobs autographs and signatures has driven the market to new heights in recent years.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay made headlines in 2021, when he purchased an Apple II manual inscribed by Jobs, with the words "Go Change The World!" for $787,484.

Colts owner Jim Irsay bought an Apple II manual signed by Jobs, for $787,484.
Colts owner Jim Irsay bought an Apple II manual signed by Jobs, for $787,484.

Though they share Irsay’s admiration for the man and the company he founded, other collectors’ tastes run the gambit from Apple hardware — like the Apple-1 prototype, which sold for $677,196 in 2022— to Jobs’ Birkenstocks, which fetched $218,750 the same year.

Fralic had the opportunity to buy an Apple-1 for about $15,000 in the early 2000’s. His wife talked him out of it.

Jeff Rosenberg, CEO of TRISTAR Productions, a leading sports autograph company, is firmly in the Jobs memorabilia camp. He began his journey into Jobs collecting while at the University of Texas in the late 1980s.

“I was the geek who wore this black St. Croix sweat sweater like Steve Jobs did... I thought he was a world changer,” Rosenberg said.

Slowly but surely, Rosenberg amassed one of the preeminent Jobs collections on the planet — long before it was commonplace to spend thousands of dollars on a business card.

For others, such as PSA VP of Sales Kevin Lenane, it’s all about the machinery. Lenane’s father worked in tech and kept computers in the house from the time he was a child. But once the family got the Apple IIc, the Lenanes never wavered.

Sealed original iPhones are selling for top dollar.
Sealed original iPhones are selling for top dollar.

As a teenager, Lenane rebooted an old Mac, and he felt a mental switch flip.

“I was able to relive some piece of my childhood by turning that thing on,” Lenane said.

A life-long collector, he never quite forgot that feeling. So, when he came across a Mac classic for sale a few years ago. It snowballed from there.

“I tried to figure out a list of all the rarest Apple computers, and then I was like ‘I want to buy all these.’”

For Lenane, it was more than the nostalgia of the machinery or the Apple fandom. This hobby fit perfectly into his established collecting mindset.

“I like true rarity. I like singular items where there's only three or four in existence,” Lenane said.

With the new iPhone perpetually around the corner and the internet filled with apocryphal Jobs quotes, the demand for a connection to Apple shows no signs of fading away ... and the supply is certainly not growing.

"People feel like they are part of the story, Owen said. "When people feel this way, they stand a good chance of wanting to actually own a bit of its history."

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.