Fractional ownership company Rally is selling shares in what appears to be a complete and working Apple 1. The offering, which is currently closed, is for 33,000 shares at $25 each for a total value of $825,000. This appears to be the first time Rally or any other fractional ownership firm has sold shares for a high-end vintage computing collectible. More common collector categories include art, cars, baseball cards, rare books, and even video games.
The idea behind fractional ownership is similar to that of the stock market, except people can invest in things of value rather than companies. You can spread your investment among different categories and items in the hope that more shares rise in value rather than fall.
The Apple 1 on Rally is one of the more pricey items offered, and it fully sold relatively quickly. The interest was fueled in part by social media where several high-profile members bragged about “owning an Apple 1.” It’s only a matter of time, I believe, before more vintage technology is offered as an investment through fractional ownership.
So, should you invest in old tech via fractional ownership? Answer these questions before you decide.
1. Why am I buying shares of an item?
I see two reasons: investing in the growth of the hobby or bragging rights. If you just want the satisfaction of having a piece of something you otherwise have no chance of owning outright, and you can afford to buy a few shares, then go for it. There’s no need to read the rest of this post if that’s your motivation. You have a few other considerations if you think you can make money in the fractional ownership market.
2. How do I spot a good fractional ownership opportunity?
As with the stock market, the more you know about what you are buying the better your chance of a good return. Don’t expect he fractional ownership companies to tell you everything you need to know. The Rally Apple 1 listing provides a reasonably good description of the machine and a history of Apple 1 auction prices. It doesn’t give any guidance on where the Apple 1 market is trending.
Prices vary greatly for Apple 1’s selling since November 2010, when one realized $213,600. The highest price paid was in October 2014 at $905,000. The most recent sale price in December 2020 was $736,852. That makes Rally’s $825,000 valuation look risky, but sale prices alone don’t tell the whole story.
The Apple 1 that sold in 2014 was exceptionally complete with software and documentation. The buyer was the Henry Ford Museum, which planned to make it part of an American innovation exhibit. The next Apple 1 to sell—only two months later–realized only $365,000, and it had the distinction as the only Apple 1 documented to have been sold directly by Steve Jobs.
The value of any vintage tech artifact will be driven by provenance, condition, and the market. A documented chain of ownership that presents a good story will always enhance an item’s value. Assessing condition usually requires technical knowledge. Are the components all original? Did an item come like that from the factory or was it modified? Is it operating the way it’s supposed to?
The market for an item is always the toughest to figure out. All it takes is two determined buyers at auction to establish a high-water mark for value. The higher the market value, the smaller the number of potential buyers. Prices might then head downward. Markets are fickle, too, and interests might shift away from the items you invest in, deflating their values.
So, spend time on research before investing in fractional ownership to know what you are investing in and the market demand. There are few resources available on the market for high-value vintage tech artifacts, so anyone with experience buying and selling vintage tech would have an edge in the fractional ownership market.
3. How do you actually make money from the fractional ownership platforms?
Earning a return on a fractional ownership investment is not just a matter of values going up. Here’s how it works on Rally:
- Each item on Rally is what it calls a “mini-company” that owns and operates the investment asset.
- If the value of that asset rises, you can sell your shares through Rally, though there are no guarantees of the price you realize. As with the stock market, it depends on what other people are willing to pay.
- There is a 90-day lock-up period after an asset’s initial offering where shares cannot be bought or sold.
- You can earn dividends on your shares if the value of the asset rises more than the cost to “operate”, which I take to mean overhead like storage and maintenance.
- Rally can choose to liquidate an asset and the proceeds go to the shareholders.
- Rally accounts must be linked to a bank account.
- Rally currently charges no commissions or trade fees.
- Rally recommends that investors diversify their investments, much like the stock market. If you want to focus on the vintage tech market, however, your options are limited for now.
4. Do I really want to speculate on my hobby?
My best advice: If you have a good feel for the values of “investment grade” vintage tech, understand the risks, and can afford to potentially take a loss, then fractional ownership might be an interesting experiment. If you have reservations, wait to see how this plays out.