It’s hard to imagine a more significant artifact of the computer age than the prototype of the first microchip that’s up for auction on June 19. Got an extra $1 million to $2 million lying around? That’s auction house Christie’s estimate of what the chip will sell for.
The germanium-based prototype was made by Tom Yeargan at Texas Instruments for its inventor Jack Kilby. Included with the original prototype is another silicon-based prototype from 1964, also made by Yeargan in 1958. The sale comes with documentation from Yeargan on its authenticity. And by the way, the sale of the prototypes overshadows the Apple I computer that’s also listed for the auction with an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.
It would be a shame for these items to end up in a private collection, but that’s probably what will happen. Very few science or computer museums have the resources for a purchase this large, unless Paul Allen ponies up for his Living Computer Museum. Historically speaking, the Yeargan/Kilby prototype is like any other invention that rocked the world: Fulton’s steam engine, Bell’s telephone, the first Benz gasoline automobile, or the Wright brothers’ airplane. These prototypes need to be where the public can see them.