Vintage Macintosh: Finding Your Theme

Now that I’ve been spending more time on my vintage Macintosh collection, I’ve begun to form the underlying theme for what I’m trying to do. I thought I had one to start, but when I put more time and effort into this, I’ve transformed my goal to something broader. What could have merely been an “accumulation” will hopefully be some kind of meaningful “collection”.

A Theme?

There are some out there who collect things with no particular theme or goal in mind. That’s okay. That is what works for them. But even those without an apparent theme or goal probably do have one. They either haven’t articulated it, or it isn’t what they expected. Even “buying to sell for a profit later” is a theme. Unless someone is buying things completely at random, something as simple as arbitrage over time is a theme of some kind.

For me, I wanted to define what I wanted to accomplish, and to allow that to guide my decisions on what to place in my collection. I had considered several options (including one that was really my initial plan):

  1. Collect just “toasters”, vintage 68k-based all-in-one Macintoshes
  2. Collect “one of everything” prior to the PowerPC era
  3. Focus on models that I wanted in the past but never bought, along with replacing those that I did have but got rid of

The first was where I started, but I realized that, for me, that was a bit limiting. Once I’ve got one of each from the original 128k Macintosh through to the LC520, then what? Sure, that’s still a lot of machines, but something felt wanting. The second is far broader than I would want to take on right now, partly because of time but also because of space constraints. I may expand my theme later. The last would be easy to accomplish, but like the first, a bit too limiting and in some ways unfocused.

Then It Hit Me…

The more I thought about the Macintosh, and where it fit both now and in the past, I realized that there were two elements that were important to me. The first was the original “all-in-one” element, the thing that made the Macintosh different from everything out there at the time. Even today, the iMac may not be alone in the all-in-one personal computer market, but it is a stand-out in many ways, and an important machine in the Apple line-up. Part of what I wanted was a collection that reflected the evolution from the original Lisa to the iMac today.

But there was another side to the Macintosh that first intrigued me: the idea of a truly portable Macintosh. We had a Macintosh Portable when I worked at BNR back in the early 1990’s, and it was a fascinating idea. I’ve always dreamed about having a machine that I could take anywhere, that I could use for building software, creating other works and for information and entertainment. That portability has been an important part of Apple, particularly after Steve returned from his time in the wilderness. The MacBook is the most significant member of the Mac family today, both emotionally and commercially. I wanted a collection that also reflected Apple’s growth from all-in-one desktop to a leader in portable computing.

My Theme For My Collection

I’m calling it a collection, but really I’m building a kind-of “private museum” dedicated to those two aspects of Apple and Macintosh history. For the all-in-one history, this means building on the Macintosh Plus, Macintosh SE/30 and Intel iMac that are in my possession now. But my goal isn’t to get “one of each kind”. My goal is to get those models that had some significance in the development of the Macintosh. So I won’t necessarily get every permutation and combination of the Macintosh SE. The original SE and SE/30 will likely be enough, at least early on. I won’t be getting one of each model of the iMac G3. My goal is to get a working first-generation Bondi Blue iMac G3. In time, I may “collect them all”, but the first was the most significant.

The other side, the portability of the Macintosh, starts with the Macintosh Portable. I have the backlit second-generation model now, and I will eventually get the original non-backlit model. But like on the all-in-one side, I’m not trying for “one of each”, but only those I feel are significant. So the PowerBook 100 and 140 make sense. They were the first Apple notebooks. The 165c was the first colour model. The 185c was the first colour with active matrix. The 5300 was the first PowerPC-based PowerBook. The PowerBook G4 was the first “aluminum” design and the last to carry the PowerBook name.

There are others. These examples I’ve mentioned are not exhaustive. I’ve built a list of significant models that fit my theme, and I am now working toward filling that list. I won’t just buy the first one that shows up. I will take some time, where it makes sense, to pick a unit that is in good shape (why create work for myself if I don’t have to?), or that I know I can bring up to speed.

Finding Your Own Theme

For anyone building any kind of collection, finding your own theme will help guide in what to get, and how to expand your collection. This goes for collecting old computers, animal figurines or cars. Certainly, you can collect things without having a formally-defined theme or goal. A theme isn’t a requirement. But not having one can make more of what you are doing “accumulation” rather than collection.

Whatever theme you pick, it has to speak to you. It has to interest you. It could be as simple as “things I think are cool”. It doesn’t have to be deep and philosophical. But a theme gives you a guide, it helps you decide what you do and do not acquire.  It can save you money, but it can also help provide focus, and you may find you enjoy your collection a lot more because of it.