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 ousted from Apple three years earlier. I was lucky enough to be in the Jobs audience – and even my 34-year-old memories of the evening are electrifying.
Charles Mann was also in the house that night. He was recording the Jobs show for distribution as part of the Powersharing series, a series of audio cassette presentations made at BCS, other user group meetings, and Boston’s Computer Museum by industry notables. technological. After shelved the project for decades, Mann has returned to it in recent years: Working with technology historian Tom Frikker, he digitized 134 of his recordings and began selling them on a USB stick for 60 $. It’s an invaluable record of what happened in computing 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 clips from Powersharing. What I didn’t know at the time: Mann didn’t just save his master tapes. It also kept a wealth of company-related documents, including waivers that speakers signed authorizing the use of their presentations.
And now he has decided to part with this collection. Online auctioneer RR Auction will auction the signed contract and dozens more, mostly in multiple-item lots. Among those represented by their signatures: 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, eminences of the AI including Seymour Papert and Ray Kurzweil, versatile visionary Alan Kay, laptop pioneer Adam Osborne, spreadsheet inventor Dan Bricklin, Borland founder Philippe Kahn, PC kingpin Michael Dell and Sony’s Akio Morita. Even part-time psychedelic booster and technologist Timothy Leary is included.
The auction goes live this Friday at 11 a.m. EDT and ends August 18. Mann’s archive is so extensive that only a portion of it is included. Another lot will be auctioned later.
Why is Mann, soon to be 88, selling these remarkable artifacts? He explains that he wanted to take care of them now rather than entrusting his children with this task one day. Throughout, he saw his recording efforts as an act of historical preservation as much as a business: “The amount of sales was miniscule compared to what I put into it,” he says. “But it was just that motivation.” Having never made a lot of money selling the Powersharing series on tape and USB, he might find the auction to be the most rewarding aspect of the whole experience.
Even in the 1980s, Jobs’ obsessive perfectionism was legendary.
Mann also ponders the fate of the recordings. They are already available in the permanent collection of the Computer History Museum, but he would also like universities and libraries to allow them to be used 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 a portion of any proceeds to help spread the word.
His goal in getting the recordings to schools and libraries, he says, is “not to earn revenue from them, but just to make sure they’re there.” I have long given up trying to recover funds from [the recordings], unless this auction catches fire unexpectedly. But you know, that would be ironic, because I had never thought of that.
Signed by Steve Jobs
Just as Jobs’ NeXT presentation is perhaps the most important Powersharing record, his contract, which he signed on February 16, 1989 at NeXT, is the showpiece of the upcoming auction. He didn’t like handing out autographs, which he claimed to see as a form of credit grabbing. This makes any surviving Jobs signature a sought-after rarity, and RR Auction has developed something of a specialty in them.
In 2021, the auction house sold a 1983 signed letter from Jobs — in which he slyly declines a request for an autograph — for $480,000. At the same time, a copy of the first issue of macworld the magazine signed by Jobs and Wozniak went for $201,000. Last month, a 1976 check signed by Jobs brought in $55,000.
Even in the 1980s, Jobs’ obsessive perfectionism was legendary. Mann therefore found it particularly significant that the Apple co-founder gave his blessing to the audio-only version of the Powersharing series of his NeXT presentation. “My happiest moment was getting a letter from someone in his office saying, ‘We thought the tape was pretty good and here’s Steve’s release,” he says. (This letter is included with the communicated in RR’s auction.)
Mann may have decided to part with his vintage papers, but the memories are his and remain treasured.