View Full Version : A great computer mystery!

April 22nd, 2015, 02:58 AM
It is relatively easy to find American computer artifacts from the 50s to the 80s.
Does anybody know why there never seems to be any British computer artifacts around (on eBay for example) for that period?

IN hope,


April 24th, 2015, 03:48 AM
I'm not certain but Britain certainly had a minicomputer/ mainframe industry. ICL was a huge manufacturer in the 60's and 70's, but i kinda think that the market were smaller, and they were probably more expensive, so a lot fewer British minis and mainframes would've been produced.

April 24th, 2015, 04:30 AM
It is relatively easy to find American computer artifacts from the 50s to the 80s.
Are you... uhm... this might sound silly but... checking Britain? ebay.co.uk will probably have a wee bit more.

You see Acorns, Dragons and BBC micro's on and off... but sadly their production numbers never really amounted to much compared to the American market. Like anything else where the production numbers are lower it gets harder to find them.

See trying to find a zed-ex 80 or even 81, compared to the mass produced Timex Sinclair 1000 that by the mid 80's you could by for $30 at the local pharmacy. (ALWAYS found it odd that they started selling them through CVS and Walgreens). You see them from time to time, but you can ALWAYS find multiple TS1K.

... and let's face it, prior to 1980 the production numbers for the UK make Apple's sales prior to that time look good; when up until the early 80's Apple held a solid last place in the US market. For all the revisionist history they've managed to manufacture prior to 1982, Apple was outsold 10:1 by Atari and 25:1 by TRS-80; then Commodore in two machines (VIC and C64) outsold an entire decade of the Apple II in just two years.

Simple fact is if there weren't a lot of them to begin with, good luck finding them now -- though that lack of supply also makes the handful in circulation worth more, and more likely to be held onto by the people who do have them keeping them out of circulation.

See the IBM PC, where they made SO many of them and mechanically they are so over-engineered that to be brutally frank a stock perfect condition one shouldn't go for more than $150 with the monitor.They're not worth as much as there's so many of them.

Hence why most anything that says "collectors edition" on it is worthless trash; see the woz "signed" IIGS. They slap the name on it to trick people into spending a few dollars more on it, churn 'em out like hotcakes and the end result is everyone who wants one has one, and the market is flooded meaning they'll never be worth anything.

You see this in toys, comics and sports cards ALL the time! Action Comics #1 is worth a fortune as it was a small print run of something many people ended up using to wipe on the bog so few examples even survived to today; the "Limited Collectors' Edition" copy of Superman:The Movie from '79? Worthless. An original year Barbie NiB? Big bucks; that Beauty and the Beast "collectors edition" Belle? Pretty much worth half the sticker price it was when new.

April 24th, 2015, 04:40 AM
On the other hand - there's currently a thread on cctech which, if I understood correctly, mentions a British guy with a collection of around 1000 BBC micros. Gives a new dimension to hoarding I guess. If he started flooding the market with those there would propably be more than one for every person wishing one.. and it would affect the current going price I'm sure.

April 24th, 2015, 08:36 AM
At least in the mini and mainframe market, the reason is simply that not that many machines were produced. ICL may have been "huge", but was completely dwarfed by IBM and it's production figures. Even in Britain, there were far more IBM installations than from the British manufacturers.

There is a book called "Innovating for Failure" from the MIT press that has some of those production figures. The author makes some pretty good points as to why the British mainframe industry never really took off.


April 24th, 2015, 08:41 AM
I never got why Sinclair ZX80s are so expensive on the secondary market. It seemed to happen around the year 2000. Before that, always found them cheap at markets etc.

And there are always, without fail, at least 2-3 for sale on eBay at any given time. Unless people are selling the same 3 models between themselves there is no reason for them to command such high prices!

April 26th, 2015, 11:33 PM
In Europe Sinclair was a big name and has a lot of loyal fans, basically the ZX80 was the first friendly Sinclair computer. It's like having an early Apple II (the MK14 being the Apple I :-)).
Sinclair collectors are also probably involved in the high prices reached by the Grundy NewBrains. They're rare; but I think that fact alone doesn't explains why they're so expensive.

April 26th, 2015, 11:49 PM
Hello All,

Amazingly I have a British minicomputer !!

It's a GEC 4070 from the 1970's. It was saved from being destroyed and skipped at the last minute by me from the RAL site.
I've had it for about eight years now and i'm still searching for more info on hardware and programming.
It's a wonderful bit of kit, all TTL, no processor chip here !!
I think that the British computer industry was swamped by more powerful computers from the USA and Japan which were cheaper per MHz and the British computers could not compete.
What I do find frustrating is the general lack of interest in the UK for British computers.
In the US there appear to be lots of user groups for computers like DEC, which like the GEC are long gone, but hold a fascination.
If anyone is interested in more info on the GEC, send me a PM.


April 27th, 2015, 03:06 AM
The situation on computer history on this side of the pond is quite different to the situation in the US. Other than the few members of the Computer Conservation Society (CCS), few other people are interested in vintage computing in the UK. Other than Jim Austin's most collection are in museums, for example: the National Museum of Computing, the Science Museum and the IBM Hursley Museum. (The latter is obviously IBM oriented but IBM United Kingdom.)

May I suggest, that if the OP is not already a member, he/she joins the CCS.

April 27th, 2015, 05:10 PM
I worked for a medium size automated machinery manufacturer in the West Midlands '81 to '83. They had a mainframe, a DEC or a Burroughs for accounting and a few communal HP desktops in locked rooms for doing engineering stress calculations. In '82 they purchased a 3-terminal CAD system for drafting and that used a mini that was installed dead in the middle of what was the chief engineer's office after they turfed him out. It was also the only room in the engineering area that was air conditioned. Considering the mini was only the size of a large PC it seemed a silly waste of space, even at the time, so I assume it must have been an expensive purchase.

I can't remember the brand of mini but "buying British" if at all possible would have been a factor I think.

All computers I saw in the field at industrial sites were US or German.

April 28th, 2015, 05:47 AM
Good point!

April 28th, 2015, 05:49 AM
I get most of my stuff from ebay and there isn't much on there.

Thanks for your general remarks, which confirm my opinions and are therefore probably correct (!).

April 28th, 2015, 05:54 AM
Hello All,

What I do find frustrating is the general lack of interest in the UK for British computers.


Have you heard of the Computer Conservation Society? There is some interest and they are busy rebuilding all sorts of British dinosaur computers. www.computerconservationsociety.org . Cheap to join!