If you’re a longtime fan of the Macintosh platform, chances are you are a bit of a collector and a historian. Aside from their being endearing machines that earned user loyalty, Macs retained their usefulness far longer than most PCs, encouraging people to hang on to them. Who among you doesn’t have an old Mac in your closet?
It may be time to pay your closet a visit, because that machine gathering dust beside your old ski boots may represent one of the last surviving examples of a rare breed of Macintosh.
Many Macs are uncommon or hard to find today, but for the sake of brevity (and for fear of the dreaded TL;DR), I’ve decided to examine six of the rarest among them.
For whatever reason—usually low production numbers or unpopularity—few of the following Macs have live on to the present day. If you own one of them, take it out of the closet and hang it like a taxidermied moose above your ski lodge mantle. (Assuming you have a mantle, of course.)
JLPGA PowerBook 170 (1992)
In 1992, Apple manufactured approximately 500 multicolored PowerBook 170 models to commemorate the 1992 JLPGA golf tournament in Japan. If you ever set your hands upon this colorful machine, you'll have yourself quite a prize.
Apple must have had a field day picking the colors for this machine. It sports a mostly blue body with a white lid and base, red battery doors and contrast sliders, yellow hinge caps and trackball, and green elevating feet. Other than all that, it appears to be a relatively unassuming PowerBook 170.
Color Classic II (1993)
The Apple Computer of old loved computer sequels, and, accordingly, the Color Classic II served as the second act to February 1993’s Color Classic. With a motherboard that about doubled the CPU speed and RAM capacity of its predecessor, collectors prize the Color Classic II for being what the original Color Classic should have been.
Of course, there’s a catch: The Color Classic II never (officially) graced the shores of the United States. Limited to sales primarily in Japan and Canada, these rare beasts are difficult to find in Apple’s own homeland.
In that regrettable age when a single Mac model could have 15 different names (I’m exaggerating only slightly), Apple also sold the Color Classic II as the Performa 275. If you find either one, enjoy it wisely, knowing that you hold in your hands the end of a long, proud line of 9-inch display-bearing compact Macs.
Macintosh TV (1993)
Nineteen years after its debut, Apple’s first experiment in TV-computer integration remains the rarest full-production Mac ever released. Apple manufactured a mere 10,000 units of the Macintosh TV before pulling the plug four months after its launch.
The Mac TV combined a personal computer with a television set, but the machine failed to fulfill either role particularly well. It was too expensive to be a reasonable TV set, too crippled to be a reasonable Macintosh, and too limited in its TV-computer integration to be a practical hybrid.
Perhaps for those reasons, Apple declined to extend the lifespan of this all-in-one flop, making the Mac TV an exceptionally rare machine today. If you’d like to find one yourself, be warned: As the only all-black desktop Macintosh released in the United States, it demands a high premium from collectors.
PowerBook 550c (1995)
One year after the PowerBook 540c, the sleek, all-black PowerBook 550c expanded its predecessor’s hard drive and display size, and even enhanced its CPU. Sounds pretty good, right? It does—until you realize that you could buy it only in Japan.
Apple fans may spot a trend among rare 1990s Macs. At least three of them were black. You’ve got the Macintosh TV, the Performa 5440 (not on this list, but also relatively rare and sold only in Japan), and now the 550c.
Considering the how popular these black machines are with collectors today, it makes you wonder: Why didn’t Apple just release a mainstream black Mac in the United States? I’ll tell you why: That would have been like launching the miniskirt in 1930. The world was not yet ready for such a dangerous prospect, my friend.
Interestingly, the PowerBook 170 also reportedly received a very short run of white units to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Macintosh in 1994. I say “reportedly” because I cannot confirm its existence (a supposed photo of this machine on the Internet is actually a prototype model). If true, the white PowerBooks were likely reserved for key Apple employees only.
Twentieth Anniversary Mac (1997)
Released to commemorate Apple’s 20 years in business, Apple’s designers seemingly spared no expense in creating the Twentieth Anniversary Mac.
This futuristic machine packed thin laptop-grade components (and Apple’s first desktop LCD display) into a sleek golden-bronze case that integrated a vertically mounted CD-ROM drive. Its keyboard even featured leather palm rests, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Accordingly, Apple priced this limited-edition model as a high-end luxury item. At $7499 per unit (about $10,812 in today’s dollars), very few consumers bought the machine until Apple drastically reduced its price the following year.
The luxury aspect of the Twentieth Anniversary Mac adds considerably to the collectable cachet of a machine that people perceived (however debatably) as pushing the technological envelope. With fewer than 12,000 produced, it’s difficult to obtain it unless you’re willing to sell your ski lodge and pay a premium on eBay.
Power Macintosh G3 All-in-One (1998)
There’s an old saying that goes, “A camel is a horse designed by committee.” Similarly, the Power Mac G3 All-in-One (AIO) was an iMac designed by committee of horses.
One could say that the AIO’s convoluted form—which seems to follow the “tacked on” approach—represented all that was wrong with Apple’s hardware design process before Jobs took over for the second time. Even if we don't know the exact details, its design tells a story, and the story isn’t a pretty one.
This oddball of a Mac owes its rarity to two factors. The first is that Apple released it only to the educational market (in the United States, at least), which kept it out of the hands of the average consumer. The second is that Apple announced the iMac a mere two months after launching this machine, therefore dooming the G3 AIO to relative obscurity.
The story continues
These machines aren’t the only rare Macs out there. We could probably sit here all day talking about obscure model configurations and color schemes. Instead, why not tell us about your rare Mac finds in the comments below? Do you own any rare Macs yourself?