The iPhone 15 Ultra is expected to be Apple’s most expensive phone to date, but even this flagship will be overshadowed by the price an unopened, original iPhone just fetched at auction – a record $63,356 (around £52,635 / AU$91,630).
Before you rummage through the drawers, the key to such a high price was that the iPhone up for auction was “factory sealed”, meaning that even its cellophane packaging is still intact. This is a big deal for collectors, which meant someone was willing to pay the price of a Tesla Model 3 ($42,990 / £42,990 / AU$64,300) with enough stock to throw in a Subaru Impreza.
A similar original iPhone sample was auctioned in October 2022 for $39,339 (around £32,680 / AU$56,890), meaning their value is skyrocketing. In 2007, the first generation 8 GB iPhone cost $599, which means that its price has increased more than 105 times.
According to Business informant (opens in a new tab), the original owner of the phone, Karen Green (a cosmetic tattoo artist), received the phone in 2007 as a gift to celebrate the start of a new job. There was only one problem; at the time, iPhones were affiliated with AT&T, and Green already had three phone lines affiliated with Verizon. So she left the phone unopened on the shelf for years.
A few years ago, Green heard about the rising prices of original iPhones and starred in a daytime TV show called Doctor and Diva to appraise it, where it was estimated to be worth $5,000. Since then, the price of factory-sealed iPhones has skyrocketed, hitting $30,000 last year and now double that.
Naturally, LCG auction house (opens in a new tab) who sold this record-breaking iPhone believes prices will continue to rise. His list says that these types of examples are “widely regarded as the best assets among high-end collectors” and that “many believe space is still in its infancy.” Considering the prices fetched by other retro devices like the Leica O-Series, that might be right.
Analysis: Expensive, but far from the most expensive
The combination of significance and rarity is a formula that sets the auction houses on fire – and while a factory-sealed genuine iPhone meets both criteria, it is far from Apple’s most expensive example of retro tech.
For example, the original Apple 1 computer sold for $442,118 in December 2022, while just a few months earlier the prototype sold for almost 700,000 (opens in a new tab). Part of the reason for these incredible prices is that Apple only produced 200 versions of the Apple-1, of which only about 175 were sold.
But even these holy grails of computing pale in comparison to the recent record set by the old camera. In June 2022, the Leica-O shocked the photography world selling for a world record $15.1 million (opens in a new tab)which was almost five times higher than estimated. Understandably, this made it the most expensive camera ever made.
This example was one of only 23 prototypes made by Ernst Leitz Wetzlar (the eventual founder of Leica) and was apparently also the personal camera of Oskar Barnack who invented the Leica 35mm camera. So until the original iPhone, which was also the primary phone used by Steve Jobs, is discovered, the record for Apple phones may remain at a relatively low $63,356.
If you’re feeling down about not keeping your original iPhone, you can cheer yourself up by reading our 2007 review of the Apple iPhone – which gave it four stars and said it “could do more”.