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Lot #8001
Douglas Engelbart: 'Skeleton' Early Mouse with X-Y Axis

'Skeleton' of an early Engelbart computer mouse, with signed patent diagram

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Estimate: $15000+
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'Skeleton' of an early Engelbart computer mouse, with signed patent diagram

Rare, early three-button 'skeleton' computer mouse designed by computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart, measuring approximately 4″ x 2.75″ x 2″, which utilizes two metal discs (corresponding to the X-axis and Y-axis) on the bottom to locate the position of the cursor, rather than a ball or optical light that came to be used later. Complete with its original cord, terminating in a serial connector. Missing its outer case, this 'skeleton' version of an early Engelbart mouse is fascinating from both visual and tactile perspectives. In fine condition. Accompanied by a glossy 8.5 x 11 photo of a diagram for Engelbart's computer mouse patent issued in 1970, entitled "X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System," signed and inscribed in the lower border in black felt tip, "For friend Bill Daul, Doug Engelbart, March 2006."

This mouse was personally given by computer visionary Douglas Engelbart to his friend and colleague, Bill Daul, who joined as a member of Engelbart's pioneering research team at SRI - International. Engelbart is remembered for founding the field of human-computer interaction and for his development of the computer mouse. His original patent for an 'X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System' was filed in 1967 and introduced at the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) of Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California, the next year, in 'The Mother of All Demos.' In addition to being the first public demonstration of a computer mouse, Engelbart's presentation introduced several additional fundamental elements of modern personal computing: windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing, word processing, dynamic file linking, and revision control.

The 'Mother of All Demos' would prove to be massively influential, though it took well over a decade for Engelbart's ideas to become mainstream. In the early 1970s, much of Engelbart's original team ended up at Xerox PARC, where they continued their research in human-computer interaction and kept improving upon the mouse. While touring Xerox PARC in 1979, Steve Jobs witnessed the concepts of the mouse and the graphical user interface (GUI) in action. Impressed by their user-friendliness, he aimed to simplify and incorporate these intuitive features into Apple's computers.

The Xerox mouses cost $300 apiece, didn't roll around smoothly, and had three buttons. Jobs wanted a simple, single-button model that cost $15. Apple licensed Engelbart's mouse patent from SRI for around $40,000, and Jobs hired the design firm IDEO to bring the mouse to the masses. Apple's mouse-which used a rollerball mechanism-was introduced with the expensive Lisa computer in 1983, but achieved fame and popularity when the more affordable Macintosh was released in 1984.

From the collection of Bill Daul, a longtime friend and colleague of Douglas Engelbart.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: The Steve Jobs Revolution: Engelbart, Atari, and Apple
  • Dates: #632 - Ended March 17, 2022