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Lot #8043
Douglas Engelbart: X-Y Axis Mouse and Coding Keyset

Early computer mouse and coding keyset created by Doug Engelbart, as used in the 'Mother of All Demos'

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Estimate: $15000+
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Early computer mouse and coding keyset created by Doug Engelbart, as used in the 'Mother of All Demos'

Scarce pair of early input devices—a mouse and a coding keyset—created by computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart, like those used in his iconic 1968 'Mother of All Demos.' The rare, early three-button computer mouse designed by Engelbart, measuring approximately 4″ x 2.75″ x 2.5″, 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. The coding keyset, measuring 5″ x 1.25″ x 1.5″, features five keys (permitting 31 key-press combinations), for typing and entering commands. Both devices are complete with their cords, which terminate in serial connectors. Both exhibit general wear and soiling consistent with extensive use.

Accompanied by a detailed letter of provenance from David A. Potter, who acquired these in the course of his work as a member of Engelbart's pioneering research team at SRI International. Additionally includes a packet of slides from a presentation on the adoption of Engelbart's ideas and the flow of technological development through various companies 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.'

As demonstrated in the 'Mother of All Demos,' this hardware configuration allowed a user to point and click using the mouse in the right hand, while entering commands using the keyset on the left. The keyset was meant to supplement—not replace—a traditional keyboard, which would be situated in the middle. Where a keyboard required a user to lift his hand from the mouse and look away from the screen, the keyset allowed him to continue using the mouse while typing.

The keyset and three-button mouse also worked together—the keyset's 31 combinations permitted input of all 26 letters of the alphabet, plus standard punctuation marks (comma, period, semicolon, question mark, and space). Used in conjunction with the keyset, the mouse buttons functioned as shift and command keys: with the middle button pressed, letters shifted to uppercase and other punctuation marks were accessible; pressing the left mouse button allowed entry of numbers and a further selection of punctuation and symbols.

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 mice 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.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Steve Jobs and the Apple Computer Revolution
  • Dates: #660 - Ended March 16, 2023