Paul Allen’s Computing Museum Shutters, Its Collection Set for Auction

The collection of artifacts from Living Computers: Museums + Labs, a Seattle-based computer museum founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, is set to go to auction. The museum, known for its interactive exhibits, remained closed following the 2020 lockdowns and has not reopened since Allen’s death in 2018. Allen was involved in various institutions, including Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture and the Seattle art fair, which is scheduled to take place from July 25–28 this year.

In November 2022, an auction of Allen’s art collection, including works by Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, and Vincent van Gogh, fetched $1.5 billion, making it the largest-ever single sale in history. Another tranche of Allen’s artworks sold in 2023 garnered an additional $88.8 million.

The upcoming auction, called “Gen One,” consists of three parts: two online auctions, “Firsts: The History of Computing” and “Over the Horizon: Art of the Future,” both running through September 12, and a live September 10 sale titled “Pushing Boundaries: Ingenuity.”

The top lot in the “Pushing Boundaries” sale is a 1932 letter from Albert Einstein to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, warning about the potential for a destructive weapon using fissionable uranium. The letter carries a high estimate of $6 million and exists in two identical versions; the other resides in Roosevelt’s presidential library.

Other notable items in the “Pushing Boundaries” auction include a space suit worn by astronaut Ed White, the first American to perform a spacewalk, and Chesley Bonestell’s Saturn as Seen from Titan, a painting depicting Saturn as seen from Titan’s surface, with a high estimate of $50,000.

The “Firsts” auction highlights Allen’s contributions to computing innovation, with the top lot being a 1971 DEC PDP-10: KI-10 mainframe computer that Allen himself worked on, estimated at up to $50,000. This computer was among the first to support interactive, real-time computing and played a significant role in the development of ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet.

Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas, remarked, “Never before has the market seen a collection of this diversity that so beautifully chronicles the history of human science and technological ingenuity—much less one assembled by a founding father of modern computing. It is a testament to the uniqueness and importance of these objects that one of the greatest innovators of our day collected, preserved, and in dozens of cases, restored them, while both drawing his own inspiration from them and sharing many of them publicly.”

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