What's It Worth

By Dave E

Originally published in EUG #66

One of the questions we're asked most often here at Acorn Electron World is how much a certain piece of equipment is worth. Even with our wealth of experience, it is an incredibly difficult question to answer. The marketplace for all things Acorn is, and always has been, in a tremendous state of flux. Percy Penguin sells for a penny one week and a fiver the next. The word 'rare' is slapped by eBay sellers on everything from a First Byte Joystick Interface to a copy of Acornsoft's Boxer! How do you know whether that old collection of Elk equipment recently discovered in your loft is a little goldmine waiting to be realised or, unfortunately, worth little more than your bus fare to the Post Office?

Let's start by getting out of the way that, even if all the little registers of your Elk purr into life on powerup, even if has been packed in mothballs since the day you bought it, and even if it has been annually sprayed with Mr. Sheen, it is not going to be worth much in today's marketplace. There are Electrons for sale in abundance in cyberspace - most of them fully working and complete with all their bits and bobs - e.g. five Acornsoft games, aereal leads, three plugs to DIN leads, dodgy tape recorders and PSUs. If they're unboxed, they generally fetch just a tenner plus postage. (For boxed machines, see 'What The *$&"?!', later.)

Now if you've only got this basic setup to sell, then you might likely be dismayed by such news. If you were around when the Electron first came out, it'll have cost you around £149-£199. After over twenty years, you might have thought you'd be able to get back at least half that. But no, the demand for these simple setups just is not there - tapes just take far too long to load for modern times. And with some of the original tapes for the Electron becoming extremely elderly, those loading problems that were all too commonplace in the Eighties have almost quadrupled.

What should be your first port of call, therefore, with a basic setup, is whatever software you've got with it. We remember well our respective hometown's computer shops of the period, and to say choice was sparse at Redcar's 'Multi-Coloured Micro Shop' would be the understatement of the year. The Eighties was an era where a small privately run shop had to cater to everything from the ZX81 to the Commodore 64. Choice of software was very limited and very expensive. That one store in Redcar stocked popular titles by Acornsoft, Superior and Tynesoft for the Electron. Any other game you might want, unless you lived in Leeds, you would have to buy via mail order.

None of the popular titles - those you could buy, with a little perseverance, from the shop shelves - are rare, despite many eBay sellers labelling them as such. Most Electrons came bundled with five Acornsoft games (Typically Arcadians, Boxer, Business Games, Chess and Hopper) - and Acornsoft games are available from eBay, and on line stores, every day of the week. These games will add nothing to any basic setup you wish to offload.

Curiously however, and before we move onto the real meat of what makes a rare piece of software, some Acornsoft games are less abundant than others: Firebug, Sentence Sequencing and Word Hunt are slippery customers to those wishing to collect the whole catalogue of Acornsoft games. Therefore, even with the most basic setup, a division of goods can net a higher return. Firebug alone, for example, has sold for £6.00 on eBay. This is why the final figure you may reach even on a basic setup is very hard to predict, and why this in turn makes it difficult to answer how much any particular collection of hardware and software is worth.

The situation is similar with the Superior and Tynesoft catalogues. The small blue-boxed Superior tape games are not especailly rare - but Zany Kong Junior got them into hot water with the copyright lawyers and was withdrawn after about a year on sale, making it something of a collector's item. Tynesoft has a very large catalogue, spanning almost a decade - most of the titles are relatively easy to track down to buy, but just you try and find Super Gran for the Electron. We have found it, but you won't!

Right, listen up, all you people reading this who were around at the beginning of the life-cycle of the Acorn Electron, bought your monthly issue of Electron User, read through it and ordered some games through its pages. It is you who are likely to have some of the real rareties in your software collection. And the more stuff that you bought, the more chance you have of making a very nice little earner should you now want to flog either your complete setup, or the programs individually! (For those others of you who have come by Electron stuff either through a car boot sale, friend of a friend, or even found it in a bin, then you are relying on the same principle.)

Practically all of the remaining software which is missing from this web site, and which therefore falls into being rare by default, comes from the early era, circa 1983-1986, when it seemed everyone who'd got an Elk for Christmas was marketting games under his own software label. Under the 'missing' section of this web site is a list of titles which have either surfaced, in one way or another, or were at least advertised in various Acorn periodicals of the time. This software, we feel fairly sure, is out there: Bought by those of you who responded to the mail order advertisements in them or who went to one of the Electron & BBC Micro User Shows where they were offered for sale.

The key therefore is not just to stick it all on eBay. And if you do, you should never do so with a very poor quality photograph. List the games and their software houses in full. But alternatively, take a few moments to sort through the software. In the Acorn Electron World web site, you have a very powerful tool to help you. First of all, you can check the 'missing' page - anything that is listed there is bound to fetch a good price. With any other software, you can find the name of the game in the list either in the 'A To Z Index' or through the Haven catalogues by publisher. If the game you have is not listed, and you are sure it is for the Electron, then you have a true rarity.

This procedure may lead you to that very discovery. However, let's say that in amongst your collection of Acornsoft, Micro Power and Superior games, you find Magus' true rarity What's Eeyores?. That discovery does not immediately avail you of the knowledge of what it is worth. As we mentioned in the introduction, and particularly if you choose to use an on line auction site to sell it, you are relying on your specified target market (Those interested in rare Acorn Electron games) logging on in the next ten days and placing high bids. A much better solution is to set your own price and make a direct offer to those people. Either by e-mailing them directly and telling them of the find, its condition and how much you would be willing to sell it for, or by posting a message on the forums to that effect.

To aid you further, the first box-out (labelled MIA) lists ten of the most wanted games in Acorn Electron World at the present time. If you have any of these in your collection, and they are undamaged, you can expect to receive at least £20+ for them alone. So if you've got all ten of them (Unlikely of course!), you're looking at that basic setup plus software retailing for over £200!

Having now taken you through how to distinguish a rare piece of software, it's now time to turn to your hardware collections. If you're reading this because you've just come back from your local car boot with a bag full of computer parts - one of them labelled Acorn Electron and the rest coming in all shapes and sizes - then it's just to say possible that you don't know:

  (a) what you've got,
(b) what you can do with it, and most importantly
(c) how much it's worth.

If you browse through the hardware land section of the archive, you will find that a large selection of hardware has been documented and illustrated in full. This will answer at least (a) and (b) for you. When it comes to what it might be worth when you come to sell it though, the right sort of hardware, marketted correctly on eBay, has the potential to really bring home the bacon as it is hardware, which collectors are really interested in.

The first point we should make regarding hardware is never underestimate the importance of boxes. This is true with everything from the actual computer machine itself right through to the padded envelopes the Pres Games Discs arrived in. Frequently a boxed computer against an unboxed one (and by this we're talking about the original box supplied by Acorn Computers Ltd, not the one you just retrieved from your local supermarket!) will outperform the latter in price by a factor of five. An unboxed setup may only get you a tenner, a boxed one over £50. A truly mint condition boxed, never used machine, over £100.

Now to aid the flow of the narrative here, we are not going to start giving prices for all the different conditions of hardware, i.e. if it's unboxed, it's worth x, if it's boxed, it's worth y, if it's got its original manual, it's worth z, because frankly it gets too convoluted, boring and confusing. Also, as we stated above, prices fluctuate wildly and, like with shares, past performance can be no guarantee of future performance.

Instead, we aim to introduce you, as we did with software, to what is truly a rare interface on the Electron, why it is rare and whether or not this will result in it being snapped up from you (assuming you're selling, not buying, natch!). To this end, we assume hardware to be unboxed, working and in reasonable condition. We will start with the most popular expansion possible: the Acorn Plus 1. This attaches to the back of your Acorn Electron and gives access to ROM cartridges (which we'll look at in a minute), a joystick port and a printer.

The Plus 1 is a tricky beast in that the company ACP/Pres took over its manufacture in the mid Eighties and made some slight alterations to its design, and installed a revised, and much more functional, Operating System ROM. You can check whether or not you have an Acorn Plus 1 or an ACP/Pres Plus 1 simply by looking at the base of the unit, where either the Acorn logo or the Pres logo is stamped. Alternatively, you can type *HELP at the command prompt on the Electron and read the messages that are displayed when it is connected.

It is particularly important to mention this here because two of the rarest hardware upgrades to the Acorn Electron are these internal additions to the motherboard of each Plus 1. If you have a ACP/Pres Plus 1, there is the chance that safely tucked away inside it, is both a fully buffered 6 ROM expansion module (the ACP/Pres Plus 6) and the Sideways RAM expansion (the ACP/Pres Plus 7). Additionally, there could be rare ROM chips housed on the AP6 board. You could, at one sweep, be moving from a basic Electron setup with Plus 1 to a fully-fledged professional setup with on-board Sideways RAM, word processor, spreadsheet and BASIC editor!
As all collectors know, there are a wealth of disc interfaces available for the Electron. The most popular were made by Acorn or ACP/Pres (e.g. the Acorn Plus 3, ACP/PRES ADVANCED PLUS 3 and the ACP/PRES ADVANCED PLUS 4), but even these are in short supply - and can fetch £45-£50. The ACP/PRES ADVANCED PLUS 3/4, which is the combined interface that allows the Acorn Electron to read ADFS 1D00 and DFS discs, usually fetches over £60 when sold with a disc drive and manual. This is, for those who want a functioning Acorn Electron with discs instead of tape, it is the obvious upgrade. There remains only one disc in the whole of Acorn Electron World that will not work with this interface. However, it's a biggie: Exile, the best computer game ever written for the machine.

If you feel like you're falling into the trap of saying "Oh, it can't be rare because it's on the web sites for download!", then here's a list of some of the rarest games for the Electron that we have managed to get hold of nevertheless!

You can tell how rare MP Software is by the fact that not a single web site has managed to collect even one piece of software by it. Our copy of Firienwood was sent to us by a gentleman in New Zealand in exchange for a CUMANA DISC SYSTEM INTERFACE - and we were exceptionally happy with the deal! Definitely worth buying if you ever see it!

BIG BEN SWDL 1, Big Ben Club
The Dutch Big Ben Club still goes on strong, but its early issues have long since disappeared into oblivion. Any cassettes featuring Dutch games are very collectable. We've only got the first issue here, but it's known that they produced many more that we've never seen.

This little educational game for the Electron does not appear to be mentioned in any Acorn periodical ever published. Possibly its market was for primary school children with access to a BBC, and only the most eagle-eyed of viewers would spot that the disc is in fact Electron compatible. Not a bad little game too if little Timmy is having trouble with his prepositions.

AVON, Topologika
We had to choose one of the Topologika adventures to include in this section: We seem to be the only people in the world to have gotten hold of these, and we did so only by harassing Topologika for a number of weeks back in 1999. Never yet spotted up for sale anywhere besides on the Acorn Electron World web site.

Mirrorsoft did not make much effort to promote a lot of its titles. Again, we had never even heard of this game when it popped up on eBay in 2002. One of the more gimmicky titles for the Electron, it attempts, over a series of programs, to test your psychic abilities. It's actually not half bad for one of the rarest titles ever gotten hold of.

HOUSE OF HORRORS, Kayess Computer Systems
A true bidding war erupted over this little number, which was mauled at the hands of Electron User, and had not been spotted for sale ever until 2005. It eventually sold for over £50. Certainly worth grabbing if seen cheaper - when in that kind of demand!

Not all Micro Power software is ten a penny either! The Junior Maths Pack eluded us for nearly nine years which may be in part due to the savaging it received at the hands of Rog Frost in Electron User.

DOMINOES, Blue Ribbon
The early titles produced by Blue Ribbon, almost all of them programmed by Mike Williams, are quite easily picked up for a few pence each. Dominoes however was their last ever release and only really seemed to appear in the budget box of your local Chips during the big 8 bit clearout of 1991. This is going to be outstanding from quite a few collections.

Yes, a bit of a surprising entry here - Despatch Rider on cassette for the Acorn Electron was extremely tricky to track down. Some of the other later Audiogenic titles also fall into this category, e.g. Helter Skelter, Loopz and of course the not-collected-yet EMILYN HUGHES.

CAVEMAN, Kansas City Systems
In ten years, we've seen this game for sale once - and we bought it. It's not a particularly good game but, like a good few of Kansas' other titles, you can't find it for love nor money.

Exile only works on the Acorn Plus 3, which means there's still plenty of demand for that L-shaped monostrity, with its humming PSU that wakes up the neighbours. There's also a place in the heart of many collectors for this 'official Acorn product' meaning that Acorn Plus 3s are usually well received on eBay, with bids reaching at least £50. Of course the sky is the limit for boxed examples of any of these interfaces.

Other disc interfaces sell purely based on the feeling of the marketplace at the time. The short-lived CUMANA DISK INTERFACE is certainly rare but it requires its own formatted discs and will not work with any Acorn-formatted ones (that is, any of the discs available anywhere on the internet). This tends to result in it not going for astromonical sums; clearly too antiquified to be collectable by many, each one auctioned on eBay has raked in around the £50 mark. Slogger's PEGASUS 400 DISC INTERFACE fares better, in excess of £80 (although we're personally not sure why as it does not offer any advantages over the AP3/4).

The real 'hot' have-to-have disc interface is, of course, the SOLIDISK FLOPPY/HARD DISC INTERFACE. Unfriendly user manuals (and there are three of them!) aside, what you have here, if you can get your hands on a suitable BBC series hard drive, is the gateway to having every last game in Acorn Electron World instantly at your fingertips. The interface appears once in a blue moon and many auctions for it have ended suspiciously early - hence showing there is a real demand for this one interface. The only one we sold went for £85, but prices now may be slightly higher.

If you take a look at the box out for 'Hot For Hardware', you will see the most desirable hardware expansions, and some of the reasons for that demand. In the same order, the Project Expansions' Sound Cartridge usually goes for around £80, the Jafa Mode 7 Display Unit for £110, the ACP/Pres AP5 Interface for anything up to £200(!) and the Millsgrade Voxbox for £50-£60. That is not to say, however, that there is no market for the numerous other hardware expansions you may have amongst your Electron collection. Unfortunately, once revolutionary ports such as the Andyk RS423 Interface (and of course modems to connect to it) have faded into nothingless now the bulletin boards no longer exist for them to connect to, which means you're lucky if you now get a fiver for them.

Joystick interfaces had their day decades ago, and the popular Commander 3 joystick, even when fully boxed, is practically worthless. The same is true of the First Byte Joystick Interface and the First Byte Printer Interface - collectors simply will not pay very much for them. If they're unboxed, you should throw them in with a basic setup but never attempt to sell them separately. The Slogger cartridges still bring in odd amounts, and one suspects Click, as it is such a high quality expansion and was limited to so few production units, might fetch a respectable £25 at auction.

As you can see from the table below, the situation is rather different with hardware that it is with software. If hunting around on the web site fails to underearth any mention of the particular hardware you have discovered, it may mean that it is rare, but it does not necessarily mean it is valuable.

 Manufacturer  Product  Unboxed Price  Boxed Price
Acorn Acorn Electron £10 £50+
Acorn Acorn Electron Data Recorder £4 £15+
Acorn Acorn Plus 1 Interface £10 £15+
Acorn Acorn Plus 3 Interface £10 £60+
Acorn Acorn Data Recorder £4 £15+
Acorn Acorn Merlin M2105 Terminal £30 £50+
ACP/Pres Advanced BASIC Editor Cartridge £10 £25+
ACP/Pres Advanced Battery-Backed RAM £10 £25+
ACP/Pres Advanced 1Mhz Bus Interface £20 £25+
ACP/Pres Advanced ROM Adaptor (Single ROM) £10 £15+
ACP/Pres Advanced ROM Adaptor (Two ROMs) £10 £15+
ACP/Pres Advanced Advanced Sideways RAM £10 £25+
ACP/Pres Advanced Quarter Meg RAM £80 £80+
ACP/Pres Advanced Plus 1 Interface £15 £20+
ACP/Pres Advanced Plus 3 Interface £15 £45+
ACP/Pres Advanced Plus 4 Interface £20 £45+
ACP/Pres Advanced Plus 5 Interface £80 £80+
ACP/Pres Advanced Plus 6 Interface £30 £30+
ACP/Pres Advanced Plus 7 Interface £20 £20+
Andyk Andyk Eprom Cartridge £?? £??+
Andyk Andyk RS423 Cartridge £?? £??+
Bud Computers Commander 3 Joystick Interface £?? £??+
Complex Sound Expansion Cartridge £50 £50+
Cumana 5.25" Single Disc Drive £10 £15+
Cumana 5.25" Double Disc Drive £20 £25+
Cumana Cumana Disk Interface £10 £50+
Database Database Electronics' Sound Master£10 £25+
First Byte Electron Printer Interface £5 £5+
First Byte Switched Joystick Interface £5 £5+
Jafa Systems Jafa Mode 7 Display Unit £100 £130+
Jafa Systems Jafa RS423 Cartridge £?? £??+
Jafa Systems Jafa Shadow RAM Board £10 £20+
Hybrid Music 5000 Synthesiser £30 £70+
Lindy Acorn Electron Expansion Board £5 £7+
Millsgrade Millsgrade Voxbox £50 £60+
Mushroom Centronics Interface & User Port £5 £10+
Nidd Valley Slomo £25 £30+
PMS PMS Electron Second Processor £50 £70+
Power Power Electron Joystick Interface £5 £10+
Project ExpansionsSound Expansion Cartridge £70 £70+
Project ExpansionsUser Port Cartridge £5 £10+
RAM RAM Joystick Interface £?? £??+
Slogger 32K Sideways RAM Interface £10 £10+
Slogger Click £25 £30+
Slogger Master RAM Board £10 £20+
Slogger Pegasus 400 Disc Interface £80 £100+
Slogger Slogger Plus 2 Interface £5 £10+
Slogger Slogger Rombox £10 £10+
Slogger Slogger Rombox Plus £10 £10+
Slogger Switched Joystick Interface £10 £20+
Solidisk Floppy/Hard Disc Interface £80 £100+
Vulcan Vulcan Joystick Interface £?? £??+
Wizard Wizard Joystick/SRAM Interface £5 £10+


No doubt there will be some people who wish to risposte our final lunge into rarity when we straightforwardly declare that, in our humble opinions, all the Acornsoft ROM cartridges are generally worth about £20 each, and all the ROM chips about £10. We were careful to declare Acornsoft ROM cartridges there though. So far, the Software Bargains ROM cartridges (mentioned here in Electron User), featuring the Micro Power games, elude us all - and may never have existed in the first place, as they only appeared in one advertisement (possibly to gauge demand).

Finally, check out our section of missing games, and if you have anything missing from our archives, then please do use the feedback link to e-mail us with the details should you wish to sell it - and to see it archived in Acorn Electron World and shared with all!