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Gear Envy: My Collection of 500+ Pieces of Computer and Gaming Hardware

With the help of supportive family, I have amassed nearly 300 computers, 150 game consoles, and tons of accessories over the past 25 years. This is my journey through archiving computer and video game history.
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Gear Envy: My Computer Collection Through the Years

*Record Scratch* *Freeze Frame*

Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.

I often wonder that myself.

Born in 1981, I grew up on Atari consoles and Apple computers, then NES and beyond, and I never stopped loving the machines I’d used, even as others threw them away. Soon I realized that if everyone discarded these devices when they become obsolete, they would eventually be forgotten. So around age 12, I set out to preserve tech history, and I began to collect as many computers and video game consoles as I could.

With the help of supportive parents (and later, wife), I have amassed nearly 300 computers, 150 game consoles, and tons of accessories over the past 25 years. While today gathering a collection like this would require untold gobs of money, I acquired most of these items for free or cheap at times when no one else wanted them.

Earlier this year, I found myself finally reaching a limit to the amount of stuff I could practically store—a peak in my collecting career—so it got me reflecting, looking back on the depth and meaning of my collection. And that’s why we’re here today: to take a quick stroll through its history.

This collection has been my personal historical archive, a priceless reference that has guided my many written works on computer and video game history over the past 13 years. When I started writing, you typically couldn’t find these machines or literature about them in a local institution. Today, that is finally beginning to change thanks to universities and museums getting into the tech history business, so I feel like I can relax my collecting impulse a little.

But not before I give this grand collection a final send-off. Let’s take a look.

  • Benj Edwards 1

    My Computer Room, circa 1994-1995

    The first old computers I collected were ones we already owned: An Atari 400 and 800, some old PCs. Then a family friend gave me his TRS-80 Color Computer, and I was hooked.

    When I was a kid, we were lucky enough to have a house with a spare bedroom. Most families in that situation might use it as a guest room, but my dad let me use the space as a sort of playroom where I could set up my computers and video games.

    Here we see this room around early 1995 when I was about 13-14 years old. In the room sat my BBS computer (just off-photo to the left) and various classics: a DEC VT-125 terminal, an Apple II Plus, a NES, a Commodore PET, an Atari Lynx, an Atari Jaguar, an Apple III (under the dust cover), and more.

    Back in 2006, I annotated most of the items in this photo on my blog if you’re interested in details; there’s actually quite a bit crammed in there. At this time, I stored the rest of my collection on a shelf or two inside a closet just off this room. (Photo: Benj Edwards)

  • Benj Edwards 2

    Bedroom Shelves, ca. 1995-1996

    By the time 1995 and 1996 rolled around, I had accumulated many more computers from a variety of sources: family friends, flea markets, yard sales, hamfests, and even buying a few things through the mail from people on CompuServe and the internet.

    You’re looking at two screen grabs from a recently found home video where I gave a tour of the room seen in the last photo. At this time, I apparently had two modular white plastic shelves to hold the bulk of my collection. Among the spoils: lots of Atari stuff, a C64c, a TRS-80 MC-10, a TRS-80 Color Computer, a ColecoVision, three TI-99/4A computers, and a shelf bulging under the weight of 11 disk drives.

    I know I had more than this at the time (I don’t see my Atari 800, for example), so it must have been hiding in the closet—or hooked up under the TV set, as it often was. (Photo: Benj Edwards)

  • Benj Edwards 3

    The First Mac Shelf, ca. 2003

    I moved out from my parents’ house two months after graduating from high school in 1999, and I started working while living in a small one-story house with my brother as a roommate. Within the first day, I had set up several computers on the kitchen table and my brother quipped, “Wow, that didn’t take long.” Elaborate vintage computer setups tend to follow me wherever I go.

    Fast forward a few years, and I had taken advantage of a unique architectural feature of that house—a high shelf in a vaulted room—in order to display my compact Mac collection. I bought most of those Macs at thrift stores around the year 2000-2001 for $ 10 a piece. I count only nine units up there, so I know there were more to come in the future.

    At this time I kept about half of my computer collection at my parents’ house, and half stuffed away in this house’s closets, including the shelf over the washing machine in the laundry room. “Just for once,” my brother told me, “I’d like to use that shelf for detergent.” (Photo: Benj Edwards)

  • Benj Edwards 4

    Garage View, ca. 2007

    In 2007, just a year after getting married and moving into a new house, I naturally had already filled the house’s one-car garage with computers.

    Here’s a view of just one wall of that dark garage, which is covered in shelves full of computer stuff. At this time, I still had most everything in boxes, so it wasn’t as pretty as it could have been. But hey, look at all those Macs! I count 15 compact Macs, which was peak-compact Mac for me before I had to start downsizing. Three other walls of the garage were just as full of stuff, and as new items came in, I had to make some very hard choices about what to keep and what to recycle.

    Around this time I discovered the problems with humidity in a closed garage, and I had to keep a dehumidifier running in there 24 hours a day to deter mold growth (I outline some of my preservation tips in this story). The computers also shared the garage with several cats, which was definitely non-archival. (Photo: Benj Edwards)

  • Benj Edwards 5

    Collection Annex, ca. 2017

    Ten years later, I’m in yet another house (with a bigger garage), but even 18 years after moving out from my parents’ house, some of my computers still haunted their garage. This photo from 2017 shows the machines that remained, arranged neatly along a wall. Early in 2018, I finally removed most of this stuff, although I think there are still a couple things in there gathering dust. Time to mount a rescue mission. (Photo: Benj Edwards)
  • Benj Edwards 6

    The Ultimate Garage, 2018

    Between 2013 and mid-2018, I had it made in the shade. In my two-car climate controlled garage/workshop, I covered nearly every inch of every wall with computer and video game hardware and software, displaying them for the first time in a fashion I felt was finally deserving of these important artifacts. It was well-lit and wonderful.

    It was in this place, early 2018, when I started to feel the squeeze of too much stuff, and then my wife told me she wanted to move to a quieter neighborhood. I agreed, and with downsizing in mind, I sent out a query on Twitter to see if anyone might want to purchase my collection. The response was overwhelming, and I even ended up on the front page of the local newspaper.

    So far I have not sold my collection entirely, but I am beginning to thin it out. I am fairly sure my collection will never be that big again. (Photo: Benj Edwards)

  • Benj Edwards 7

    Computer Dungeon, 2018

    So here we are today in late 2018. After spending nearly two months moving hundreds of computers, dozens of game consoles, thousands of pieces of software, and hundreds of boxes of accessories, I feel exhausted. I lost 15 pounds. Spending six to eight hours a day for weeks moving and rearranging heavy boxes is emotionally mind-numbing.

    After things settled down a bit, I managed to line up some maze-like shelves of computers in my new garage (which is not nearly as well-lit) and snap some photos, christening it my “computer dungeon.” I get lost in it on occasion. My goal now is to part with enough stuff to be able to safely walk through the garage again without getting eaten by a troll.

    I’m sure I’ll always have some computers and video games as long as I live. Maybe not as much as I had earlier this year, but enough to continue my study and appreciation of tech history. For now, the dungeon awaits. (Photo: Benj Edwards)

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