[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple's Two Rarest Products

April 14th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) - circa 1991One of the only photos of this device on the Internet at present.

Almost thirty years after its introduction, the AppleLine Protocol Converter (1985) remains one of the rarest pieces of commercial hardware Apple has ever produced. It allowed a single Lisa, Mac, or Apple II to communicate with IBM mainframes using the IBM 3270 terminal protocol.

As far as I can tell, this is only the second photo of the AppleLine ever posted on the Internet (the first was in a slideshow from last year — see below). I bought this particular Apple service sheet just to share a photo of this elusive beast with you.

In 1983, Apple released a similar (and similarly rare) product, the Apple Cluster Controller, which I wrote about in this Macworld slideshow from last year. One model of the Cluster Controller allowed up to seven Apple Lisas to connect to an IBM mainframe (again, via IBM 3270), which required an intelligent protocol conversion process. As such, the Cluster Controller contained its own CPU and was a miniature computer unto itself, but technical specifications of either device are hard to track down.

If you or anyone you know owns an Apple Cluster Controller or AppleLine protocol converter, I'd love to hear from you. They are so rare I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. (Perhaps Apple only leased them out and recalled all the units when they phased them out, keeping them largely out of private hands. But this is pure speculation on my part.)

[ From AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the rarest Apple product you own?

6 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple's Two Rarest Products”

  1. Eagles409 Says:

    I don't know how rare it is, but I have a mockingboard in my 2e and I have an Apple brand 1200 baud modem for the 2e as well.

  2. John Says:

    I also don't know how rare it is, but I have a SCSI to Ethernet controller for the Apple. Kinda cool.


  3. John Says:

    The adapter is an external one. Designed to plug into the external SCSI port of an Apple and provide an Ethernet out-port.

  4. Rj Siegel Says:

    I have two Applelines
    I wonder what they are worth

  5. Bryan Says:

    In 1986 I was an IBM mainframe systems programmer.
    I purchased an AppleLine 3270 which allowed me to connect a Mac512K to the mainframe. (it was $2000 in 1986 dollars. It cost almost as much as the Mac128K that had been upgraded to 512k). 

    Using MacTerminal, I could use the Mac as a mainframe terminal and (later) download data into spreadsheets (Microsoft Multiplan). 
    I could also (with a pair of $400 9600 baud modems) work from home.
    The IBM customer engineers were fascinated by the Mac. "Yeah, I think I saw something similar in our labs up in Armonk" commented one. They thought it was really cool.
    My boss later warned me that the IBM sales engineer for our account (county government) had been to see the director of the IT department. He told the director "Are you sure this guy is a team player? We can't be responsible if his Apple system damages the mainframe."
    They made me disconnect it.
    Yes, times have changed. Apple makes more selling phones than IBM makes selling mainframes.
    (Note, the AppleLine 3270 was bigger than a phone book, if anyone remembers those, and 3x as heavy)

  6. Benj Edwards Says:

    Great story, Bryan!

    You don't happen to still have your AppleLine, do you?

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