Microsoft founder Paul Allen's tech museum closes, sells off collection

Letter from Einstein, vintage space suit, and ancient computers all up for sale

The estate of the late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has decided to close Living Computers: Museum + Labs, the Seattle site which housed his beloved collection of vintage technology.

The museum closed in February 2020 with the onset of the COVID pandemic and was said to be a temporary measure. It’s now become permanent. Even the museum’s website and social media platforms have been deleted or made private.

The facility was started by the late Allen in 2012 and allowed users to get hands-on with vintage computers and other scientific relics. A classroom and lab used for educational purposes explains the "Lab" in the museum's long name.

The museum's website also hosted online emulations of the Commodore 64, Apple II, and other retro computers.

These emulators will now be operated by, an outfit that already hosts retro machines online and makes them publicly available.

"The acquisition aligns with our existing Vintage Systems program which provides our membership access to a variety of historical operating systems, architectures, programming language tools and software. We hope to continue to expand this offering as we believe understanding computing's past, especially the esoteric, helps us create better software and user experiences for the future," told The Register.

Some of the museum’s exhibits will go under the hammer: auction house Christie's has already posted a list of over 150 of the museum's pieces it will offload, with all proceeds going to charity.

The most high profile items, according to Christie's, include a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-10 from 1971 (the model that Allen and Bill Gates first wrote code on), a 1939 letter from Albert Einstein to US President Franklin Roosevelt concerning the possibility that Germany might be working on a nuclear bomb, and astronaut Ed White's spacesuit as worn on the first US spacewalk during a Gemini mission. By far the most valuable of the bunch is the Einstein letter, which is estimated to go for between $4-6 million, while the other items are expected to sell for tens of thousands.

Paul Allen at Microsoft in the early 1980s

Paul Allen at Microsoft in the early 1980s. Source: Christies - Click to enlarge

The pieces at Living Computers: Museum + Labs represent just a portion of Allen’s collection. Last year the Museum of Pop Culture, located in Seattle just like Allen's museum, acquired several rare items he acquired, including a smashed guitar that Kurt Cobain used, Prince's motorcycle jacket, and loads of sci-fi media props like Darth Vader's helmet and the Captain Kirk’s Command Chair from the USS Enterprise.

He even owned a Soviet MiG-29 fighter jet, which was put up for auction in 2019. And in 2022 the first tranche of his art collection was sold off for $1.62 billion, again with the money going to charity.

It's not entirely clear why the Paul Allen estate, which is run by his sister Jody Allen, decided to shut the museum, given no apparent cash shortage. We've asked for clarification. ®

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