Acquisition of the Micral N by the MO5 association

The adventure begins!

By Philippe Dubois, President.
Translation by Sébastien Marty.

Hello and welcome to the first article dedicated to the Micral N adventure and its restoration by the MO5 association!

For this first article, here is the story and photos of the acquisition of the Micral N from its seller by the MO5 association. It was on January 20, 2021 that we received an extraordinary e-mail, which we had to read several times to be sure not to dream:

"“Good morning,

I am contacting you because I own a Micral computer. I wish to sell it and I thought of your association because of your commitment to heritage. I seem to remember that during the 2017 auction for the same machine, surely more complete, you were unable to outbid the American buyer!!

Before considering an auction, I wish to favor dialogue with you. If you are interested, I leave you my contact details to discuss it in person.

Have a nice day, Christophe xx“ (Editor’s note: we will only name the seller by his first name, according to his wishes)

I myself replied immediately to the other managers of the association, who had also just received the e-mail, that I would contact the seller right away. Indeed, the same day and a little feverish, I call the person in question, and the acquisition is already in progress.

As a reminder, it’s a long love story between the MO5 association and the Micral N computer. There was a very first meeting in 1999 in Paris when its inventor, François Gernelle, invited me to a press conference to demonstrate his personal unit, which he donated in 2006 to the Musée des Arts et Métiers.

Then in 2006, the MO5 association, under the impetus of our chief electronics engineer Jean-François Del Nero, expressed its desire to study the unit belonging to the Cité des Sciences, currently housed in the collections of the Musée des Confluences in Lyon, in order to understand how it worked. Unfortunately, we were not granted permission to access it.

L'exemplaire de Micral N donné par Pierre Mounier-Kuhn à la Cité des Sciences de la Villette

The Micral N donated by Pierre Mounier-Kuhn to the Cité des Sciences de la Villette in Paris

In 2017, the benevolent community of French collectors informed the MO5 association that an auction for a Micral N unit, with many accessories and extensive documentation, was going to take place at the Château d’Artigny. The association decided to participate in the auction and contacted several influential French personalities from the digital sector in order to gain financial support. Unfortunately for the French heritage, this unit was sold for nearly €50,000 to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and then shipped to Seattle. Paul Allen then donated this Micral N to the Living Computer Museum in Seattle.

Alas, a year later, Mr. Allen left us. Taking over her father’s business, his daughter decided to cut off the museum’s funding. As of today, the Micral N unit sent to Seattle cannot be located and is in an unknown condition. It may as well be lost.

Le Micral N vendu aux enchères en 2017 et acheté par Paul Allen, co-créateur de la société Microsoft

The Micral N sold at auction in 2017 and bought by Paul Allen, co-creator of the Microsoft company

It is therefore a wonderful opportunity for the association to have received this offer to acquire and restore our own Micral N unit. The seller’s father, whose company was located very close to the R2E company, had learned back then, from a conversation, of the existence of this microcomputer and why it was revolutionary. He had therefore bought a Micral N directly on-site at R2E, and it’s this very unit that we now own.

After our initial talks, here are the first photos we received from the seller. These are particularly important, because it was essential to ensure immediately before committing that we were dealing with a real Micral N and not a replica or a tampered machine. The answer is quite obvious, looking at the photos sent by Christophe:

L'exemplaire de Micral N proposé à l'association MO5

The Micral N offered to the MO5 association

Vue de derrière la machine, qui dévoile les cartes internes et les fiches d'alimentation

View from behind the machine, showing internal boards and power plugs

The association therefore accepted the seller’s proposal, who does not wish to disclose his name as we indicated in the campaign. Once the financial proposal was validated, we made an appointment to come see and collect the precious machine as soon as possible.

Philippe Dubois, Président, et David Soumet, Vice Président, en route pour l'acquisition

Philippe Dubois, President, and David Soumet, Vice President, on their way to the acquisition

So we took the train with MO5’s vice-president David Soumet and Jorge who accompanied us to shoot photos and videos of the meeting. Christophe arranged to meet us at a hotel not far from his house, so that we could see and touch the machine and make sure everything was fine before leaving with it.

Philippe Dubois, David Soumet et le vendeur du Micral N, Christophe.

Philippe Dubois, David Soumet and the seller of the Micral N, Christophe.

After this very pleasant meeting for our small team – as Christophe has known the association for some time and values our work –, we left for Paris with a suitcase loaded with the precious loot in order to store the machine in our collection, ready to be studied.

Le Micral N enfin arrivé dans son nouveau chez lui, au local de l'association MO5

The Micral N finally arrived in its new home, at the premises of the MO5 association

We’ll be able now to take a close look at this magnificent Micral N unit, in order to evaluate its general condition and carefully study its contents. But that’s a story for another article, to be published next week!

Until then, please remember to take part in the campaign to support our work!