The next time investors tell you your business plan isn't worth the paper it's printed on, tell them this: Christie's sold one at auction...

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The next time investors tell you your business plan isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, tell them this:

Christie’s sold one at auction last week for $72,000.

Sure, it was J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly’s 1946 plan to start what’s billed as the world’s first electronic computer company. But still. It’s a stack of dog-eared pages. And who even uses the Univac computer anymore?

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Maybe that wasn’t the point — not with the business plan, nor with the 132 other lots that sold in “The Origins of Cyberspace” auction in New York.

These were the treasures of the ancient geeks. Deep thinking on paper about mathematics, computing and the machines that could make them both easier.

And those who are fascinated by such things (and also a touch rich) were so moved by the collection that they shelled out.

In all, about half the 254 lots in Novato book dealer Jeremy Norman’s collection sold for a grand total of $714,060. Not bad in the cash department, given that Christie’s had valued the full collection at about $1 million.

“In financial terms, it was a bit of a mixed sale,” Christie’s spokeswoman Bendetta Roux said.

Some items sold for well beyond what Christie’s expected. Others didn’t sell at all.

No matter. The auction was a sign of geek staying power.

You think computing started with the iMac? Guess again. Christie’s put on the block documents and other items relating to calculating and computing dating back 400 years.

“There was so much buildup to this sale,” Roux said. “I think it was an exciting moment for many people.”

Well, exciting for particular people. People who are really into documents like the 1843 “Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage.” How into it? Think $78,000 into it.

And these particular people are? “We basically protect the identity of our buyers,” Roux said. “Unless people want to be named.”

And people don’t want to be named. Not the person who bought the business plan. Not the person who coughed up $38,400 for the 1822 “A letter to Sir Humphry Davy Bart” by Babbage.

Not those who came or called or used the Web to bid on Eckert’s old employee badge from the Sperry-Univac company or the old storage tape from a Univac machine. Not even the person who paid $2,160 for Edmund C. Berkeley’s Brainiac Electric Brain Kit, a quirky 1960s hobby project meant to teach the principles of modern computing.

But never fear. The truth will come out.

For what good is it owning a $72,000 business plan, or any of computing’s ancient treasures, if you can’t tell anybody about it?

Mike Cassidy is a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.