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Guide to the Adam Osborne collection
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Processing Information
  • Access Restrictions
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Scope and Content of the Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Separated Material

  • Title: Adam Osborne collection
    Identifier/Call Number: X7926.2017
    Contributing Institution: Computer History Museum
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 10.0 Linear feet, 8 record cartons
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1975-1991
    Date (inclusive): 1943-1991
    Abstract: The Adam Osborne collection consists of material related to Osborne’s role as writer and publisher of software and technical books and manuals, primarily between 1975 and 1991. There are copies of these texts in English as well as Japanese, Italian, Spanish, German, and Norwegian. There are also two cartons of slides and photographs, mostly with content related to Osborne’s personal and leisure activities. Also included are college papers on chemical engineering and books and software from Osborne’s library.
    Language of Materials: Collection is primarily in English, with some material in Japanese, and a small amount of materials in German, Italian, Spanish, and Norwegian.
    creator: Osborne, Adam, 1939-2003

    Processing Information

    Collection processed by Jack Doran, November, 2018.

    Access Restrictions

    The collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    The Computer History Museum (CHM) can only claim physical ownership of the collection. Users are responsible for satisfying any claims of the copyright holder. Requests for copying and permission to publish, quote, or reproduce any portion of the Computer History Museum’s collection must be obtained jointly from both the copyright holder (if applicable) and the Computer History Museum.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of Item], [Date], Adam Osborne collection, Lot X7926.2017, Box [#], Computer History Museum.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Alexandra Geddes, 2016.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Adam Osborne was born on March 6, 1939 in Bangkok, Thailand to Lucia Osborne, a homemaker, and Arthur Osborne, a devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi whose spiritual writings helped to popularize Eastern religion in the West. Having spent much of his childhood in South India, Osborne moved to England where he attended the Leamington College for Boys before entering Birmingham University where he earned a degree in chemical engineering in 1961. After moving to the United States, he completed his doctorate at the University of Delaware in 1968 before taking a job as a chemical engineer at Shell Oil in Northern California.
    A computer hobbyist in his spare time, Osborne founded Osborne and Associates, which specialized in publishing easy-to-read computing books and manuals. During this period, he was a regular attendee of the Homebrew Computer Club meetings, and by the time he sold his publishing company to McGraw-Hill in 1979, he had become a known figure among computer enthusiast circles through his strongly opinionated columns, first in Interface Age and later in InfoWorld.
    Osborne had been advocating for the need of a portable computer before he approached hardware designer Lee Felsenstein with his ideas in 1979. They unveiled the Osborne 1 at the West Coast Computer Faire in April, 1981. It immediately became one of the industry’s best selling personal computers, and was the world’s first commercially successful portable computer, but it wasn’t without its competition. After a number of missteps in management and marketing that resulted in unsold inventory and mounting financial losses, the Osborne Computer Corporation declared bankruptcy in September, 1983. After recounting the initial success and eventual failure of OCC in his bestselling book, Hypergrowth: The Rise and Fall of Osborne Computer Corporation, Osborne made one last attempt at regaining OCC’s footing in the computer market with the Osborne Vixen, but it fell short of its competitors and OCC was unable to recover.
    Next, Osborne founded Paperback Software International Ltd., a company specializing in inexpensive software. Though some reviews indicated that PS’s products were superior to those of their competitors, Lotus Software sued for copyright infringement in 1987, and eventually won the case in 1990, effectively putting an end to Paperback Software.
    His health declining, Osborne moved to India to live with his sister in 1992, and he passed away on March 18, 2003 at the age of 64.

    Scope and Content of the Collection

    The Adam Osborne collection consists of personal and professional materials ranging from circa 1943 to 1991. The bulk of the professional material is made up of records from Osborne’s book and software publishing companies. There are also a small number of photographs related to the Osborne 1 and snapshots of Osborne speaking at conferences. The remaining photographs and slides consist of snapshots taken during trips, outings, and vacations Osborne took with friends and family. The personal papers make up the smallest portion of the collection, and consist primarily of Osborne’s college activities, including his post-graduate dissertations and related correspondence, and his undergraduate report cards. There is also a collection of poems Osborne wrote during this period, including two journals in which he was published. The remaining series, “Non-Osborne software” and “Non-Osborne print materials,” are comprised of publications from entities that Osborne was unaffiliated with.
    Aside from those mentioned above, there are no business records included in this collection, nor papers or notes that indicate Osborne’s thinking during the years when he was writing his “From the Fountainhead” column in the years leading up to the founding of OCC. Also absent are manuscripts or drafts of his books. They are believed to be lost. Rather, these are materials that were stored at Osborne’s first wife’s house when his health began to decline.


    The collection is arranged into 5 series:
    Series 1, Personal papers, circa 1959-1979, bulk 1959-1968
    Series 2, Osborne publishing records, 1976-1988
    Series 3, Photographic materials, circa 1943-1990, bulk 1981-1990
    Series 4, Non-Osborne software, 1978-1991
    Series 5, Non-Osborne print materials, 1977-1991

    Separated Material

    Hardware was separated from the main collection. To view catalog records for separated material search the CHM catalog at http://www.computerhistory.org/collections/search/ .

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Adam Osborne and Associates
    Osborne 1 (Computer)
    Paperback Software International
    Portable computers