Vintage Electronics: In Pursuit of Atari on eBay

Phil Dunn

Nostalgic game collectors are driving a thriving market for late 1970s-era Atari consoles.

In 1979, those of us who nervously anticipated the sixth grade dance whiled away afternoons at the Atari 2600 console.

We worried about what sunglasses we’d wear at night, which B-52’s song we’d do “the worm” to on the gym floor, and if we’d ever have the gumption to ask Julie Glien for a slow dance to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

But in the meantime, we tore down walls of brick in Super Breakout, fumbled with the clumsy joy stick on Missile Command, and Froggered our way across the original Crossy Road.

So, how do we get those old feelings back? eBay, of course, where original NIB Atari 2600 consoles can fetch $1,499. 

There’s a thriving market for both rare and pedestrian Atari consoles on eBay. Atari 2600’s that are made in Sunnyvale, California typically sell to collectors. They’re often referred to as 6er, or thick sixer. They’re bought by nostalgic people who want to conjure up their youths and play the games they once played. 

“The [Atari] 2600 has a broad level of attraction because the games are easy to come by at garage sales,” said Nick Baker, eBay Store buyer at The Bomb Shelter in Akron, Ohio. “If you can put five or six games – like Space Invaders, Donkey Kong or Dig Dug – in the cart with a 2600, it increases sellability.”

The Bomb Shelter is a giant retail store, by the way. It’s a 58,000 square foot superstore that buys, sells, and trades vintage antiques in person and on eBay. “We’ve got everything including kitchen sinks,” said Baker with a wink. 

According to Baker, collectors are looking for more obscure Atari products like the Atari 400. “I just sold one,” said Baker. “Before [the Atari 400] was a dedicated game system, it was a weak home computer setup that came with educational programming like math, spelling, hangman and computer programming cartridges. It was a simple home computer that never really took off. It was not a commercial success.”

Some of the mint 2600 consoles can fetch up to $1,500, but if you’re not up for that kind of pricing, you can still get the Atari experience on eBay with consoles like the Atari Flashback 2.0

Looking back, it’s clear that Atari was at the beginning of a revolution. Now we try to shoo our kids away from their Xboxes and iPad minis. We want them out in the street for some sticks and dirt clod play and maybe a post-play Popsicle. But we loved our games just as much as they love theirs. The revolution continues. . but we can claim the beginning.

Finally, if you want to read more about the Atari 2600 and the beginning of the video game revolution, check this out: Your Guide to Buying a Vintage Atari Video Game Console