It's perhaps the most famous coffee pot in the world, and now it's also one of the most expensive.

Inside the computer laboratory of Cambridge University lives the machine which has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of web surfers via a webcam. It's developed such a cult following that bidders on the eBay auction website pushed up the price of the pot to £3,350 in an online auction which ended on Saturday.

The winning bid was placed by the editors of German news magazine Spiegel Online.

The story began in the pre-web days of 1991, when researchers working on ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) computer network technology pointed a digital camera at their coffee pot [pictured top] and wrote software enabling members of the lab's 'coffee club' to view the pot on their computers.

This saved them long, late-night trips through the corridors for a caffeine infusion when the pot was empty. In a later version, the image was broadcast over the web, and the popular XCoffee site, reputedly the first-ever webcam, was born.

Now the lab is moving buildings, and the 10-cup Krups ProAroma — actually the latest of several machines which have seen active service — is being retired.

"Times move on and we want to buy a shiny new espresso machine because from the new building it's too far to walk to Starbucks," the researchers wrote in their eBay offering.

"It's a wonderful piece of internet history, and we'd like to save it and continue the tradition of the pot," said Spiegel Online's managing editor Wolfgang Büchner. "We are now waiting to get it over here and then put it back on a webcam."

The coffee pot will have pride of place in Spiegel Online's editorial offices in Hamburg, he said, and on the magazine's website — albeit with the logo of a corporate sponsor, which picked up the tab for the artifact.

It's not too late to get a last look at the XCoffee site, though the pot itself is obscured by a hand-lettered sign reading "Sold" [pictured below]. When PC Advisor had a quick look, though, a live image was not available.

But if the proud new owners are looking forward to a fresh brew, they might be disappointed.

"We must warn you that the machine is broken, possibly beyond repair. It leaks water and we've cut off the mains plug," wrote the academics.