In the second decade of the 21st century, few people care about the escape key.
What escape key? That one, in the top left-hand corner of a keyboard. Invented in 1960, for the first decades of popular computing, the escape key got programmers and clueless computer users out of jams. But while there are certain people who still use it regularly—Unix programmers, TV producers, players of games like World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls—it has languished for years. (One of the easiest ways to get a sense of people who depend on this key is to search the phrase “escape key not working.”) Google N-gram “escape key,” and you’ll find its usage peaked in 1989.
But not so long ago, around 2012, there was a certain type of escape key that one group of people cared very much about—enough to spend hundreds of dollars to acquire one.
This was the Vintage Cherry Corp. Red Doubleshot “Esc” Key.
Among keyboard enthusiasts, this key is a treasure. “No other ‘Esc’ made will look as beautiful unless Cherry makes it again,” one fan wrote on GeekHack, a forum for all things keyboard. “These are one of the rarest and most sought after Cherry doubleshot keycaps,” wrote another. Cherry, which makes “computer input devices,” stopped making this particular key after 2009, and its value skyrocketed. In 2012, at the height of the Cherry Red Doubleshot Esc Key bubble, two of these keys were sold on GeekHack for $250 each.
What makes a computer key so desirable? This one has history: Cherry started producing keyboards in the 1960s and is one of the oldest manufacturers around. It’s also well-made: “doubleshot” refers to a manufacturing process where an exterior layer of plastic is molded around a smaller plastic insert. Keys made in this way are supposedly to be more durable.
According to Ripster, the “founder and moderator of the largest and fastest growing keyboard community on the planet,” there are a few other key features that make the Cherry Corp Red Esc key unique. There’s a cross-hatch pattern on the back of the key. “Esc” is written in particular font. The outside has particular texture. Its color is slightly more orange than its imitators.
However special the Cherry Corp.key is, even for collectors, $250 was a very high price to pay. And it didn’t last. Another company started producing red doubleshot Esc keys that closely resembled these, and started selling them for the bargain price of $3.50.
But, of course, a true original is always worth more than a later version. Own a vintage Cherry Corp. Red Doubleshot “Esc” Key, and as one seller put it, “You will officially be in the keyboard elite.”