Helen Keller's Watch

Description
This unusual watch, originally made to tell time in the dark, made the perfect present for Helen Keller. Deaf and blind from the age of nineteen months, Keller (1880-1968) grew up to become an accomplished writer and renowned champion for human rights.
In 1892, when she was twelve, Keller met John Hitz, the superintendent of Alexander Graham Bell's Washington, D.C. establishment for the deaf, the Volta Bureau. Hitz, a retired diplomat, was the proud owner of a Swiss-made "touch watch." This uncommon watch has a case studded around the edge with pins that correspond to the hours on the watch dial. A revolving hand stops at a point between the pins that corresponds to the hour and approximate minute. With the hand and pins as locators, it was possible to feel the approximate time in the dark or, in the case of a diplomat like Hitz, discreetly. Hitz presented the watch to Keller, who prized it and used it her entire life.
Once, in 1952, Keller accidentally left the watch behind in a New York City taxi. She feared it was lost forever. With ads in newspaper lost-and-found columns and the help of the head of the city's pawnbrokers, she recovered her prized possession from a hock shop.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
watch
Date made
ca 1865
associated person
Keller, Helen
maker
Rossel & Fils
Physical Description
gold (watch case material)
brass (watch movement material)
Measurements
overall, watch: 2 5/8 in x 1 7/8 in x 1/2 in; 6.6675 cm x 4.7625 cm x 1.27 cm
overall, case: 2 1/2 in x 2 1/2 in x 3/4 in; 6.35 cm x 6.35 cm x 1.905 cm
Place Made
Switzerland
ID Number
ME*335239
catalog number
335239
accession number
314555
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
National Treasures exhibit
Clothing & Accessories
Health & Medicine
Family & Social Life
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

Comments

Does the design on the back of the watch move with time or is it permanent?
"What a wonderful watch! That is so FASCINATING! I really, truly LOVE visiting the Smithsonian museums, (especially the National Portrait Gallery!!) and am a Big Supporter! I never could fathom, how Helen Keller learned to speak, and do so many brilliant things! Now, they have watches that "speak " to you and tell you the time! There are so many wonderful inventions, to help blind people, and others! It's an exciting time to be ALIVE!!"
"To make the hand move, do you depress the pin? How did Ms. Keller tell time during the day? I gather the time is approximate."

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