Helen Keller's Watch

This unusual watch, originally made to tell time in the dark, made the perfect present for Helen Keller.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.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
ca 1865
associated person
Keller, Helen
Rossel & Fils
Physical Description
gold (watch case material)
brass (watch movement material)
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
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Clothing & Accessories
Family & Social Life
Health & Medicine
National Treasures exhibit
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
National Treasures exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Phillips Brooks Keller & Mrs. Gordon Erwin
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
Publication title
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

11/14/2012 12:44:18 PM
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.
7/18/2013 3:25:11 PM
Eleanor A. Robb
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!!
Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.