Helen Keller's Watch

Helen Keller's Watch

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This unusual watch, originally made to tell time in the dark, made the perfect present for Helen Keller.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
Other Terms
watch; Mechanical, Spring-Driven; Pocket Watch
Date made
ca 1865
associated person
Keller, Helen
Rossel & Fils
Place Made
Physical Description
gold (watch case material)
brass (watch movement material)
gold-plated, copper alloy, porcelain-enamel, glass (overall 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
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Phillips Brooks Keller & Mrs. Gordon Erwin
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Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Health & Medicine
Clothing & Accessories
Family & Social Life
National Treasures exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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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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