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Catalog Data

Associated person:
Keller, Helen  Search this
Rossel & Fils  Search this
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
Object Name:
Place Made:
Date made:
ca 1865
This unusual watch, originally made to tell time in the dark, made the perfect present for Helen Keller.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.
Related Publication:
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
National Museum of American History. Treasures of American History online exhibition
Related Web Publication:
Credit Line:
Phillips Brooks Keller & Mrs. Gordon Erwin
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Catalog number:
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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