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Helen Keller's Watch

Reaching through darkness

Her hands, Helen Keller once wrote, were the means to “reach through isolation and darkness.” Deaf and blind from the age of 19 months, Keller (1880–1958) received this watch as a gift when she was a teen. The watch features a case studded with pins that correspond to the hours, one through 12, on the dial. On the case back, a revolving hand stops at a point that corresponds to the hour and minute. With the hand and pins as locators, Keller could feel the time.

Helen Keller's Watch, dial

Helen Keller's Watch

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Helen Keller's Watch, dial
Front.
Back.
Front, Box for watch.
Back, Box for watch.
Date made
ca 1865
associated person
Keller, Helen
maker
Rossel & Fils
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This unusual watch, originally made to tell time in the dark, made the perfect present for Helen Keller.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.
Place Made
Switzerland
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Health & Medicine
Clothing & Accessories
Family & Social Life
National Treasures exhibit
Exhibition
Girlhood
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
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
http://americanhistory.si.edu/treasures
Credit Line
Phillips Brooks Keller & Mrs. Gordon Erwin
Data Source
National Museum of American History
ID Number
ME.335239
catalog number
335239
accession number
314555
Object Name
watch
Other Terms
watch; Mechanical, Spring-Driven; Pocket Watch
Physical Description
gold (watch case material)
brass (watch movement material)
gold-plated, copper alloy, porcelain-enamel, glass (overall 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
GUID
http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a6-8e9e-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa
Record ID
nmah_851873
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