Hidden Message Found in Lincoln’s Pocket Watch

January 26, 2023  23:14  |  News

Just a few years back, reporters, Smithsonian staff members and the cameras of NBC’s TODAY Show gathered at the National Museum of American History to unlock a mystery hidden in President Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch.

For nearly 150 years, a hidden message had been inscribed inside the watch that not even Lincoln knew about.

Hidden Message Found in Lincoln's Pocket Watch

A painstakingly recreated replica of President Abraham Lincoln’s Pocket Watch, complete with its hidden message. Photo – courtesy of Stauer Jewelry ©

On April 13, 1861, Irish watchmaker Jonathan Dillon learned of the bombardment of Fort Sumter that kicked off the American Civil War. Employed by jewellers M.W. Galt and Co. in Washington, D.C., Dillon was in the act of repairing Lincoln’s watch when he heard the news. Dillon unscrewed the watch dial and wrote a secret message inside the watch.

In 2009, master watchmaker George Thomas, working with magnifying glasses and precise instruments, opened the back of the timepiece to reveal the underside of the watch movement.

The inscription read, “April 13-1861 Fort Sumpter [sic] was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon April 13-1861 Washington thank God we have a government.”

Stauer, a Richmond-based jewellery company that specializes in rarities, collaborated with a watchmaker to craft a replica of the Lincoln Pocket Watch. It took Stauer a couple of years to get this limited-edition replica exactly right.

The company has painstakingly re-created the design of the dial and position of the small second hand and has even replicated the mysterious engraving on the back of the movement. The design of the hands is especially rare. The movement employs vintage-styled manual winding with 20 jewels, and the case is gold-finished and matches the colour of the original exactly.

“In my long career in horology, the story of President Lincoln’s watch is easily one of my favourites,” says George Thomas, one of the world’s most renowned watch historians. “This watch is a near-exact replica of Lincoln’s famous timepiece.”