Historical Horology: Hidden Messages In A President’s Watch


Not too long ago, we had a Historical Horology piece covering the watches that various presidents have had, drawing from an excellent article put together by the crew over at Hodinkee. When I was working on that one, I was reminded of another article I had tucked away intending to write about, and it slipped into the recesses of my catalog, almost forgotten – much like the hidden messages that were uncovered in the pocket watch that was once carried by Abraham Lincoln.

There’s plenty of intrigue that surrounds this watch, not the least of which is a message that was engraved in the watch that Lincoln (we surmise) wasn’t even aware of. When the rumor first surfaced about this engraving, it was surmised to be something about his eventual fight against slavery, a full two years before the Emancipation Declaration was put in to effect. It was this possibility, raised by a descendant of the watchmaker who did the engraving, that got the Smithsonian to even consider opening this prize from their collection.


As you might guess, this is not a decision they arrived at easily – a watch like this is quite literally irreplaceable, and likely invaluable (sure, the insurance company probably disagrees, but you get the idea). It was then that a jeweler, George Thomas, was brought in to do the delicate work of opening up the pocket watch. As to what he found? Well, for that, you’ll need to check out the full article from the Smithsonian, which will also give you some more of the backstory on this horological mystery.