Hidden Inscription Inside President Lincoln’s Pocket Watch

Did you know that there was a secret engraving in Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch? On April 13th, 1861, watchmaker Jonathan Dillon was repairing President Lincoln’s pocket watch when the first shots of the Civil War occurred. As soon as Dillon heard the news, he removed the dial of the watch and engraved this message onto the underside of the movement:


“April 13-1861

Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon

April 13-1861

Washington Thank God we have a government

Jonth Dillon”

Lincoln never knew his pocket watch carried this hidden inscription. And no one else knew either until an 84-year-old Dillon gave an interview to The New York Times in 1906 and recalled the event. In 2009, Dillon’s great-great-grandson contacted the Smithsonian Museum–who had possession of the pocket watch–and asked them to remove the case of the watch to view the inscription. “Lincoln never knew of the message he carried in his pocket,” said the director of the National Museum of American History.

Until recently, the inscription remained hidden behind the dial for almost 150 years.



Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 20, 2012. We have updated it for clarity.

Written by

Crown & Caliber is the smartest way to buy or sell a luxury watch. As an exclusively online marketplace for pre-owned timepieces, Crown & Caliber exists to ensure that when it comes down to the final transaction, buyers and sellers can both win. For sellers, we do all the legwork of valuating, marketing, and selling—for buyers, we put trust back into the act of purchasing sight-unseen with our servicing and authentication process. By emphasizing transparency and placing value on quality, Crown & Caliber has become the preferred marketplace for watch collectors and casual enthusiasts alike.

Latest comments
  • I’m a micro-engraver living in the UK. I’ve recently hand-engraved a message along the hand of a Piaget Emperador Temple watch. The inscription reads, “The most wonderful watch in the world for the most wonderful woman in the world.” The client also wanted his initials, ‘WGS’ engraved on the actual tip of the hand. All engraving is invisible to the naked eye.

  • yeah, I wondered that too about Jeff Davis. Political correctness AGAIN?????

  • That is not all that is inscribed. You can clearly see the name “Jeff Davis” as well as the date “Sept 1864” and the initials “L E” followed by, probably, a last name I am not able to decipher. I wonder why this information was left out?