Discussion Seeking the current whereabouts of Lincoln's Waltham pocket watch

Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
Does anyone on the CWT happen to know the current location of the silver Waltham pocket watch that was given to President Lincoln by the American Watch Company? Another gold pocket watch that Lincoln owned - the English watch with the now famous hidden message under the dial - is in the Smithsonian Collection. Some Internet sources also claim, erroneously, that Lincoln's silver Waltham pocket watch is at the Smithsonian, but it is not. The silver Waltham watch linked to Lincoln, a 7 jewel 18 Size "William Ellery" Grade Model 1857, key wound and set, in a silver hunting style case with movement SN 67,613, was given to Lincoln by the American Watch Company shortly after he delivered his Gettysburg Address. It was sold at public auction at the Parke-Bernet Galleries, NY NY, on February 19-20, 1952 as part of the extensive Oliver R. Barrett Collection of Lincoln artifacts. Supposedly, the Waltham Watch Co., which went out of business later in that same decade, purchased the watch that day, but the watch has dropped out of sight since then.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
Could you enlighten us on that "now famous message" hidden under the dial of Lincoln's gold watch. I've never heard this story. Does the watch in the Smithsonian Museum contain some cryptic message? And by whom? And to who?
 

Kirk Womack

Private
Joined
Jun 29, 2019
Location
Brookville, Indiana
He also used AWC watches as presentation watches on several occasions. Also, I find it hard to believe that a company like The American Watch Co would present the president of the United States with one of their cheapest models of watches.
 
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
I didn't think about it last night but now that Kirk Womack mentioned it, why would the American Watch Company present Lincoln with one of their cheaper models? It very well may have been top of the line, but a silver watch? Myself I prefer silver but you must admit gold would be more "presentable". I get razed about my silver wedding band but it's really white gold. Is it possible the Watch is just silver colored?
 
Last edited:
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
Sorry, I have been out of town for the last few days, and this was my first opportunity to respond to the several comments and questions on this thread. The well documented fact that Waltham gave Lincoln a silver William Ellery Grade watch is not in dispute:


The William Ellery Grade Model 1857 was intensively advertised to soldiers, and enlisted men most often purchased such watches in cases of silver, or in some instances, albata (a nickel alloy). By giving Lincoln one of their silver "soldiers' watches," Waltham was actually honoring him as being as one in spirit with the men of his army, and also making the point to common soldiers that they too could afford to carry the same kind of watch that their "Father Abraham" carried, a watch that was demonstrably fit to be presented to the president. It was brilliant advertising! It is also worth noting that the late Senator William Ellery of Rhode Island was one of the longest surviving New England signers of the Declaration of Independence with its controversial claim that all men are created equal, and it is likely not just a coincidence that Ellery was also an outspoken early abolitionist. The American Watch Company was making a statement when they named their soldier's watch after Ellery, just as they were making a statement when they gave one of those very same watches to President Lincoln.

As for Lincoln's gold English watch, which is in the Smithsonian collection, the allegedly "secret message" was placed under the dial by a watchmaker:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lincolns-pocket-watch-reveals-long-hidden-message-57066665/

And yes, Lincoln also presented watches to various people, including the captains of foreign vessels for lifesaving aid to American crews.
 
Last edited:

Kirk Womack

Private
Joined
Jun 29, 2019
Location
Brookville, Indiana
Sorry, I have been out of town for the last few days, and this was my first opportunity to respond to the several comments and questions on this thread. The well documented fact that Waltham gave Lincoln a silver William Ellery Grade watch is not in dispute:


The William Ellery Grade Model 1857 was intensively advertised to soldiers, and enlisted men most often purchased such watches in cases of silver, or in some instances, albata (a nickel alloy). By giving Lincoln one of their silver "soldiers' watches," Waltham was actually honoring him as being as one in spirit with the men of his army, and also making the point to common soldiers that they too could afford to carry the same kind of watch "Father Abraham" carried, a watch that was demonstrably fit to be presented to the president. It was brilliant advertising! It is also worth noting that the late Senator William Ellery of Rhode Island was one of the longest surviving New England signers of the Declaration of Independence with its controversial claim that all men are created equal, and it is likely not just a coincidence that Ellery was also an outspoken early abolitionist. The American Watch Company was making a statement when they named their soldier's watch after Ellery, just as they were making a statement when they gave one of those very same watches to President Lincoln.

As for Lincoln's gold English watch, which is in the Smithsonian collection, the allegedly "secret message" was placed under the dial by a watchmaker:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lincolns-pocket-watch-reveals-long-hidden-message-57066665/

And yes, Lincoln also presented watches to various people, including the captains of foreign vessels for lifesaving aid to American crews.
That makes perfect sense! Thank you for your thoughts on the matter. I carry a mdl 1857 Wm Ellery, serial #653,906, made in 1872, at reenactments. They were exellant watches, very durable and accurate. Mine's in a coin silver open faced case.
 
Joined
Sep 15, 2018
Location
South Texas
Sorry, I have been out of town for the last few days, and this was my first opportunity to respond to the several comments and questions on this thread. The well documented fact that Waltham gave Lincoln a silver William Ellery Grade watch is not in dispute:


The William Ellery Grade Model 1857 was intensively advertised to soldiers, and enlisted men most often purchased such watches in cases of silver, or in some instances, albata (a nickel alloy). By giving Lincoln one of their silver "soldiers' watches," Waltham was actually honoring him as being as one in spirit with the men of his army, and also making the point to common soldiers that they too could afford to carry the same kind of watch that their "Father Abraham" carried, a watch that was demonstrably fit to be presented to the president. It was brilliant advertising! It is also worth noting that the late Senator William Ellery of Rhode Island was one of the longest surviving New England signers of the Declaration of Independence with its controversial claim that all men are created equal, and it is likely not just a coincidence that Ellery was also an outspoken early abolitionist. The American Watch Company was making a statement when they named their soldier's watch after Ellery, just as they were making a statement when they gave one of those very same watches to President Lincoln.

As for Lincoln's gold English watch, which is in the Smithsonian collection, the allegedly "secret message" was placed under the dial by a watchmaker:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lincolns-pocket-watch-reveals-long-hidden-message-57066665/

And yes, Lincoln also presented watches to various people, including the captains of foreign vessels for lifesaving aid to American crews.
Now that it's explained and not just "a silver watch" it all makes sense. I hope you locate it. Did this model carry serial numbers? Oh was it a open face or a hunters case?
 

connecticut yankee

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 2, 2017
The watch in question has quite the history up until 1952 when it was sold by the auction house. I can't help but feel that it now is in the hands of a private collector and not a institution like the Smithsonian or some other major museum's Lincolniana collection. If it were at a large well known institution it whereabouts would have surfaced by now, as the watch would surely have been an extremely important acquisition, and a centerpiece of any historical collection today. In any event, I think that some inquiry to the right people at the Smithsonian would determine definitively whether or not it possesses the Lincoln watch. If indeed, the Smithsonian now owns it, it might be somewhere in storage with the vast majority of items in its collection.
 
Last edited:
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
The watch in question has quite the history up until 1952 when it was sold by the auction house. I can't help but feel that it now is in the hands of a private collector and not a institution like the Smithsonian or some other major museum's Lincolniana collection. If it were at a large well known institution it whereabouts would have surfaced by now, as the watch would surely have been an extremely important acquisition, and a centerpiece of any historical collection today. In any event, I think that some inquiry to the right people at the Smithsonian would determine definitively whether or not it possesses the Lincoln watch. If indeed, the Smihsonian now owns it, it might be in storage with the vast majority of items in its collection.
Lincoln's gold English watch is the one in the Smithsonian Collection. There was never a suggestion that the Smithsonian ever owned Lincoln's silver Waltham. And I completely agree that if they, or any other public museum did own it, we would know. It has been speculated that the Waltham watch company, which was still in business in 1952, bought the watch back at that time. That's where the trail goes cold.
 
Top