Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Of Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch and mysterious missives from the past (or future?)

March 11, 2009
Posted by Noah

I usually get up early in the morning – really early, really – so I can get myself ready for the day, check my email in peace and have a cup of coffee to the soothing early morning sounds of NPR and the quiet page click of The New York Times. It’s worth the loss of an hour’s sleep to get the time. This morning The Times featured an article in its Art & Design section about the opening of a legendary Abraham Lincoln pocket watch that, as legend had it, contained a mysterious inscription on the inside, from a watch repairer, to Abraham Lincoln, engraved at the start of the Civil War.

Heady stuff to be sure. I had actually heard this rumor before. The watch, belonging to The Smithsonian, hadn’t been opened in almost 150 years, and the message was subject of much debate. The watch was passed down through generations of the same family, before being bequeathed to The Smithsonian, and it was only on Tuesday of this week, March 9, that the thing was finally opened.

I have to admit there was a part of me that hoped it would be a message from a time traveler who got stuck in 1861 and left the inscription for his future self, to tell him to be careful not to eat the knockwurst – which, of course, gave him indigestion, which caused him to over sleep and miss the temporal window that would have allowed him to travel back to the year 3049. Alas, however, it is simply a message of support for the Union.

It reads: “Jonathan Dillon April 13- 1861 Fort Sumpter(sic) was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon,” on the underside of the watch. It continues: “April 13- 1861 Washington thank God we have a government Jonth Dillon.”

Not exactly a message to Kirk and Spock instructing them to bring whales with them from the past to the future, but still cool nonetheless, and a heartening message of national unity from a time of great and terrible distress. It doesn’t hurt that the watch is a thing of amazing beauty, with undeniable proximity to America’s favorite President.

As soon as I got to work, with the Lincoln watch on my mind – and covetousness in my heart, I admit – I checked out the upcoming May 13 Fine Watch auction here at Heritage. It wasn’t so much in the hopes of finding something of great historical import that was somehow overlooked by the team of experts we have here – it would never happen, trust me – so much as a desire to bask in the glow of timepieces – pocket watches in particular – that I most likely will never have.

The auction overall is chock full of great watches, mind you, any of which I would be glad to own – an superb and stylistically progressive circa 1809 Breitling Cosmonaute 1809 Chrono-Matic, in particular – but there’s a Soyer (a Dieppe) Single Hand Oignon with Center Winding pocket watch, circa 1695, that is such a stunner that I’ve had it open on my computer most of the morning just so I can take look every so often and drift into a daydream of owning it. You can see it by clicking the link above. I urge you to.

Could I ever really wear such a watch, were I to own it? I don’t know. I’m not really the pocket watch type. You kind of have to be a little older, much more English, wearing a very well tailored gray or brown suit, with a derby on your head, a monocle in your eye, and the name Lord Autumnbottom etched onto your calling card…

Still, a guy can dream… Pip, pip! Cheerio!