Thimbles - More than Protection for Fingers
Thimbles are simple, utilitarian objects worn to protect the finger-tip and most people who do much hand sewing will own and use one.
For collectors, though, they are much more than that and the thimbles they collect can range from the beautiful to the whimsical. Some collectable thimbles are old while others are brand new and made especially for the collectors' market.
A collectible thimble may be made of gold, silver, porcelain or many other materials. What makes a thimble collectible is very much in the eye of the collector.
19th Century Thimbles
The History of Thimbles
The earliest thimble was Roman and found at Pompeii. It was made of bronze and dated to the first century AD. A Roman thimble was also found at Verulamium, present day St Albans in England, and can be seen in the museum there.
Other early thimbles were made of bone, horn or leather and have been found all over the world - apparently sore fingers from sewing are a universal condition.
By the 15th century European fine ladies had thimbles made from silver and gold. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I gave one of her ladies-in-waiting a thimble encrusted with precious stones.
Thimble-making, using precious metals, continued but usually they were not hallmarked as they were deemed to small to qualify for the Assaying Acts. It was only from 1870 that they were regularly hallmarked.
14th Century Brass Thimble
How to Date Thimbles
So how can you date a thimble? The small dimples can help you.
In the middle of the 18th century, a machine was invented that could punch dimples into the metal, before that they were done by hand. If you find a thimble with an irregular pattern of dimples, it was probably made before the mid 18th century.
The shape and manufacture of the thimble can also help you date it. Those from the Middle Ages have a high domed top and the metal, usually brass, is thick. Although they are rare, they are not particularly valuable as they are not pretty enough for most collectors.
From the mid 18th century, most thimbles were machine-made so the metal is thinner and the top has a flatter, less domed appearance. Again, many of these were very plain so not desirable to collectors.
Decorative Thimbles in the 19th Century
More ornamental thimbles were made in the early 19th century and often they were given by a young man to his beloved as a love token. These were usually made of gold or silver and, when the couple married, sometimes the rim was cut off and used as the wedding ring. Less benign, the teacher at a Victorian school would rap children on their heads with a finger wielding a hard, metal thimble.
In Victorian times thimble collecting became popular. During the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace held in Hyde Park, London, many thimbles were made to commemorate the event. This led to further commemorative thimbles being made and the practice continues to the present day.
In 1880 Charles Horner, from Halifax, solved the problem that had bedevilled silver thimble users. Silver is a soft metal and so easily pierced by a steel needle. Horner's solution was to use a steel core covered inside and out by silver. The resulting thimble was still as pretty as a traditional silver one but more practical and durable. Charles Horner christened his invention the Dorcas thimble and these are now collectable and known to collectors worldwide. The Dorcas has been made in a variety of patterns from the plain, traditional dimpled thimble to ones with flowers engraved on them. All of them were made to be used, though.
With the rise in popularity of thimble collecting many major manufacturers included them in their range. They have been made by companies like Meissen, Coalport, Spode, Royal Worcester and many others. Wedgwood, for example produced a set of thimbles called The Kings and Queens of England Collection. These were made in blue jasperware with the head of a king or queen as a white cameo. In all there were 41 thimbles in the set issued as a limited edition of 20,000 in 1980.
Collectable thimbles have been made in all kinds of metal as well as pottery or porcelain.
Some have even been made with small figures protruding from the domed top - totally impractical of course. The sides of some metal thimbles have heavily embossed patterns on the sides while others are made in delicate lacquer ware.
They were also produced by major companies as promotional items and these are sought after by both collectors of thimbles and advertising items.
Now many collectors buy brand new thimbles and there is a huge range available. There are still commemorative ones issued for special occasions like the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla. Museums, stately homes, cathedrals and other visitor attraction also sell thimbles as souvenirs while others are made just to look beautiful in a collection.
Novelty Thimbles on eBay - Do you collect unusual novelty thimbles?
If you do, eBay is a good place to look for more of them, as you can see from the ones illustrated below.
© 2008 Carol Fisher
Have you collected any notable thimbles?
Kai on July 10, 2018:
How do I tell if my thimbles are made of gold? I've had them passed on for three generations.
Irish101 on May 12, 2018:
Have had thimbles sense I was a teen. I have quite a few I can't find anywhere. Any suggestions?
Shawn on October 29, 2014:
I have Franklin mint thimbles and done. I don't use them. Where's a good place to sell them ?
Carol Fisher (author) from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on February 14, 2014:
@jim-wheldon: You could check what the same or similar thimbles are selling for on ebay or elsewhere. You must compare like with like, though, and that includes age, maker, condition, etc. If you can get an idea of the value of individual thimbles, a collection is usually worth more than the sum of the individual items especially if there is a theme running through the whole collection.
jim-wheldon on February 13, 2014:
My mom collected thimbles from the 1950s on. We have lived in Europe(Belgium and Sweden) and traveled extensively. We are from Michigan, but we also live in Brazil for 3 years and travel through a lot of South America. She collected where ever we went. How can I find the value of her collection?
Debbie from England on April 19, 2013:
I have a long forgotten thimble collection packed away in the loft. Maybe I should get them down and dust them off again!
Carol Fisher (author) from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on November 12, 2012:
I not a valuer and couldn't possibly identify or give you an estimate of value of your thimbles. The best I can suggest is that you look at specialist guides to thimbles and/or you take them to a dealer who sells thimbles and is knowledgeable about them.
Another guide to value would be to watch ebay and see if any thimbles like yours come up for sale. You will at least see what they sell for and that is the reliable guide to their value. Nothing is worth more than someone is prepared to pay - not a thimble, a house or a Rembrandt painting!
gingerreynolds on November 11, 2012:
i have 2 thimbles with england 8 on the side. I have looked at the pictures online but have not seen any like this. They both have a brass or gold tip on them. Can you tell me something about them? Are they of any value?
sharonakins32 on October 31, 2012:
My mom has a set of 5 advertising thimbles from cola companies. Two I am still looking for values on: They are plastic in make, and one says NuGrape and one says You like 7 Up 7 Up likes you. Any idea on where I can find values for these? We're going to have to sell them.
JohnRayner on December 15, 2011:
I've been collecting thimbles for years now, I only collect one from places that I have visited.
E L Seaton from Virginia on October 03, 2011:
Interesting information on thimbles. My grandmother was a hand sewer who later in life collected thimbles from her globetrotting grandchildren. Thanks for sharing and stirring an old memory again.
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 05, 2011:
How very interesting and it reminds me that I have a thimble which I picked up years ago at a garage sale hiding around my house somewhere...
Violin-Student on March 21, 2011:
I've never collected thimbles. My grandmother had quite a collection along with demitasse cups. I never knew what happened to either collection.
Kathy McGraw from California on March 17, 2011:
Fascinating article about collecting thimbles :) I am still laughing at the term digitabulist...must be for a finger bullet LOL :) And I had no idea thimbles were so old.....thanks for a fun lens. Blessed by the Collecting Angel :)
Sheryl Polomka on February 18, 2011:
I never knew you could get collectible thimbles - aren't they amazing!
Francis Luxford from United Kingdom on January 31, 2011:
Very interesting Lens, enjoyed my visit Thank you.
BrickHouseFabrics on December 13, 2010:
Great lens- thimbles fascinate me!
julieannbrady on June 15, 2010:
Oh wow! I didn't think about it, but my grandma always had a thimble on her hand -- I wonder if my sister has that? Cool idea to collect these since they don't take up much space -- you know?
Debbie from England on April 17, 2009:
I have a thimble collection but they're packed away at the moment. Great informative lens.
fingurbjorg on February 16, 2009:
I've been collecting them for 11 years now and nowhere near stopping haha ;)
I will always have a passion for collecting thimbles. I've been mostly into novelty thimbles all these past years, but now I'm looking into antique thimbles and thinking about getting some of those in the future. It was a pleasant surprise to see my thimbles on display on this website haha, in the YouTube video ;). (so proud, lol) , I want to say I am a member of a fairly new thimble collectors group and it's http://thimblechatter.forumotion.com , I hope it's ok for me to share that here.
poutine on December 17, 2008:
Such an interesting topic.
The Homeopath on September 08, 2008:
I've been collecting thimbles since I was about 10. This reminds me, I need to buy another shelf for my new ones!
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on September 05, 2008:
This is fascinating. I am going to have to search around the house for thimbles. 5*
CollectorsCottage on August 06, 2008:
Thimbles are so much more interesting than most people realize. I, too, have a lens on thimble collecting, and I really enjoyed researching their history. Welcome to the Collector Clubs group!