A Guide to Collecting Thimbles

Updated on September 25, 2018
Holly22 profile image

I've been fascinated by thimbles since childhood and have a collection of my own.

What Is a Thimble?

I first became interested in thimbles upon seeing my mother's extensive collection featuring plant and animal life. They were so simple in terms of design, but so effective as a decorative piece on the wall. Today, I too have a growing thimble collection consisting of models I find in local garage sales and charity shops.

On this page, not only will you find information about thimble collecting, but also about the history, origins, and various uses of thimbles, as well as the materials used to make them.

My Personal Thimble Collection

It all started on a trip to Penzance Cornwall, where I picked up a St. Michael's Mount thimble. It was a nice little remembrance of my visit and, even better, it was easy to pop it in my bag and carry it home. For the most part, it has been inexpensive to pick up a souvenir thimble and I have received many from friends and relatives which has helped to expand my collection. Some thimbles were more expensive than others but they have never put a strain on the purse strings.

Each thimble holds a special memory and it is a joy to look at them from time to time and remember the place and the circumstances around its purchase. I have thimbles from Niagara Falls, Jamaica, Wales, Canada's Wonderland in Toronto, France to name a few, but I also have a special thimble from the Royal Doulton collection, one commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Talyllyn Railway in Wales, one from Beatrix Potter's house, and one from the introduction of pandas at the Assiniboine Zoo.

What Are Thimbles Made Of?

Beyond the traditional brass, other materials may be used to create thimbles, from precious metals to wood to even bone. Among royalty, gold and silver thimbles, as well as thimbles embedded with semi-precious stones were popular. In fact, it is said that Queen Elizabeth I gave a beautiful jeweled thimble to one of her ladies in waiting as a gift.

Bone thimbles, on the other hand, were popular in the Americas. They were mostly made of whalebone or tooth and are some of the most sought-after collectibles today. Very rarely, thimble makers will design thimbles made of diamond, rubies and sapphires. Other possible materials include mother of pearl, cinnabar, agate, marble, china, moonstone, amber or ivory.

Basically, any material you can manipulate can become a beautiful thimble!

Fun Facts About Thimbles

  1. The first known thimble was created just after the birth of Christ, in 1st century Pompeii, Rome.
  2. The word 'thimble' is derived from the old English word for 'thumb'.
  3. A person who collects thimbles as a hobby is called a 'digitabulist'.
  4. The thimble is one of the eight pieces in the popular board game Monopoly.

What Are Thimbles Used For?

Brass and silver-plated silver thimbles are mostly used for sewing. These thimbles will have either a flat or domed top that may or may not have a hole in it to allow moisture to escape. If the thimble does not have a hole in the top, the tip of your finger will become wrinkly after a long sewing session.

Many years ago, brass and silver-plated thimbles had alternative purposes as well. For instance, prostitutes would use a thimble to knock on the window of a client. Likewise, some headmistresses and teachers would use thimbles to rap the heads of their misbehaving students. These two acts both go under the name of "thimble-knocking." Later on, thimbles were given a fourth use; to measure spirits.

Rubber thimbles, or thimblettes, are primarily used to facilitate leafing through documents or pages of a book. Wearing a rubber thimble also prevents paper cuts.

Thimbles made of precious metals and stones are solely used for decorative purposes. It is popular for companies to create decorative thimbles in china or porcelain to commemorate important events, such as Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee or the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

The Dorcas Thimble: A Collector's Favorite

The Dorcas Thimble was the invention of Charles Horner, owner of a jewelery business in the 18th century. After hearing the plight of haggard housewives who were continually pricking their fingers due to the soft nature of pure silver thimbles, he was inspired to create a series of durable steel thimbles called Dorcas Thimbles. These thimbles would not allow needles to pass through, making them much safer to use. Then, to preserve the beauty of these thimbles, he decided to coat them in sterling silver.

My Cambridge Colleges Fenton English Bone China Thimbles

I spent the day at Machynlleth's Wednesday Market today and, as usual, visited the Machynlleth Antiques Emporium. In the past, I have bought a few things for the garden; a birdcage (used for a plant which hangs in my window) and a little cat that holds earrings. Today I discovered six thimbles by Fenton (The Potteries Area) English Bone China depicting six Cambridge University Colleges.

I have included a picture of the six Colleges, plus a photo of the thimbles below:

Clare College - founded in 1326 with an emblem of three chevrons and a cross

Corpus Christi College - founded in 1352 with its pelican and lily flowers

Downing College - founded in 1800 with a depiction of a griffin and eight roses

Pembroke College - founded 1347 showing six small birds or 'martlets' probably swallows or small blackbirds

St. Catherine's College - founded 1473 showing a Catherine wheel on a red background

Trinity Hall - founded 1350, an emblem of a crescent on sable and ermine

Cambridge Colleges Fenton Bone China Thimbles
Cambridge Colleges Fenton Bone China Thimbles

Five Reasons to Collect Thimbles:

If you aren't convinced that thimble collecting is for you, have a look at my list of five reasons to collect thimbles. If this list does not sway you, I consider you lost to the thimble-ignorant masses!

  1. Thimbles exist in all shapes, forms and materials. You can choose to collect thimbles of a given material, of a certain year or decade, or in celebration of a certain event. My mum, for instance, collects thimbles that have images of animals or plants on them.
  2. Thimbles are relatively inexpensive. The average thimble will cost you around $5. Of course, if you decide to collect rare thimbles, you must be prepared to shell out a little bit more than a simple fiver!
  3. Thimbles are small and easily portable. You won't have to worry about finding space for them in your house, especially if you hang them on the wall in a thimble display cabinet.
  4. Thimbles are widely available. You can find them on eBay, at antique shows, garage sales, and about anywhere else you can imagine.
  5. Thimble collecting can be very relaxing. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a complete collection of thimbles on your wall, or going on the hunt for that elusive thimble for which you've been searching for years.

Recommended Reading

Are you curious to know more about the history of thimbles and thimble collecting? If so, Edwin E. Holmes' book, A History of Thimbles, is the very best place to start. Holmes' book is woven with beautiful photos of every kind of thimble imaginable, from the rare Dorcas thimbles to ancient American thimbles made from bone, to the more common metal thimbles. He also discusses the various manufacturing techniques required to make a long-lasting thimble. For a collector, this book is truly a gem!

Do you collect thimbles?

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After reading this article, do you think you will start collecting thimbles?

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Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Ron Baker 

        6 weeks ago

        Interesting thanks

      • profile image

        Janice Wallen 

        7 months ago

        I started collecting thimbles when I was in my twenties, I now have a considerable collection, all sorts and when travelling I always buy a souviner thimble. Your article about Dorcas was interesting. Thank you and Trev Wardill may like to find a copy of "The Letts guide to collecting thimbles."

        Cheers Janice

        (New Zealand )

      • profile image


        10 months ago

        Lovely web site, I don't collect thimbles but sell them - from years of collections of mothers, grandmother and even a great grandmother.

      • profile image

        Trev Wardill 

        20 months ago

        Interesting article.I collect Charles Horner Silver Thimbles (not Dorcas) Am looking to find a book with the designs and combinations of them.Any ideas? Look forward for a reply

      • profile image


        2 years ago

        Thank you for an very interesting article.

        I recently inherited a large collection from a dear friend. I have no idea what to do with them. How do I find out what their worth. I know they must be worth something, is there a website or book where I can look them up? For example I have a beautiful one that has a 1902 Indian head penny mounted on the top and an Indian seen of teepees, mountains and buffaloes around the sides. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        Hello! Your article is very interesting!

        I stumbled upon a thimble in a sewing box and was wondering if you'd know anything about it?

        It's very heavy, but has no markings inside to say what it is, who made i, nothing! It has a flat top with large indentations and animals carved onto the side. I can't seem to find anything about it

      • Holly22 profile imageAUTHOR

        Christine and Peter Broster 

        6 years ago from Tywyn Wales UK

        @tank2222: Thanks so much for taking a look at my article. I am trying to downsize a

        bit so I am not adding any more thimbles to my collection except for those

        bought on holiday as a remembrance.

        I can only suggest putting the collection on ebay with pictures and a good

        description. I think this would give your mum most exposure. All the best,

        Chris (holly2)

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        Hi Holly,

        Love your page ! My mom is interested in selling her thimbles. She has about 375. Ex: Some Royal Dalton, English Cottages, Pewter Windmills etc. She also has the wooden cases & the dome cases . Didn't know if you'd be interested in any , or maybe you could suggest a site for us ..

        Thank you for your time , I'll check back soon


        Char Carr

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        Great lens. I've always wondered why people collected thimbles. Your story is very enlightening, thank you.

      • Deborah Swain profile image

        Deborah Swain 

        6 years ago from Rome, Italy

        Wonderful mix of personal collection and a little bit of history too! BLESSED!

      • rawwwwwws lm profile image

        rawwwwwws lm 

        6 years ago

        Thanks for sharing!

      • Holly22 profile imageAUTHOR

        Christine and Peter Broster 

        6 years ago from Tywyn Wales UK

        @anonymous: Hi Jennifer,

        Thank you for visiting my lens.

        I would suggest listing your collection and the dome on Ebay and see what kind of interest you get over the seven day bidding period then, if there is little interest, ask around some antique shops and put a little ad in your local paper or post on a bulletin board in your local supermarkets. Good luck

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        Where can I sell a thimble dome and collection?

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        I like thimbles these are nice


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