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Ten Things You Didn't Know: Thimbles

Once favored gifts for all ages, thimbles have found their way out of long-forgotten sewing baskets and into collections of dedicated enthusiasts. Antoinette Rahn compiles a list of 10 fascinating facts about these diminutive needlework tools.

When was the last time you looked at a thimble? I fondly recall my grandmother's sewing basket and the wonderful array of thimbles it held. There were porcelain ones with images of little dogs, beautifully crafted metal thimbles with intricate designs, and a very special one that featured the name of a long-ago general store which my grandparents frequented.

Take a look at some of the fascinating facts about thimbles....

1 Nearly 30 lots of Meissen porcelain thimbles fetched a total of $189,813 during the Ann Blakeslee Black Collection of Thimbles, Needlework Tools and Vertu auction presented by Leslie Hindman Auctioneers on May 21, 2014. A Meissen porcelain thimble, circa 1730, with a landscape scene painted on the band, sold for five times its low estimate, finishing at $20,000.

Meissen porcelain thimble 1745

Meissen porcelain thimble, circa 1740-1745, with a painted scene of a horseman in river landscapes and the inscription “Je Pense a Vous,” (“I Think of You”) measuring 7/8 inch, realized $11,875. Photo courtesy Leslie Hindman Auctioneer

2 The Thimble Collectors International (TCI) group formed in 1978, and lists more than 35 regional clubs in the U.S., Australia and Europe. If you’re interested in becoming a member of TCI, now is the time, as the group is offering a free French porcelain thimble for new members who sign up by June 18, 2014. (

3 Examples of the precursor to the thimble date back 10,000 years, with metal thimbles coming into use outside of the U.S. as early as 1150. The first American thimble factories opened in the 1830s with Ketcham and McDougall of New York paving the way, followed closely behind by Simons Bros. in Philadelphia in 1839 — a company still manufacturing thimbles today.

4 Thimbles have been made of many different materials over the centuries, including metal, wood, glass, tropical nuts, china, leather, plastic, Bakelite and rubber. Some customized thimbles include Connemara marble, semi-precious stones or Mother of Pearl, along with early examples made of whale bone or horn and ivory.

5 A few factors that can help determine the country in which a thimble was made include: Markings, size, numbering, shape and decoration. Often marks for French and English makers appear on the band of a thimble, while those of German origin show up on the second row of knurlings (the indentions on the side of thimbles). In addition, marks for American and Norwegian thimble makers are also on the band, and in some cases inside the cap. Thimbles produced in England and America during the 19th century often have dome caps, while 20th century American thimbles mostly feature a flat cap.

6In the past, thimbles were popular advertising vehicles, especially in American culture.

Paul Revere Jr. thimble

A gold thimble, circa 1805, attributed to Paul Revere Jr., featuring engraved script initials of LD with a wrought domed top, sold for $10,000 during an auction at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, May 21, 2014.

Along the band of some thimbles, logos, company names and even political parties or candidates were featured. In fact, political thimbles came on the scene in 1920, the very same year the 19th Amendment was ratified — guaranteeing women the right to vote.

7 A gold thimble, circa 1805, attributed to Paul Revere Jr., featuring engraved script initials of LD with a wrought domed top, sold for $10,000 during an auction at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, May 21, 2014. (Thimble pictured below.)

8 The Fingerhut Thimble Museum in Creglingen, Germany, is reportedly the world’s only museum devoted entirely to thimbles. It opened in 1982 with some 800 exhibits. Today the museum showcases more than 4,000 exhibits from around the world.

9 An unglazed Meissen porcelain thimble, circa 1730-35, depicting a miniature painting of Chinese scenes, commanded more than $7,500 at auction in 2007, while an apparently hand-forged brass thimble, said to have belonged to Abraham Lincoln’s mother, sold for $3,500 as part of a lot in 2008.

10 The official term for one who collects thimbles is “digitabulist.”

Sources: Thimble Collectors International, LiveAuctioneers, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Fingerhut Thimble Museum, Antique Trader and