Thimbles are highly collectable needlework tools and come in a variety of materials and designs. They can be made as one of a kind pieces of art from precious metals or mass produced and made from inexpensive plastic or aluminum.
Precious-metal thimbles can include jewels and are highly sought after by collectors. Tortoise shell and ivory thimbles are regulated by law and can be difficult to collect. Mother-of-pearl, such as Palais Royal marked thimbles (shown above), are relatively rare. They are sometimes found as part of etui needlework tool sets.
The material a thimble is made of is only one part of what makes it collectible. Other factors include rarity, design, age, condition, and other criteria you determine for your personal collection. For example, a collector specializing in rose thimbles might include only thimbles with a rose motif or theme but made of any material. But another collector may opt for only sterling-silver thimbles with floral motifs.
Every Thimble Tells a Story
When you examine a thimble with a jeweler’s loop, you can make many discoveries. Look for marks that identify makers, metal composition, and size, as well as any after-market engraving. Not every thimble will have markings. Some thimbles that have been used have all or parts of their markings worn away. There are numerous books and websites with keys for thimble markings to assist in identifying marks. These keys can also assist in dating a thimble.
Some thimbles have been used and include perforations from the end of a needle. Other signs of wear include scratches, age marks, and being out of round.
Engraved sterling-silver thimble found with personal note. Collection of the author
Engraving on precious metal thimbles was very popular, and many metal styles incorporate a specific place for engraving. You can find thimbles engraved with “Mother” or personalized with a name or initial. Some antique and vintage thimbles may still have a blank cartouche ready for engraving.
Advertising thimbles are almost always twentieth-century American in origin. Generally, they were made of plastic or aluminum and mass produced and inexpensive. Used to support products that appealed to homemakers, these promotional thimbles were stamped or embossed with a business name or logo. What better way to get your business in front of your target audience than have her wear it on her fingertip? The products advertised included a diverse range of goods and services including coal, insurance, food, dry cleaning, and appliances.
A variety of American advertising thimbles. Collection of the author
There is a thimble for everyone—no matter their interest.
Interested in reading more about thimbles? Franklin Habit has an article in the Spring 2021 issue of PieceWork.
Also, remember that if you are an active subscriber to PieceWork magazine, you have unlimited access to previous issues, including Spring 2021. See our help center for the step-by-step process on how to access them.
Dawn Cook Ronningen is the author of Antique American Needlework Tools (Schiffer 2018). She lives in Minnesota, where she enjoys her extensive collection of antique textiles, embroidery, and needlework tools.
Originally published August 17, 2020; updated June 6, 2022.