Thimble Collecting: A Fun and Educational Hobby
Many of the most interesting hobbies involve collections of a certain object. Many people collect stamps, porcelain dolls and other figurines, and some people even collect Pez dispensers and matchbooks from restaurants around the country or the world. For decades, thimbles have also been a popular collectible. Thimbles vary widely in value depending on where they are from, the materials they are made of and their condition. Commemorative thimbles are also produced with collectors in mind. With the wide variety of thimbles on the market and stories attached to them, thimble collecting is a fun hobby for all ages.
Many types of thimbles appear in thimble collections, and thimbles vary by type (work or display), material, era and design. Thimbles have been made of many different types of materials through the centuries, including gold, silver, bone, mother of pearl, ivory and brass. Many thimbles dating back to the late 1800s are actually stainless steel thimbles dipped in silver in order to prolong the thimble’s useful life. This practice of dipping the thimbles in silver was known as the Dorcas method, and Dorcas thimbles have a value all their own even they were developed strictly for work purposes.
Thimbles will vary in value according to era as well as the type of material and condition. A circa-1840 set of three commemorative thimbles celebrating the marriage of Victoria and Albert and the birth of the Prince of Wales has recently been advertised on Christie’s for $400-$500. Newer thimbles made of less expensive materials and commemorating more recent events typically retail for about $10-$15 when ordered online, whereas new thimbles made of silver with an enamel design may sell for over $100. For many, this begs the question, “How do I know if it’s silver?” This is a good question to ask, since Dorcas thimbles in mint condition may look exactly like pure silver. When perusing thimbles at antique malls, the easy way to tell a pure silver thimble apart from a silver-coated thimble is to hold a magnet to it. Thimbles made of any other metal will be drawn to the magnet, but a pure silver thimble will not. People thinking of buying silver thimbles online for their collection are advised to buy from a reputable dealer; check with Thimble Collectors International for guidance.
Collectible thimbles produced in recent years are often lacquered in order to have a smooth surface on which to place a tiny screen print. While plain, well-worn metal thimbles can be valuable as historic artifacts, the ones with the highest resale value are generally the ones with fancy designs, particularly those commemorating an historic event. Commemorative thimbles include a great many dedicated to the births of members of the British royal family, including the 2013 birth of Prince George to William and Kate. Thimbleguild.com even sells a thimble commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s first visit to the United Kingdom.
While a large thimble collection – or even a small one consisting solely of gold and/or silver thimbles – can cost a small fortune to amass, thimble racks and cabinets cost less and are the ideal way to display one’s thimble collection. Brand-new thimble racks holding 20 thimbles can be found for as little as $8 online, and display cases for larger collections can cost $50 or more. Thimble racks and cabinets generally come fully assembled and with felt interiors and glass doors to prevent dust accumulation. If these seem too costly, any other small figurine display case will do, although it would be a good idea to add felt to the interior to keep the thimbles from coming in contact with hard surfaces.
Thimble collecting can be a good hobby for a number of reasons. As with stamp collecting and collections of other types of figurines, each thimble presents a different sort of history lesson: when and where did it come from? What is it made of, was this material commonly used at the time, and if so, for what purposes? Since thimbles are a manufactured product, each thimble is or was made within a particular historical context with regards to both the materials and, if the thimble was not manufactured for work purposes only, the event that it commemorates. Older generations of collectors can look back fondly upon events from their youth through a thimble collection, and younger ones have an opportunity to learn about major historical events through commemorative thimbles.
Thimble collecting can be a fun reason for visiting antiques dealers or even for combing through an older relative’s sewing box. What collectors find is often educational and just plain fun and exciting to be able to add to one’s collection. When it comes to starting and expanding a thimble collection, the sky’s the limit. For a fun and different hobby and a potentially valuable collection to pass on to younger generations, consider thimble collecting!
Websites such as the Thimble Guild make it very easy to begin a thimble collection and you do not need a lot of money to start collecting them. In addition, because of the internet, sites including the Thimble Guild will help you look for thimbles for your collection. If you want to find the “older” thimbles, you will often find them in antique shops or, sometimes, at car boot fairs.
If you want to make a start and get involved in this ever popular hobby then why not visit the Thimble Guild website and see what they have on offer. However, be prepared to be hooked on this hobby – as you learn more about the unique and true gems that a collector can sometimes just stumble. You will very soon become a bona find a digitabulist and will likely begin looking everywhere you are for that special or one of a kind thimble.