Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look back a millennia old item that have developed to become decorative antiques
Should I whisper that it’s ‘back to school’ time? New class or new school; for parents, new uniforms and sports kit means the dreaded name tape chore.
The surest way to secure a label is by sewing, which brings me to this week’s collectable. It’s the ambitious little tool which has escaped the humble sewing box to the world of collecting, sometimes even its own special display case: the thimble.
Sewing is one of the few skills whose basics have remained relatively unchanged for 2,000 years.
Thimbles are first recorded in China in 200BC. Because early needles were rough and animal sinew ‘thread’ was coarse, protection was needed for the finger.
Early thimbles were made in wood, bone, leather, tin or bronze, later brass and porcelain. When needlework became a respectable pastime for ladies, thimbles were frequently made in delicately patterned silver, even gold.
Being small, easy to look after, nice to display, and often reasonably priced, thimbles are an easy ‘starter’ collectable, especially for children to hunt out.
The ‘Nose’ machine which made those familiar regular indentations was invented in the mid 18th century. Before then, indentations were hand punched with less regularity and are worth more. Precious metal thimbles were rarely hallmarked before 1870.
As well as being functional items, thimbles were sometimes given as gifts. As a result, there are many ornate versions with intricate filigree work. Beautiful Victorian thimbles can fetch between £50-£100, more if decorated with gems or semi precious stones.
Porcelain thimbles are a particular area of interest for collectors. Made from the 18th century onwards, the most sought after are those from the German Meissen factory, generally intended as gifts.
Royal Worcester, Coalport, Spode and Wedgwood were leading English thimble manufacturers from the early 19th century. Often decorated with beautiful hand painted landscapes or figures, they were such works of art that many were signed by their artist.
Beware of modern ‘limited edition collectables’ which very rarely increase in value. Also beware: once people know you collect thimbles, expect many as gifts- at least you’ll never be short of one during ‘name tape season’!