Do people even use thimbles anymore? A thimble for those unfamiliar is a sewing aid used when sewing by hand. Most commonly made of metal, there are also thimbles made of porcelain, sterling silver, gold, brass, bone, mother of pearl, stone, plastic and sometimes heavy leather. Shaped like a small cup with a rounded dimpled end, a thimble is used on the second fingertip to protect the sewer when pushing a needle through cloth when hand sewing. Most thimbles are adorned with decoration around the base and dimples on the top and upper sides to help steady the needle when pushing it through the fabric.
As a child, my grandmother taught me to sew and I labored over using a thimble. I distinctly remember putting on my first thimble and feeling completely handicapped while learning to use that thimble. Putting the thimble on my middle finger, I began using the next finger to push the needle through the fabric. So I put the thimble on my ring finger and pushed the needle with my middle finger. It went on like this for a while switching back and forth between my fingers until I got the hang of it. Grandma thought it was quite comical and she and I had a hearty laugh. After years and years of torturous hand sewing, I found a leather thimble the easiest to use; maybe because it bends with my finger when I try pushing the needle.
Beyond aiding in sewing, throughout history thimbles proved a bit of a status symbol for the owner. Fine thimbles with cases were the envy of most seamstresses but when made of precious metals, these thimbles were unusually costly and only owned by the very wealthy. Today, these examples of Victorian excess do not appear often. In fact, in over 30 years of selling antique sewing items, I have never had a sterling silver thimble and case as beautiful as this walnut shaped case.
For a few minutes last month, I held this thimble and case. Notice I did not own this thimble and case, only held it; the owner decided the memories she associated with this thimble and case made it too precious to sell at this time. I must say it was one of the finest thimble cases, I’ve ever seen.
The true-to-size silver walnut was crafted of sterling silver and had the look, size and all the crevasses of a real walnut. When opened, the walnut revealed a gold washed interior with just enough room for a silver thimble. The interior thimble holder hinged outward to allow one to remove the thimble without any trouble. The thimble, also sterling silver embossed with a beautiful decorative border of houses, trees and fences fit the holder snugly so as not to rattle inside when the walnut was closed. The thimble was the only part of this set that showed any wear; all honest wear from years of use. At the top of the walnut case, a small bail allowed the owner to attach the case to a chatelaine or a chain.
The mark inside; “Sterling 925” which leads me to believe it was American made. If it were English, it would also have date stamps which it did not. As to value? I cannot find any like it with a sterling case as well as a sterling thimble and since the owner was unwilling to part with it at this time, value is based on her love of this piece…..priceless to her.
I feel honored to have held and photographed this charming piece of history to share with my readers. Enjoy!