A bit about the history of thimbles:
The humble thimble has been in continuous use throughout the world since well before the birth of Christ. The thimble is known and produced by virtually every known civilization, together with the variety of designs and materials that has made them so popular as collectable items. Thimbles have been fashioned from stone, bronze, wood, leather, horn, bone, tortoise shell, ivory, mother-of-pearl, glass, a number of metal alloys including silver, and, of course, porcelain.
The production of porcelain models flourished with the advent of the sewing machine, by men like Elias Howe and Isaac Singer in the 1840's and 1850's, heralded the demise of the common utilitarian thimble."
Thimbles as we know them almost certainly came into being with the introduction of coarse thread and fabrics. Early needles were difficult to use because they were not smooth or polished, so some form of protection was required for the finger when stitching. Simple protectors in bronze or iron were employed initially, with needle-workers using the side of the finger in much the same manner as tailors use the open-topped thimble of today. Later when garments and soft furnishing became more elaborate and necessitated greater sewing, thimbles for general use were made of brass.
Silver thimbles in a variety of styles and decorations date from the 17th century. They invariably feature waffle-like indentations and chevron strapwork, and are often found without rims. Decorative circular knurlings gradually replaced square-shaped indentations as the century progressed. English thimbles from the mid 17th century were tall and cylindrical and usually made in two parts.
The early 18th century saw a preference for the shorter, rounder shaped thimble, although up to the 1750's they were still being produced in two sections - a welded cylinder topped by a small cap. During the second half of the century, however, one-piece thimbles were made by hammering a metal disc into a mold. They grew in popularity as artistic needlework became a fashionable pastime with middle and upper class ladies.
Records show that Elizabeth I gave a thimble lavishly encrusted with precious stones to one of her ladies in-waiting, so it comes as no surprise that thimbles as gifts, chased with ornate Rococo designs and made from expensive material, were later included in finely worked etuis and chatelaines of the 18th century. Originating in medieval times, chatelaines had a number of chains suspended from a central clip, with a different item attached to the end of each such as scissors, thimble, buttonhook, pincushion and needlecase.
Porcelain thimbles, such as those made by the Meissen factory in Saxony, were never intended for practical work although many thought them ideal for sewing delicate fabrics such as silk. As with tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl they were less likely to snag the fine threads.
Many of these thimbles were made specifically as extremely beautiful gifts and are now financially beyond the reach of the majority of collectors. Few Meissen thimbles exist outside museums and top private collections. Their distinctive rounded form is enhanced by exquisitely detailed and delicate landscapes, seascapes, birds, flowers and romantically portrayed figures, and they have an unrivalled quality and charm.
Fine examples of English porcelain thimbles were first manufactured in the early 1800's by Royal Worcester, Coalport, Spode and Wedgwood, although possibly the richest period for such items is from about 1885 to 1910. This was when thimble production at Royal Worcester in particular was at its height. Although the firm's early thimbles are seldom marked, they can be identified by their highly translucent bodies, elaborate gilding and detailed brushwork. Signatures of qualified artists like William Powell, who hand-painted a series of British birds for Royal Worcester, only began to appear after 1900.
Wedgwood Jasper thimbles were also being made in the first half of the 20th century and by exactly the same methods as they were 150 years earlier. http://www.thimble.net/
A thimble is a protective shield worn on the finger or thumb. Thimbles are most usually made from metal, leather, rubber, wood, glass, china or porcelain. Very early thimbles were sometimes made from bone, horn or ivory.
Originally, thimbles were used solely for pushing a needle through fabric or leather as it was being sewn. However they have since gained many other uses. In the 1800's, they were used to measure spirits (hence the phrase "just a thimbleful"). Women of the Night used them in the practice of "thimble-knocking" where they would tap on a window to announce their presence.
Thimble-knocking also refers to the practice of Victorian schoolmistresses who would tap on the heads of unruly pupils with dames thimbles. During the First World War, silver thimbles were collected from "those who had nothing to give" by the British government and melted down to buy hospital equipment. In the 1930's and 1940's red-topped thimbles were used for advertising.
Leaving a sandalwood thimble in a fabric stores helps to keep moths away. Thimbles have also been used as love-tokens and to commemorate important events. A miniature thimble is even one of the tokens in the game of Monopoly. People who collect thimbles are known as digitabulists.
How do decal thimbles differ from those that are handpainted? A decal or transfer is applied to the blank thimble and the factory can then churn out more thimbles with identical patterns. Under a magnifying glass, a decal shows up as hundreds of small dots, similar to newspaper print seen under magnification.