The dawn of the Victorian era marked the start of thimble collecting. Roads had improved, and people began to tour. The Great Exhibition, a kind of world’s fair, was held in Hyde Park, London, and attracted large crowds. A commemorative thimble was issued to mark the event. The concept of commemorative thimbles caught on with collectors. It was also at this time that advertising thimbles became popular.
In Victorian times, a silver thimble was regarded as a highly appropriate gift, especially for a man to give a woman. Victorian women carried a chain-like device called a chatelaine, to which sewing items such as small scissors and a needle keeper could be attached. Thimbles were enclosed in a decorative thimble case that could be attached to the chatelaine as well. Sometimes a couple would remove the cap from a thimble so it could be used as a ring.
Today, thimbles are still used in quilting, French hand sewing, and other types of decorative needlework. As hand sewing has become less common, the practical use of thimbles has declined. Although they have become more decorative, collectors’ interest in modern thimbles has not waned. There are new series of commemorative (often porcelain or pewter) thimbles to remember football teams and Disney Characters. Tourist destinations offer souvenir thimbles, even though most tourists do not know how to use them.
The lowly thimble has become a star. Some admire its humble origins and some its newfound incarnations. It is one of the most versatile and practical tools ever invented, born of necessity.