Taynton Metal Detecting Club

Introduction to Thimbles

Thimbles are small covers for protecting the finger-tip while sewing, they date back to Roman times when they were cast in bronze. Medieval thimbles were often made of leather but understandably few have survived. Often, early thimbles had no tops, instead the side was used to drive the needle though the fabric.

The first thimble made in England was in 1695 by a Dutch metal worker named Lofting. It was called the " thumb-bell," because it was worn on the thumb when in use, and shaped like a bell. The shape eventually changed, but the name, softened into thimble, still remains.

Between 1739 and 1790 silver thimbles were exempt from hallmarking and only after 1870 did hallmarking of such small objects become a general practice. The invention of the nose machine about 1750 permitted the indentation of thimbles in regular, spiral patterns and this is a useful guide to dating. Thimbles with indentations punched individually and irregularly were probably produced before the middle of the 18th century.

People who collect thimbles are known as digitabulists. There are many theories as to why so many thimbles are found in the fields. Most likely is that women and children did most of the sewing and tended to work with the family in the field. Another popular theory is that thimbles were used to protect finger tips from straw. Perhaps a mix of the two may explain the large numbers found by metal detectorists.

By club member Dave Mayes.