Thimbles Part 3

Last time we said next time: Thimble Rings

Persia had thimble rings before the 7th century and Byzantium before the 9th century AD. It appears that the earliest thimbles in the Middle East were made of camel bone – two camel bone ring-type thimbles have been found in Ctesiphon, near Baghdad, Iraq. This city was destroyed in the 7th century AD, and never reoccupied.

The most common surviving form of historical thimble in Europe is one made of metal. The oldest thimbles that were actually manufactured in Europe were most likely actually rings with no top, like these from my personal collection.

Number 1 and 3 are made from thin sheet, without a solder line and numbers 2 and four are cast bronze. Numbers 1, 2 and 4 are all metal detector finds from England. And number 3 is a metal detector find from Bulgaria. Number 1 is partially squashed. This form of thimble continues down to this day. And can sometimes be elaborately decorated.

Thimble rings could be cast in bronze or lead alloy, or made from some sort of copper alloy sheet (bronze or brass). The thimble rings that were made of sheet could either be a strip that was soldered to form a ring, or a donut, that was stretched and hammered to form a ring.

Now, if you learned how to sew with a closed end thimble, and especially if you are self taught, you may be wondering how a “thimble ring” could possibly work. Well, if you watch this YouTube video, by a professional tailor, on how to properly use a regular thimble, you will see that his technique does not require a thimble with an end.

Thimbles actually come in an amazing selection of shapes and sizes. This picture is more of my personal collection, all relatively early thimbles from England.

You will notice the variation in profile, dimple size and dimple shape. The thimble that is 3rd from the left, and a bit squashed is characteristic of most of the earliest thimbles that we see in England. They are relatively shallow round topped thimbles. Over time we see increasingly deeper thimbles with steeper sides.

Here is a picture of the same thimbles from the top.

This picture shows some very important information about the thimbles. First, you will note that a couple of the thimbles have holes in the top. This is part of the manufacturing process and generally disappears as the thimble making techniques become more developed. Some of the thimbles have an “un-dimpled” section on the top. This is called a tonsure (think of a monk’s haircut), and is also generally a sign of an earlier thimble. You will also notice that the patterns of dimples on the individual thimbles can be very different. Some spiral down from the top, while others are divided into sections, and still others are in neat rows.

Next Time: What other sorts of details can we find on thimbles?