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A Thimbleful of History and Fun

A Thimbleful of History and Fun

Written by: 
Linzee McCray

What tiny collectible can lead to big opportunities? According to Mabel Rogers, it's thimbles. “They've have opened up a whole new world for me!”

Sterling thimble made by Tom Edwards

It’s hard to imagine a tiny cylinder having such an expansive impact, but Mabel is a member of Thimble Collector’s International (TCI) and has traveled the U.S. and the world with her thimble-collecting cohorts. The group, founded in 1978, holds conventions every other year and Mabel has journeyed to meetings in San Francisco, Boston, Kansas City, Seattle, Orlando, and Niagara Falls.

Simons-made sterling thimble specially made for the TCI 2016 convention

She also traveled to South Africa to meet with like-minded collectors. “It’s just amazing the places I’ve been that I might not have gone on my own,” she says.

A greeting card designed by a TCI member

It’s not surprising that many thimble collectors also sew. Though Mabel loves sewing she doesn’t particularly enjoy wearing a thimble while she stitches. But inspired by the thimble her grandmother left her, she started searching for more when her family would go antiquing in the 1970s. Her collection today includes more than 4,000 thimbles.

Cases hold the thimbles of a South African collector

Thimble collectors often have what Mabel calls “sub-collections”—specific focus areas in their collections. These include thimbles with floral or animal motifs; souvenir thimbles; thimbles made of a particular material like pewter; or thimbles manufactured by a specific company, such as Simmons Brothers Co., a Philadelphia jeweler in existence since 1839 that still makes of sterling silver and 10K and 14K gold.

Simons sterling thimble in the shape of the Liberty Bell
Stein-shaped thimble with applied enamel shell
Sterling thimble made by TCI member Lucerne Wulf

Meissen thimbles, made of porcelain and dating from the 1700s, are some of the most collectible and highest-priced thimbles, according to Mabel. Her sub-collections include more than 100 “jiggers”—thimbles that sport sayings like “Only a Thimbleful!’ on them—and thimbles inscribed with her name. “Back in the 1900s when thimbles were popular my name was popular,” says Mabel, and she owns about two dozen Mabel-engraved finger protectors.

A Swedish thimble Mabel-engraved thimble

Mabel encouraged her granddaughter, now 23, to collect thimbles beginning when she was ten years old and she now has a collection centered on owls.

An owl novelty thimble
Sterling owl-shaped pincushion

Thimbles are not the only items cherished by TCI members—many gather needlework tools of all types, including needle cases, darning eggs, pincushions, knitting needles, and much more.

A shell-shaped sterling sewing kit

Information about all types of needlework collectibles can be found on the TCI website, an impressive resource for members and non-members like.

Sterling thimble made by TJ Lane

TCI members receive the 24-page quarterly TCI bulletin, access to educational resources including historical research, galleries of collections, and advice on discerning reproduction and fake thimbles. Members are also eligible to attend the biennial conventions (next year’s will be held in Washington DC in August).

Logo for the TCI 2018 meeting—note the thimble shape of the Capitol

With its current membership hovering around 500 U.S. and international members, TCI also serves as an umbrella organization for smaller, regional groups that gather regularly to share knowledge and new finds.

Card designed by a TCI member

It's those gatherings offer what Mabel sees as the organization’s most valuable perk—the opportunity to spend time with like-minded individuals and to create longtime connections. “Those friendships are as important as the item you’re collecting,” she says. “You can call on your thimble friends when you need them, and there are many days when they will sustain you.”

Thimble with enamel made in Portugal

Visit the TCI membership page for more information. Also, if you're traveling to Germany, you might want to check out the Fingerhut Thimble Museum.

Do you collect any sewing-related paraphernalia? (I admit it—I collect darning eggs!)

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