The collection of antique thimbles is a fairly new hobby. Like with many items, thimbles became truly collectible only after they became obsolete or near so in actual use.
As early as the 16th century, they were used as gifts and art pieces, but usually with their practical use in mind. In the 19th century, thimbles were more useful than ever as the invention of textiles made pushing a needle through fabric increasingly difficult, and protecting the fingers became a necessity.
Their significance as collectibles did not begin to gain mainstream attention until the late 1960’s or 1970’s, depending on who you ask. As they became more obsolete to more people on a practical level, antique thimbles began to gain popularity as collectibles.
As with many collectibles, the internet has spawned a whole new generation of collectors. It has opened up new opportunities for collecting, selling, buying and trading in collectible thimbles.
With the endless varieties of thimbles available, collectors often specialize. Some, for instance, work with historic thimbles. One extreme example is the gold thimble Paul Revere made for his daughter that is now on display in Boston. Others may seek out collectible thimbles that celebrate events like world’s fairs, centennials of countries, and even the Olympics.
Thimbles were made for many reasons beyond the practical, which is what makes collecting them so exciting to so many. Thimbles were once even given as engagement gifts and had the ends cut off after the wedding so they could then be used as wedding bands, which is yet another collecting niche. No matter which way you may choose to go with your collection, there is plenty out there for you.
Digitabulism, the practice of collecting thimbles, has a number of dedicated organizations and message boards on the internet. The most popular of these organizations is Thimble Collectors International (TCI). They were actually unofficially founded back in 1970, but held their first formal convention in 1978. They have strived to take the collectible thimble community and unite them in both business and friendship. If you have an interest in digitabulism then you should really consider contacting TCI.
You may hear thimble collectors talk about people who are collectors and those who are accumulators. What is the difference? If you are acquiring antique thimbles with no regard for the history or a particular niche, then you are an accumulator. If you are a collector, you are grabbing collectible thimbles that interest you in terms of their history, their art, or something deeper. Collecting is more of an overall experience, but most of the digitabulism organizations welcome both with open arms.
Thimble collecting, to the uninitiated, may seem boring. The reality, though, is that there are few collectible items that offer you the opportunity to delve into art, history, or even event celebration without taking up a lot of space or spending a fortune. In addition, you will find that digitabulists are a supportive and informed community. Give thimble collecting a chance if you are looking for a new hobby. It is fun, inexpensive, and easy to start.