learn more about british sterling silver placename thimbles

What do British seaside holiday resorts have to do with thimbles?

 

There are many British silver thimbles made in the late 1920s by Henry Griffith & Sons, with names of placenames or towns - as keepsakes - which include seaside resorts, that have now become collectable in their own right. The placename is lettered in upper case in relief around the band of the thimble. Occasionally the name is lettered over vertical striations. I have noticed that some placenames are enclosed within inverted commas or quote marks eg "Stratford-on-Avon". 'Rhyl' has an asterisk at either end - others may have this as well. Only 'Stratford-on-Avon' has the lettering in smaller print as well as the standard used.

 

After World War I, tourism became accessible to more people and the English thimble silver thimble manufacturer, Henry Griffith & Sons, took full advantage of this by producing silver placename thimbles as souvenirs. He produced thimbles with the names of British destinations on the bands of his thimbles and he was the only maker to do so in any quantity, with hallmarks for 1928 (but there are only three placenames with this date) -  1929 - 1930 - 1931 and just three with 1932 hallmark dates. The Great Depression saw the end of this lucrative production [very few other English thimble makers produced silver thimbles during the late 1920s, never mind the 1930s].  Were the ones with 1925 (Felixstowe) and 1926 (Stratford-on Avon) and 1927 (Stratford-on Avon) an early experiment in marketing?

 

The placenames [currently there are 90 that we know of, by all British thimble makers] are as diverse as the popular Stratford-on-Avon and Blackpool, to small inland towns like Rugby, up to Inverness in Scotland, to the ever popular Chester, to the capital cities of London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. There are Griffith thimbles for England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, as well as the Channel Isles; the Isle of Man and the Isle of Wight. It is interesting to note that there is a placename thimble for Oxford but not for Cambridge; for Bristol but not for Bath. Dublin [tho Charles Horner had created these earlier] nor Belfast have placename thimbles.

 

In addition to the size marks, Griffith often marked the band of his thimbles with "The Spa" or "Royal Spa". This lettering is on the band below the British placename together with a full set of hallmarks. A small proportion have no assay marks, just the lettering 'Made in England' or 'Sterling Silver' [see Combe Martin thimbles for examples].

I have recorded all the known Griffith placename thimbles and it is interesting to note that only three designs were used for the placename thimbles - plainly indented; a band of daisies above the placename and an all-over daisy pattern. I have included all three of these generic patterns for each placename, where they occur, but not the variations of patterning. Your thimble may have slightly different daisies but I could not record each variety of daisy pattern used. Only 'Stratford on Avon' has an additional patterned placename thimble.

 

It is apparent just from looking at this cross-section of placenames that Griffith thimbles for Blackpool, Llandudno and Stratford-on-Avon were the most popular holiday destinations for sterling silver souvenir thimbles. Griffith used the greatest variety of lettering, patterns and the biggest cross-section of silversmiths made two of these placenames' thimbles. Tho it may seem from such a comprehensive listing that these thimbles are commonplace, they are not. I have added 'RARE' to the HG&S placename thimbles, when these placenames are scarce.

Griffith only made one non-British holiday destination = Bermuda. It has a hallmark date of 1932, which is the end of HG&S placename thimbles. I will add this to the end of the British thimble placenames for completeness.

 

It will be very worth your while to search out the placenames that have relevance to your life. My personal favourite is the 'Halifax' thimble with its association with Charles Horner, though Horner never produced a Halifax placename thimble.

Living in Australia, I am not familiar with the location of many of these places, so I have added the area in the UK for the information of other 'foreigners'. Please help if I have made any glaring errors!

 

Tho Henry Griffith is the most prolific he is not the only English silversmith to produce placename thimbles. The earliest I have been able to trace with a hallmark is 1887 - for Jersey by James Swann. The earlier placenames, which don't seem to have been in any great quantities, were made by:

 

Charles Horner Aberdeen | Ballater | Callander | Dublin | Falmouth | Felixstowe | Gorleston [only uncovered in 2019] | Guernsey [with a rare banner name] | Ilfracombe | Looe  Mona

James Fenton Blackpool | Glasgow | Torquay

James Swann [& Son] Blackpool | Burslem | Chester | Dundee | Guernsey [including the French form of the name Guernesey] | Isle of Man | Jersey | Stockport 

Warwick [a cheeky addition from 1992] | Yarmouth

Henry Swann Dolgely | Guernsey | Isle of Man

The above makers' lettering or 'font' is very distinctive and different from the later Griffith placename thimbles. The lettering is larger and more ornate. Horner's placenames seem 'flattened'. I have tried to indicate where their lettering is different from Griffith's placename thimbles

Only the Horner thimbles have stone apexes. The Mona thimbles also have the maker's marks for Henry Williamson Ltd but these were probably made for Williamson by Charles Horner.

 

See 'Brighton' for the earliest recorded placename thimble! The placename thimbles by these other thimblemakers are scarce.

 

There is a small selection of 1930-1931 placename thimbles made by none of the silversmiths mentioned above. The lettering for the following thimbles ['From Blackpool' | 'From Llandudno' | 'From London'] where the lettering is larger on a plain unstriated band, are made by Birmingham's Gomms [G'S]. These were probably his first output as the 2nd batch of his thimbles listed below - this is born out by the hallmark date of 1930 - seem a better quality? This is about the time that Gomms was purchased by Charles Iles to become Iles & Gomms.

 

Gomms is also the maker of the following placename thimbles:

Brighton | Bournemouth | Eastbourne | Ilfracombe | Rhyl | Skegness | Southport.

This group of thimbles are different from the short list above - the smaller uppercase lettering on a wider striated band.

This batch of names have the 1931 hallmark date.

The thimbles in both Gomms styles are plainly indented.

The Rhyl example is also a gadget thimble - with a threader.

There are a few variations to the single placenames - where a phrase is used. From Blackpool [Gomms] | From Brighton [1830s] | From Llandudno [Gomms] | From London [Gomms] | A Present from Rhyl [HG&S]

I have also included extremely rare placename thimbles from the 1830s - maker/s unknown [see below - Brighton - Canterbury - Cheltenham - Dover - Greenwich - Tunbridge].

There have been many listings compiled for placename thimbles over the years and the list of references is supplied. Where I have not been able to supply a photo, I have listed where the information was found.

For completeness, this is a listing of other European placenames located in the thimble literature:

this does not included thimbles with enamel bands - they are not made by HG&S

[information in the square brackets is not included in the thimble lettering]

Amsterdam | Bad Harzburg [Soergel & Stollmeyer] | Bad Nenndorf [Gabler] | Bad Neuheim | Bad Wildungen | Berlin | Bonsecours [Gabler] | Bourbale | Bruges [silver plate] | Cordoba Dinan [Justin Levy Alekan, Paris] | Geneve [German made] | Grece [German made] | Hamburg | Innsbruck | Karlsbad | Kavkaz [Russia] | Kissingen [Gabler] | Lauterberg [brass]

Le Treport | Lourdes [silver; brass] | Madrid, Recuerdo de [Settmacher] | Mallorca [German made] | Ostende  Paris | St Petersburg | Ste Baum [steel]/Ste Baume | Stavanger  Tibidabo | Verdun [silver plate] | Vernet les Baines | Wien | Wiesbaden | Ypres [silver plate]

Rest of the world:

Asheville [NC] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Aspen [CO] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Astore {Pakistan 15-18ct gold] Atlantic City [Simons with enamel]

Austin [TX] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Brisbane [James Fenton 1909] | Bucyrus [OH] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Cincinnati [OH] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] 

Colorado Springs [CO] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Delphi [IN] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Detroit [MI] | Florida [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s]* | Geneva [NY] 

Grand Island [NE] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Jamaica | Kenton [OH] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Kingston [Ontario Canada] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] 

Lansing [MI] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Lynchburg [VA] |  Manhattan | Marienbad [Gabler] | Minneapolis [MN] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] 

Mobile [AL] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Newark NJ [Simons with enamel] | Newport [RI] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Park City [UT] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s]

Pasadena CA [Ketcham & McDougal]l 1880s] | Peekskill [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Peterboro [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Pikes Peak | Queensland [James Fenton 1904] 

San Bernadino [CA] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | San Diego [CA] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Telleride | Urbana [OH] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] 

Washington DC [Simons 1890s][Ketcham & McDougall 1880s] | Yonkers [NY] [Ketcham & McDougall 1880]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the US placename thimbles are pictorial thimbles as well.

According to The Thimble Society in their spring 2007 catalogue, the HG&S placename thimble

s/s sold for 1/- [one shilling] or 5p in today's money, in 1930.

 

Brighton - Cheltenham - Dover - From Brighton - From Tunbridge Wells - Greenwich

only Brighton exists on 20th century placename thimbles. This shows how places go out of fashion?

Click on the following link to "Learn more about..."

Silver Placename Thimbles

This listing of Thimble Placenames does not purport to be complete or accurate in all aspects, rather it invites comment, updating of details and contribution to add to our information about these places and different dates or designs and makers.

My thanks to the other contributors.

 

 
References

 

Bonhams catalogues Henry Griffith & Sons of Birmingham & Leamington Spa / Norma Spicer, 1999

A History of thimbles / Edwin F Holmes, 1985. p186

Illustrated guide to Britain / Automobile Association, 1972

James Fenton silversmith and thimble maker etc. / Norma Spicer, 1995

James Swann maker of gold and silver thimbles / Norma Spicer, 1997

Mona - the makers got it wrong Norma Spicer / The Thimble Society, spring 2007

Place name silver thimbles / Norma Spicer The Thimble Society [of London] catalogues

Zalkin's handbook of thimbles & sewing implements / Estelle Zalkin, 1988. p66-67; 72-74

Thimble Notes

 

 

Contributors

 

Keith Airey | Christina Bertrand | Bernadine Biske | Sue Caesar | Marilyn Chesnutt | Sue Christensen | Elaine Graveston | Anthony Hayden | Julie Hollick | William Isbister 

Simon Joosten | Loene McIntyre | Carolyn Meacham-Elegant Arts | Wynneth Mullins | Carole Mulroney | Ray Nimmo | Judy Pollitt | Linda Pullen | Norma Spicer

Joanna Waciorski-Sew Many Bits | Dan Walbrun | Jenny White | Sandra Woodyard

 

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 

© Sue Gowan

April 2005

 

 

 

DO YOU KNOW ANY MORE DETAILS ABOUT ANY OF THE THIMBLES LISTED?

DO YOU KNOW OF ANY OTHERS THAT HAVE BEEN OMITTED?

DO YOU HAVE A CLEARER PHOTO TO SHARE?

 

EMAIL thimbleselect@bigpond.com TO SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE.

 

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