learn more about british royalty on thimbles

I wasn't a thimble collector when the first thimbles appeared for the most important commemorative event in the modern era of thimble making. I am talking about Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977. The exquisitely-made sterling silver thimbles by James Swann & Son must surely be one of the most well-known modern thimbles and shortly after I became a thimble collector in 1984, one joined my collection. It is still the only silver royal commemorative I own. The next huge occasion for commemorative thimbles in the United Kingdom was the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and I eagerly sought one of these thimbles for my collection in 1984.


I have followed the production of royal commemorative thimbles since I began collecting thimbles, that for this purpose begins with the Ascension to the throne of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 . I remember having the day off school in South Africa and I have the most vivid memory of listening to the coronation on the radio in 1953. I lived in London during 1969 and tho I watched the Prince Charles's Investiture on television, buying a commemorative thimble never crossed my mind - commemorative stamps were more in vogue then.


What has amazed me in doing this study on British royal thimbles, is how it reflects the history of the modern thimble making industry in the UK. I don't think there is an English modern thimble producer who has not had at least one royal commemorative thimble created in the last 70 years (Royal Doulton does spring to mind but they are not big thimble producers). The first commemorative china thimbles by Caverswall were as early as 1977 for the silver jubilee and no royal occasion passed until 1991 without a Caverswall commemorative thimble - Sutherland seems to have taken over this role when Caverswall closed and they were one of the few china producers making thimbles in any quantity in England until they closed. The 1980s' production of royal thimbles reads like a who's who amongst thimble producers/manufacturers.  To date 96 different British thimble makers have produced at least one royal commemorative thimble design.


Henry Griffith & Sons ceased thimble production of their sterling silver thimbles in 1956, which was just in time to have produced one of the few thimble designs made for the Coronation in 1953. James Swann & Son were also there for the coronation but having finally ceased production of all thimbles in 2005, they were the only English silversmiths making commemorative royal thimbles in any quantity in the second half of the twentieth century.


There are 28 British silversmiths who have produced royal commemoratives of which 21 produced only one royal commemorative thimble design - they will be well worth seeking out. I hope that some of these royal thimbles produced in the last 70 years become the antiques of the future, matching the rare and highly desirable sterling silver thimbles produced in the middle of Victoria's reign.


Royal commemorative memorabilia is an industry in itself and if you think of the number of occasions that have occurred in the life of HM Queen Elizabeth II since 1952 - the "big" birthdays - anniversaries of her marriage to Prince Philip - anniversaries of her ascension to the throne - her coronation and its anniversaries - the list goes on and on. It makes sense that there are more royal thimbles featuring Her Majesty than any other member of the royal family. Often there will be two thimbles for the same event by the same thimble maker - using the engagement photos of Charles and Diana for their wedding and then another with the wedding picture. Or "birth of a royal baby..." thimbles designed before the actual birth and then a sequel with the actual details of the baby born.


The biggest number of different thimbles produced for any single occasion was that for the wedding of Charles and Diana: 71 different thimbles, many of which are sets!! Their marriage in 1981 was the heyday of modern collectables thimble making!!


I have chosen to list the thimbles in a manner which I hope will become familiar to you with use, and I know there are hundreds of royal thimble collectors out there - chronologically for each member of the royal family listing thimbles for all their various birthdays, marriages and in some cases memorial thimbles. I have grouped the family of each member of the royal family together ie Princess Anne's children are featured under the Princess Anne heading etc.


Being a British institution, 98% of royal thimbles produced were made in Britain, so it was surprising to find a few royals thimbles from Europe and three have now surfaced from the USA for more recent royal anniversaries.


The wording on each thimble is as varied as the number of thimbles produced - some have just a commemorative year; others fit an entire biography lettered on the verso. There are always official royal photographs issued at royal milestones, but most thimble producers have ignored these and created a unique design different from their competitors, reflecting their prestige in the souvenir market. Prince of Wales feathers feature prominently.


 I am sure there are many royal thimbles that have not yet crossed my path - there are around 925 recorded here - please be sure to share your favourite royal thimbles that I may have missed. If you know the maker's names where I show none, please email me with the details.


What will be the next royal event to be commemorated? HM Queen Elizabeth's 60th Jubilee of her ascension to the throne in February 2012 was huge - who can forget that majestic 1000-ship armada parading down the Thames in June of that year? In April 2017 Her Majesty celebrated her 91st birthday but royal birthdays don't attract as much attention of thimble makers as royal jubilees and weddings do. And looking back thru the hundreds of photos recorded here, those commemorating the ascension or reign date far outweight those made to commemorate anniversaries of QEII's coronation.

Let's wait and see what the British (and American) thimble makers produce for Prince Harry and Meghan's wedding - hopefully there will be more than the "cheerful" range to mark a Royal marriage. Sadly there were no thimbles made of precious metals to commemorate this latest royal wedding. In my opinion it sends a huge message - British thimble silversmiths are no longer interested in producing modern silver commemorative thimbles.


Since beginning this topic on British royalty on thimbles, I have seen some interesting modern royal commemorative needlework tools. I won't go looking for them, but if they cross my path, I will include them.



This listing of Royalty thimbles does not purport to be complete or accurate in all aspects.

Rather it invites comment and contribution to add to our knowledge. My thanks to the contributors.




Dorothy Friend. British commemorative and souvenir thimbles. 1987

Gimbels & Sons Country Store Catalogues

Charlotte Goldberg. Hurley porcelain thimbles TCI Bulletin winter 2009. p.10-11

The Thimble Guild, Scotland. Catalogues

The Thimble Society [of London] catalogues





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© Sue Gowan

October 2006









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