learn more about francesca and other character head thimbles
There has been an increase in interest in collecting thimbles where the shape is predominant. Most of these thimbles are not being produced nowadays, so it is very difficult to obtain a complete listing. This is the list to date, but I know it is possibly not complete. It only covers thimbles that are made from china and porcelain. In 209 it has become apparent that there is a growing manufacture of head thimbles of pewter. Scroll down for this newest topic.
For completeness sake, I have included examples of all the head-shape thimbles known to me and these do not cover all figurals. These have come from various catalogues of the time, which is always a good source, or from items that I have had for sale over the years. I presume Francesca pioneered this trend in thimbles? This study does not cover dolls or toys as thimbles.
Francesca thimble character heads are the most prolific. At least count, there are 116 different characters. According to the Thimble Collectors' Guild in September 1985, Francesca were a small family firm in the heart of the Staffordshire potteries, and known as Francesca Art China.
The company is no longer in existence. I believe that Francesca were taken over by Sutherland China, who used some of the Francesca moulds and destroyed the rest. Compare the Francesca head thimbles with the Sutherland China heads and you will notice the similarity in the shapes!
I understand from new information coming to light with the surge in interest in Francesca thimbles on eBay, that Francesca was started by a group of breakaway staff from Staffordshire potteries in May 1975. Francesca began their range with handpainted figurines, the earliest I know of being August 1976, with the Francesca backstamp + Francesca Art China and signed and dated. The studio was based at 16 Sutherland Place in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, England.
backstamps for Francesca figurines. L: Sarah handpainted by John Price 1977 - C: bell in shape of a lady by P Ansell 1987 - R: S Jones 1980
As well as figurines, Francesca also produced signed handpainted bells and candle snuffers in the shape of figures.
Contact with one of the Francesca painters' sons in May 2014, gives the founder of Francesca as John Robinson, who had had some sort of managerial role at Royal Doulton and surrounded himself with a small team of craftsmen and "Artists of Ability", from several of the potteries [Spode, Coalport as well as Royal Doulton]. The first of these was Ray Shuff from Royal Doulton, who became a Francesca figurine painter until the liquidation of the figurines section in March 1981.
Thimbles only made their appearance from 1982, after the initial liquidation. It is still to be established who took over Francesca from John Robinson for the period when Francesca produced handpainted thimbles.
backstamps found on Francesca thimbles - L: painter's initial and date - R: Francesca maker's mark and name of character head + thimble box
The thimbles have the Francesca backstamp [an italic F], plus 'Staffordshire England' and usually the painter's initials, with a two-digit date, all lettered on the inside as well as the name of the character.
The dates on their thimbles range from 1982 to 1990. From observation there seem to be some Francesca thimbles that are unsigned, or have the Francesca backstamp missing, or have no markings at all. They are obviously Francesca thimbles: could these be from the later end of the production, as some have an 89 date but no "F" maker's mark? Or they could be early "experiments"?
Each character has the indentations on the crown of the head, like traditional thimbles, but these are not always apparent as they are painted over. All the thimbles are handpainted and the finish is glossy, not matt. Being handpainted by a range of artists has led to colour variations and even variety in expressions. If you are a collector of Royal Doulton figurines, you will know the effect of a fine handpainter, as against an average one!
You will also notice that there is an increasing appearance of unpainted, tho glazed, character heads - are these seconds or just unpainted stock - surely defeating the purpose of collecting these delightful handpainted range of thimbles? The other thought tho, is that seeing the plain white blank, makes us appreciate the fine handpainting of each character? Many do carry the Francesca backstamp.
The following 31 painters' initials have been found in Francesca items, but only the painters in the later stages of the company painted thimbles (ie after 1982). It would be wonderful to discover all the full names of these talented painters. I have shared these names in the spirit they have been offered by collectors of the Francesca handpainted range - some still can't be verified at this stage. Can you help?
The dates alongside ten of these painters' names are the dates found lettered inside the thimbles. Do your thimbles show any other initials or dates? Please share.
AD=Anthea Derry | AE=Alice Eckenstein | AG | BB=B Bream | DB=D Broom [83-84-87-88-89] | DS=Dan Smith? 
GC=G Czapski [85-89] | GE [unverified] | IE [unverified] | IS=Ivan Sutton [82-83-84-85-86] | JK=J Kelsall [or Kelshaw] [82-84] | JL [84-85-87-88-90]
JP=John Price | JS=Joan Sutton  | KH=Keith Harrison | KS=K Sylvester | KT=K Taylor [83-84-85-86-87-88-89-90] | KY [unverified] | MB=M Banks  MM=Michael J Middling | MW=Minnie Webb | MY=M Young [88-89-90] | NE=N Evans  | PA=Pat Ansell [81-82-83-84-85-86] | PN | RB=Robert Band
RH=Ron Hearson | RS=Ray Shufflebotham [signs R Shuff] he was one of the first figurine painters to join Francesca after he left Royal Doulton
SF | SJ =Stan Jones [82-83-84] | TK=T Kelshaw [82-83-86]
Francesca backstamped, tiny character jugs, candle snuffers and busts were also produced.
these are included for completeness to show these non-thimble shapes - they are the Francesca tiny - not mini - character jugs.
I have divided the Francesca thimbles by the various character groups (as named in the original Francesca brochure) and then alphabetised them. Where possible I have included the Dickensian story they relate to.
I was so fortunate and happy to be sent digital copies of the original pamphlet advertising Francesca thimbles. Although the pamphlets appear to be undated, it is interesting to note the "subject" groupings used by Francesca, which I have tried to follow, including the group names. I have added the brochures below - the lettering is almost impossible to read but the groupings can be clearly seen - hope they are of use?
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This section is included for completeness. There seem to be far more of these brands around today on the second hand market. The fact that many of the characters are identical to those made by Francesca is interesting. Were they trying to cash in on the popularity of thimble collecting during the 1980s?
It is very concerning to me how many new "brands" are appearing for sale on eBay! Did Francesca and Sutherland [in approximately 2002] leave so many unpainted and unmarked thimbles when they closed, that "new" manufacturers are placing their own brand names into these thimbles and maybe they are being handpainted today??!!
Maybe buy handpainted thimbles and not the white versions, so that you have the joy of the handpainting?? - without the eyes being painted , the characters are "lifeless" - and a backstamp is vital.
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In 2015 pewter character heads began to make their appearance for sale on eBay. Some have minor handpainting trims.
I have included these unmarked thimbles for completeness - are the kings part of a larger set?
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This listing of Francesca and other character head thimbles does not purport to be complete or accurate in all aspects.
Rather it invites comment and contribution to add to our knowledge of these highly collectable thimbles.
My thanks to the contributors.
John Alexander | Ann | D P Botha | Sue Burt | Ruth C | Sue Christensen | Ann Cooke | Nancy Curitti | Joy Earles | Craig Eisenbrown | Sharon Flynn | Debra Green
Bill Griffin | Fay Griffiths | Jean Wilson Hale | Dale Harmer | John Harris | Helen Harrison | Philippa Harrison | Karen Hay | Kari Hayes | Linda Heggs | Barry Hendry
Gordon Henry (founder of Harlequin Design Studio) | Alan Highfield | Bradley Hodge | Ann Holme | Cathy Howgate | Denise Jenkins | Gladys Junge | Pat Keller
Kim | Nicola Kissane | Shelly Lebowitz | Doreen Lilley-Pricklepin | Margaret and Derek Lickfold | Doreen Lilley | Lin | Val Lucas | Tom Marino | Melanie Martin
Don Matthews | Danny Milner |Paul Morris | Joyce Nixon-Smith | Mandy Page | Chloe Payne | Moyra Peckston | Wayne Perkins | Kate Power | Wanda Ralston | Sue Roberts
Pat Rutter | Estelle Rosen | Linda Samaripa | Norma Shattock | Bob Shepley | Barbara Shufflebotham | Paul Shufflebotham | Edna Skarratt | Jean Taylor | Rosalie Webb
Mave Wiskin | Krystyna Zagajewska | Joanne Zicari
© Sue Gowan
DO YOU HAVE ANY ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS POSED?
DO YOU HAVE ANY OF THE THIMBLES NOT PHOTOGRAPHED?
DO YOU KNOW OF ANY OTHER CHARACTER HEAD THIMBLES?
EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org TO SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE.