learn more about dorcas thimble boxes

In 2000 the members of the Needlework Tool Collectors Society of Australia [NTCSA] made their Dorcas thimble boxes available for recording. Lee Bateman and Sue Gowan undertook this to coincide with Lee's presentation on Dorcas thimbles. It is only with a good quantity of items for comparison, that any research becomes possible.


Copies of the photographs were placed in the library of the NTCSA and a second set given to the Dorset Thimble Society. Originally the boxes were photographed against a ruler, but this has not proved satisfactory in showing the actual measurements of the boxes.


It is now time to share these boxes with the wider thimble collecting community in the hope that further examples will turn up and to stimulate further research. More importantly, it is necessary to record this information for future collectors as these boxes are fragile and the information on the bases has been lost or worn to illegibility.


I am often asked whether one should keep the boxes in which thimbles are supplied. Without the boxes produced with the Dorcas thimbles, our knowledge would be poorer. Similarly, if no "Nifty" thimble boxes remained, there would be no link to Australia's "Nifty" sterling silver thimbles, as it is only on their boxes that the word 'Australia' appears. In modern collections, where space is of a premium, it is more difficult to retain modern thimble boxes, but if those needlewomen hadn't passed down their Dorcas thimbles in their original boxes…


Charles Horner, of Halifax England, patented his steel-cored sterling silver Dorcas thimbles in March 1885 and they were made from then until 1947. They have the beauty and comfort of silver with the core of steel, which gave it strength. This was a major change in the way thimbles were made and Horner took advantage of this with clever marketing. He soon offered an unconditional guarantee of exchange on these new thimbles. It was the first time that thimbles had been sold with an unconditional guarantee. This guarantee was placed on the underside of the cardboard thimble boxes that Dorcas thimbles were sold in.


For those who own a Dorcas thimble in its original cardboard box, you are indeed fortunate. Because they are not common, you may not be aware how wide the diversity of boxes is and how the exchange guarantees changed over the years.


We do not know which thimbles were supplied with which boxes. There were several different patterns on Dorcas thimbles, but again no specific box matched a specific design.


To date we know of 20 different types of Dorcas boxes with 4 composite Dorcas boxes. Sometimes, it is just a different colour for the guarantee; sometimes a different coloured inner velour or velvet lining, on the bottom half only. Most of the boxes have a white trim around the edges of the lid.


The interest tho lies in the lettering on the front of the boxes and in the different labels on the base of these boxes. There are two forms of guarantee and together with the first label which has no guarantee of exchange, they would roughly correspond to three phases of Dorcas thimbles production. Guarantee 2 always names the size as '10', no matter what size thimble the box contained.


The 9-carat gold Dorcas thimble boxes differed from those for the silver ones, in that the gold thimble boxes are hinged. There is no exchange guarantee on those boxes. So if your box is hinged, it would originally have contained a gold Dorcas.


Horner did not use the name Dorcas on his newly patented thimbles. Initially they were only marked with the word PAT (for Patent) plus a number (the size). The early Dorcas thimbles produced had no guarantee of exchange. The boxes with label 1 would be on the earliest boxes and they do have the name Dorcas on them. Once he gauged the popularity of his thimbles, the guarantee was added.


What seems unclear from the current thimble literature is when Horner began to use the name Dorcas, but probably during the 1890s. When he did, the thimbles were marked DORCAS, with C.H. and the size. The boxes with guarantee 1 would be used on the next era of boxes. After approximately 1898 the British thimble trade began to use 'British Made'. Up to around 1905 the Dorcas thimble apexes were domed, which would have necessitated having a bigger thimble box and may correspond to the box sizings.


Horner introduced the Improved Dorcas in 1905: it was a completely new process. It was after this that the apexes were flat. The fit is very snug for these later thimbles in the smaller boxes produced after 1905. The words "Improved Dorcas" appear on these exchange guarantees:

see guarantee 2


Horner also produced The Little Dorcas with its own box and label - there were no guarantees of exchange on the bottom of these boxes, which were housed in these little cardboard thimble boxes. The rarest Dorcas box that has recently come to my attention is for The London Dorcas. It is difficult enough to find the London Dorcas thimble, never mind finding the matching thimble box!


Since being sent photos of the Dorcas composite boxes, this section is now growing with an undreamed of selection when I began this little undertaking. These would probably have been used by haberdashers or salesmen to display the range of sizes and patterns of Dorcas thimbles.


So popular were the Dorcas thimbles that Horner's competitors started producing their own steel-cored silver thimbles after Horner's patents expired - in the 1920s - Dreema by Henry Griffith and Son, Dura by Walker & Hall and Doris by Charles Iles and the metal thimble The Dorothy by Charles Iles. I have included the Dura (finally a rare Dura Box has turned up!!), Dreema, The Dorothy and Doris boxes for comparison. None have Horner's unconditional guarantee.


I encourage you to seek out the four references listed at the end of these pages, to find out more about Dorcas thimbles and the related steel-cored sterling silver thimbles.


As I don't own any of these boxes, I need help with the sizing in millimetres, please.



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

Dorcas thimble boxes





This listing of Dorcas thimble boxes 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.




Charles Horner of Halifax (2002) / Tom Lawson

History of thimbles (1985) / Edwin Holmes

Identifying steel-cored thimbles (1993) / Diane Pelham Burn

Zalkin's handbook of thimbles & sewing implements (1988) / Estelle Zalkin






Janine Affleck | Lee Bateman | Clarice Birch | Helen Burgin | Sue Christensen | Susan & Brian Davies | Teresa DiNello | Margaret Estano | Ros Forster

Margaret Hendriksen | Kelvin Hopkins | Doreen Levy | June Lewis | Caroline Meacham  | Ray Nimmo | Paul | Irene Schwall | Helen Shyers | Denise Smith | Clive Trundle |

Sue Wilson








© Sue Gowan

September 2004







EMAIL thimbleselect@bigpond.com TO SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE.



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