learn more about victorian silver scenic thimbles
My first English silver thimble with a wide scenic band in relief, was the one I bought for 'Windsor' and having done a bit of research, this seems to be the most popular design of this type of thimble, with many examples still in existence.
Recently I was a very lucky girl when I received a thimble from a non-thimble friend [thanks Phil] - he found a treasure for me on a recent visit to South Africa. There is no lettering to identify the scene, but it shows a bridge scene on a very wide band, on a typical tall, narrow Victorian thimble. It turns out to be the Menai Bridge scene and in contrast to my first purchase, this is a rare example.
I think two of these wonderful old thimbles is enough for my collection but it's been fun looking for what else was made and I hope you'll enjoy this small journey.
Once my interest had been aroused, the hunt was on for more photo examples of these thimbles. I have been amazed at the range of thimbles made of the same scene or pictorial of historical buildings. The scenes include stately homes, palaces, bridges, castles and exhibition buildings and the picture wraps right around the thimble. I have included a photo of some of the actual buildings, so that this may help with identification of your thimble. It would be wonderful to have photos of all the views around the thimbles, and maybe you can help here?
There are different widths in the bands and my guess is that the wider the band, the earlier the thimble? Some scenes are banded by a plain narrow groove on each side - some have no upper groove separating the scene from the indentations.
These British scenic thimbles postdate the placename thimbles of the 1820s which only have the names lettered around the thimble with no actual scene - but all reflect the idea of taking a souvenir home, first made popular by the Victorians. The thimbles of this study would originate from around the 1840s onwards.
Some of these thimbles are lettered with the name of the scene around the rim or within the scene [eg Windsor] and many have the date included in this lettering. This qualifies them as commemoratives as well.
There was no evidence as to the maker/s of these thimbles, when I started working on this topic - mostly they have no hallmarks nor any maker's marks. I wonder if there was more than one thimble manufacturer making these thimbles in Victorian England?
Slowly pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are emerging and many of the makers are now known - thanks to the excellent research by Norma Spicer and Diane Pelham Burn.
I had heard the names of Nathaniel Mills and Taylor & Perry from Birmingham, associated with the English scenic thimbles but there is nothing in the thimble literature at this stage to confirm this. There are a hallmarked thimbles from a London assay for Osborne House and Windsor Castle by Samuel Foskett. He would have been one of the later makers as is George Unite.
On re-reading Norma Spicer's booklet on British registered designs, it is interesting to note that some of these scenic thimbles have a diamond-shaped registration mark placed on the thimble. In England, between 1842 and 1883, registered designs carried a mark to denote the registration date of a design. As these had to be registered, the name of the thimble maker may be found.
Alfred Taylor registered the 'Exhibition of All Nations 1851' design and he in fact also made the thimbles!
Henry Griffith registered his design for and made the thimbles for some of the 'International Exhibition 1862' thimbles.
There are two designs for the 1862 exhibition and the 2nd one - where the mark appears on the thimbles - was also registered. They were made by George Cartwright and Horace Woodward. I highly recommend Spicer's booklet on the registered designs to you.
I have followed the lettering from the thimble for the alphabetical listing, so the same building or scene may be in more than one place below - I have put in a cross-reference where applicable. The brief description of the building or place is not meant to be definitive, but I have added a date into the description where relevant in the 19th C.
Edwin Holmes indicates that there is a difference in the manufacture of the range of scenic thimbles. The earlier thimbles [cathedrals and buildings] were designed on a flat piece of silver, which were then rolled into a cylinder, seamed, with the apex added in last.
The later ones made towards the end of the 19th C are deep drawn and then the design is stamped on the thimble shape. These are shorter in height than the earlier thimbles and flatter at the apex, with the lettering around the band. As most of these are not hallmarked, they would probably have been made in the late 1870s and early 1880s [after which hallmarking for thimbles became obligatory in Britain].
The thimbles are made of sterling silver unless stated otherwise. I have not been able to find any mention of English gold or brass scenic thimbles.
The commemorative thimbles for Victorian royalty are outside of this study, as well as pictorial thimbles from other countries and from other eras.
Some of the scenes and buildings are unknown/unidentifiable and I can find no help in the thimble literature. I have placed these under "Unknown" and look forward to your help in identifying them, please.
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This listing of Victorian Silver Scenic 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.
Tim Fischer Trains unlimited in the 21st century. 2011
Edwin F Holmes The history of thimbles. 1986
Edwin F Holmes Notes and queries autumn 1990. p.18
Magdalena and William Isbister Exposition thimbles TCI Bulletin, summer 2010. p.1,6-10
Mildred B Jarvis Menai Bridge thimble. TCI Bulletin, summer 2001. p.12
Bridget McConnel The story of the thimble. 1997
Bridget McConnel The train thimble. Thimble Society of London, vol.4, no.3, summer 1991. p.9
Molly Pearce Another royal commemorative. TCI Bulletin, spring 1996. p.10
Molly Pearce Queen Adelaide At Your Fingertips spring 2018. p9-12
Molly Pearce The Thames Tunnel. At Your Fingertips, vol.23, no.3, January 2008. p.12-15
Norma Spicer and Diane Pelham Burn British registered design thimbles. 2003
Norma Spicer Our mystery building – it defies identification. TCI Bulletin, spring 2005. p.8
Norma Spicer Royal connections. At Your Fingertips, vol.22, no.2, September 2006. p.8-9
The Thimble Society [of London] catalogues
Bleasdales Ltd | Ewan | Kit Froebel | Julie Hollick | William Isbister | Mildred Jarvis | Gail and Grahame Jogo | Caroline Meacham-Elegant Arts | Ray Nimmo
Molly Pearce | Judy Pollitt | Norma Spicer | Cathy Wood
© Sue Gowan
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