Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Dorcas Thimble

In the 1880s, English jeweler Charles Horner (1837 - 1896) patented a simple idea - he designed a silver thimble "sandwich", made of sterling silver with a strong steel ‘middle’. With silver being such a soft metal so easily pierced by needles, this invention meant no more holes in thimbles!

He registered this steel-cored thimble with his now-famous trade name "Dorcas", and sold many thousands of them throughout Britain and the rest of the world. His thimble was still as pretty as the usual sterling thimbles, yet stood up to heavy use without becoming damaged. Because of Horner's innovation, his business thrived.

Horner did not use the name Dorcas on the first patented thimbles; in the beginning they were only marked with the word PAT (for patent) plus a number (the size). The thimble at right shows this earlier marking. After 1905, the name 'Dorcas' was added to the rim, and the apex of the thimble was slightly flattened.

Horner Dorcas thimbles have been made in all different designs, from fancy florals to the simple and traditional dimpled design. All were made to be used, and they are known to collectors worldwide.

The fancier they are, the higher the price - Dorcas thimbles generally range from around $50 to $150 for very rare ones. Age plays a part too - earlier Dorcas thimbles tend to run a little higher in price than later ones. The Dorcas shown here is $75, and you can find it in my Red Moon antiques shop.

When considering thimbles for purchase, condition is important. Holes, splits and being out-of-round all affect a thimble's value. It's usually not worthwhile to repair a thimble unless it's extremely rare. However, a really rare thimble which is damaged might be worthwhile owning if the price is right. After all, you can enjoy owning if - especially if you didn't have to pay a lot - until you find that perfect example!

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