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Brass Nuremberg Thimble

An Excerpt From Jamestown Rediscovery 1994-2004 by William M. Kelso with Beverly Straube:

Some tools traditionally used by tailors have been excavated from early contexts within James Fort and may relate to the presence of the first seven tailors. These include thimbles, needles, straight pins, pressing irons, and bodkins.

Fourteen thimbles have been recovered from the excavations within James Fort. They represent the two types depicted by the 17th-century chronicler of material culture, Randle Holme1--the ring or open-ended thimble and those with closed ends. The word thimble is derived from the medieval English word thymel or thuma meaning thumb or thick finger2. This reflects its purpose as a protection for the finger in pushing a needle through fabric or leather.

Eleven of the James Fort thimbles are made of brass and six of them were recovered from the same pre-1610 context in the cellar fill of Structure 165. These all appear to be of Nuremberg manufacture. By the middle of the 16th century, the city of Nuremberg in Germany prevailed in the production of small brass objects, particularly thimbles. This dominance is primarily attributable to the discovery of a high-quality brass, produced by alloying copper and zinc, "which created a smooth bright brass of an even texture."3 Also, the Nuremberg craftsmen developed a technique by the end of the 16th century of making two-part thimbles. This simplified the process of decorating the thimbles, as it could be done while they were in flat sheets. The sides were then rolled onto cylinders and soldered together, the cap similarly attached on the top edge. The prior technique had involved heating the brass and punching it into molds. Any decoration then had to be applied by hand to the molded thimble.

Nuremberg thimbles typically are tall and narrow with a flat or only slightly rounded top. They are punched by hand around the sides in a spiral that continues over the top. Often, these thimbles bear decorative stamping around the border and/or maker's marks in the way of initials or symbols. So far, these marks have not been linked to individual makers. This brass Nuremberg thimble was found in the bulwark trench of James Fort. There is a maker's mark in the symbol of a bell just above the decorative band of foliage.

1 Randle Holme, The Academy of Armory & Blazon. The Third Book (Chester: Printed for the Author, 1688), 284, 290.
2 Bridget McConnel, The Collector's Guide to Thimbles, (London: Bracken Books, 1996), 6.
3 Ibid., 10.

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