Nuremberg Thimble

Project details

  • Object number –
  • Material – Brass
  • Place of Origin – Nuremberg, Germany
  • Date – 17th century
  • Context – James Fort southeast bulwark
  • Location – Archaearium
  • Category – Dress & Personal

There was a tailor in the first group of Jamestown colonists in 1607, and six more tailors arrived with the next group of settlers, in January 1608. Repair of cloth was an important job in the frontier settlement. Fourteen thimbles have been recovered from early James Fort features, and other tools of their trade such as needles, pressing irons, and straight pins have been found at the fort site.

The word thimble is derived from the medieval English word thymel or thuma, meaning thumb or thick finger. This reflects its purpose as a protection for the finger in pushing a needle through fabric or leather. Often archaeologists find thimbles crushed or badly corroded, but the robust quality of the brass helped preserve this particular artifact.

This 16th-century thimble was made in Nuremberg, Germany. Eleven of the James Fort thimbles are made of brass, and six of them were recovered from the same pre-1610 context. These all appear to be of Nuremberg manufacture. By the middle of the 16th century, Nuremberg prevailed in the production of small brass objects because they could make a high-quality brass by alloying copper and zinc. 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 the metal was still in flat sheets. The sides were then rolled onto cylinders and soldered together, the cap similarly attached on the top edge. Nuremberg thimbles typically are tall and narrow with a flat or only slightly rounded top. On this thimble there is a maker’s mark in the symbol of a bell just above the decorative band of foliage.