My interest in thimbles goes back to my childhood years. Grandma Hankins taught me to sew and embroider, and her thimble was essential in pushing needle through cloth. I found it intriguing to play with as well.
Placing a metal cone on my puny finger was as close to being a robot as I’d get. The device made a distinct clicking sound when tapped on wood. That was painfully annoying to those around me, especially mom. Most likely back then, I wished grandma had nine more of the toys.
These days I view a thimble (when turned upside down) as a miniature vase. Add some tiny flowers and it’d look great sitting in an oak curio cabinet. I might’ve collected thimbles at an early age had it not been for my male friends. It’s easy to imagine the harsh words they would’ve had if I asked,
“Would you like to see my thimble collection?”
Because of such I stuck to rocks, comic books, marbles, coins, and other valuables that normal guys are suppose to own.
The origin of the thimble goes way back. Archaeologists have discovered crude sewing tools used by cavemen in various locations. Their archaic thimbles made of stone or shell were utilized to sew leather together. Animal hide clothing was extremely popular back then. The thimbles of today were invented around 1695 in England. They were originally called a thumble.
Many Victorian era thimbles are ornate with intricate designs and inlaid jewels. Initials of owners were exquisitely engraved into soft metal. Thimbles were extremely popular as gifts, especially to young women about to marry. Solid gold and silver thimbles were not uncommon. Today these small antiques made of precious metal bring a premium among collectors.
The thimble that my mother owned was not fancy. It was not manufactured of gold or silver. The plain and simplistic device appears to be common aluminum. Regardless of that, she used it many years without begging dad for a newer shiny model.
My wife’s thimble is much the same as mom’s. Joleen’s owned the same one for 48 years. Her parents gave it to her, including a Singer sewing machine, as high school graduation presents. I presented her with a wood and cloth sewing basket for our Christmas four years before we married. She still has it.
Sutphen Mill Christian Church is located near Chapman, Kansas. The church began services around 1872, and their small sanctuary with distinct steeple has been added to over the years. My wife’s dad and mom were married there in 1952. I first saw the place in 1975. Joleen and I attend services at Sutphen Mill whenever we’re visiting.
In 1976, I purchased a metal detector in Alaska to be used in exploring old Kansas home sites while on vacation. On my second trip to The Sunflower State, I was able to put it to good use. Driving to an old abandoned farm called the “Wackly Place”, the property was owned by Joleen’s Uncle Jay & Aunt Wava Schweitzer. They were kind enough to let me dig around to my heart’s content. At that time the Wackly’s were long gone with their limestone house and barn reduced to rubble.
I slowly moved about the grassy perimeter getting all kinds of beeps with my machine. Most if not all hits turned out to be rusty cans and metal. Hot, sweaty, and tired, I was ready to call it quits until a signal from my detector rang out stronger than any other. Digging down about 6-inches, I uncovered a glass piggy bank with metal lid. After some cleaning in soap and water the lid finally came free. It was thin and delicate from all the rust.
Inside were several Kansas gas ration tokens dating back to WWII. The tokens are not extremely valuable yet the history behind them is. The Wackly brothers owned a wheat harvest business during this war. Fuel to keep their operation going would’ve been as valuable as gold. It’s likely the piggy bank and tokens belonged to them. How these items came to be buried will always remain a mystery.
In 2017, Joleen and I made another trip to Kansas to see her mother and brother. Near the top of my list on things to do, I wanted to metal detect around the old Sutphen Mill church.
It was the last day we were to be there and I’d yet to explore church grounds. Deciding to skip supper in pursuit of treasure, I headed over and put the White’s metal detector to work. A couple of hours were wastefully spent pulling bits and pieces of discarded metal from the front lawn area. I placed the garbage into a bag I always carry. Dark clouds began to form and I was ready to pack up and leave. Kansas lightning will kill a fellow faster than any other.
Spotting an old limestone retaining wall near the rear of the structure, I decided to take one last stab at finding something of significance before electricity started flying. Ancient stone walls are notorious for hiding coins and tokens. Evidently people would sit or climb on them and lose valuables from their pockets in the process.
Within a few seconds I had a strong signal. My metal detector screamed like a wounded banshee indicating something of value was in the ground. The coin indicator showed it to be a silver quarter.
According to an attached depth meter, the object was near 8-inches down, directly beside the wall. It took several minutes of digging with thunder exploding over my head before I reached the booty. Spotting something dull and definitely metal, I excitedly pulled it out. The object appeared to be a chunk of aluminum. Brushing off dirt and grass I began seeing the distinct outline of a sewing thimble. The artifact was smashed flat from being in the ground so many years.
Hauling it to safe confines within my pants pocket, I was able to use a rounded dowel to bring things back to life. The thimble was definitely made of silver, yet it was not fancy like others I’d come across. There were no initials or jewels adorning the outside. A frugal farm lady most likely owned it.
My wife believes church women sat on that wall while sewing and talking. The area is still used for picnics and probably was back then. Evidently the thimble was accidentally dropped by one of them and it fell into a crack between wall and ground. It remained there quite a spell until I happened along.
Just like the glass piggy bank and gas tokens excavated from Wackly’s old farm, this thimble has no significant value where dollars are concerned. It does possess special meaning to me. My fingers were the first to touch it after it was lost.
It’s easy for me to visualize a Kansas pioneer using her thimble, needle, thread, and cloth to make all the family clothing; including Sunday dress for herself. I can also hear this terribly upset woman telling her weary husband late one evening as he crouched over cornbread and beans,
“Honey, my birthday’s only a few days away. I could use a new thimble!”