“Just a thimble full” might be your cocktail order, but when it comes to information on the subject of collectible thimbles, you’ll find you’re looking at a barrel full! But you’ll need to go back at least two decades to find the most informative books on the subject.
Usually we’re not too excited about out-of-print searches, but E.F. Holmes’ Thimbles and A History of Thimbles (privately published, 1976 and 1985) are worth searching for. You’ll get more text and history than you’ll get illustrations (and no value guide!), but the books provide the basic information off which newer thimble and needlework tool guides are written. Ditto for J.J. von Hoelle’s Thimble Collectors Encyclopedia (privately published, 1983), which uses the dictionary style of information (e.g. Waite-Thresher: manufacturer of thimbles from Providence, R.I.).
When “Warman” (as in price guide) was still a publisher by their own name, they produced Zalkin’s Guide to Thimbles and Needlework Tools (Warman Publishing Co., 1988). We still like this book for its combination of illustrations and brief but substantiated descriptions or captions. The photos are clear, though mostly B-W (not necessarily a drawback in thimbles books, as most thimbles pictured are metal, with little colored adornment), and while the price guide is dated, this is a book you might want to pick up before it goes the way of Holmes, VonHoelle, and the work of our next author.
When Wallace-Homestead was still an independent book company (based in our hometown of Des Moines), they also did a series of three books on thimbles. Myrtle Lundquist’s The Book of 1000 Thimbles, Thimble Treasury, and Thimble Americana (Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 1970, 1975, and 1981) were in the first two volumes published in hardcover (and at an outrageous price of $10.95 for a less than 100-page book, which at the time did nothing to encourage sales except to members of thimble groups and the serious collector). These were helpful books, showing in total more than 3,000 different thimbles in all manner of material, from the rarest of gold examples to contemporary plastic models. With current revived interest in sewing tools, these books could use a re-package and re-print today. We doubt, however, with the current corporate structure of publishing they will be.
An available and accessible title is our final recommendation. Antique & Collectible Thimbles And Accessories (Collector Books, revised values 1997) is the quintessential collector guide of today, a full-color pictorial pricing guide. The photos are indeed excellent, pictured at least 200% actual size of the thimble to show detail (all the other books we have mentioned utilize actual-size photos or smaller), with minimal commentary. The accessories section is kind of an add-on, not extensive, but the variety of materials and age/value ranges of the thimbles shown is good. Buy this book but keep looking for the others.