HASN'T been much lately to keep a Baltimorean in stitches...

salmagundi

March 09, 1994

HASN'T been much lately to keep a Baltimorean in stitches, but hope is on the horizon. Hold the line against whatever ails or worries -- come Aug. 4 through 6, Thimble Collectors International will be here to charm and distract.

This will be the first time TCI, founded in 1978, has convened here. Shirley Newton, the membership chairman, says TCI is almost a thousand strong, and includes a fair number of males. There is, after all, the profession of thimblewright.

Thimbles go back quite a way -- Mary H. Bready, who is good on derivations, notes that the original word would be thumb-bell (as in diving bell). Then, unlike us, the ancients didn't wear thimbles on the middle finger? Some modern tailors shield their thumb. The old Romans had thimbles. Think Shakespeare, think thimbles (twice in "The Taming of the Shrew").

On whichever digit, many an old one (and many a modern) comes in gold or silver, or elegantly decorated. TCI says a Meissen china thimble auctioned at Sotheby's recently for about $5,000.

Ms. Newton, who lives in Bermuda Run, N.C., harks back to the 1950s, "when you could find silver ones in antique shops for $1 or $2 -- now they bring $65 or $75."

To be sure, the thimble has been put to various uses, over the years. Here in Maryland, someone partaking of the native whiskey did so, occasionally, out of a thimble. Other times, out of something larger.

When the biennial convention assembles here, once it's August, and dealers display their thimbles and other sewing wares, let the 300 or so delegates have one small caution. Baltimore is really a very moral and proper place; just go a bit slow, should some street artist offer you a wager involving three thimbles and a pea.

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