The enduring treasure of Pandora's box
Needlework cases, the standby of Victorian ladies, have soared in value. Wyn Carr reports
Wednesday 25 September 1996
The growing collectability of such ephemera led Christie's of South Kensington, the auction house, to create a new sale category earlier this summer entirely devoted to thimbles and needlework tools and to include it as a regular event in their calendar.
Christie's decision was vindicated by a bid of pounds 5,520 recently achieved for an early-19th-century fitted sewing casket, originally estimated to fetch pounds 2-3,000.
The red Morocco-bound box included not only a full set of sewing tools but also portrait miniatures of the German girl who owned the workbox and the fiance who gave it to her as an engagement present, plus a love poem painted on to a silk ribbon, a once treasured token from the young fiance, which must have helped the sale price.
In the same sale, a Piercy's Patent silver-topped tortoiseshell thimble decorated with a gold coat of arms, estimated at pounds 6-800, went for pounds 2,415, and an Art Nouveau chatelaine belt clip hung with a needlecase, retractable pencil, scissors, thimble holder and a whistle, which was expected to fetch up to pounds 300, soared to pounds 920.
Pin cushions, sewing clamps, wool winders, spool holders and novelty tape measures in a range of forms - from a brass pig to a coffee grinder - were included in the sale.
The rise in value of workboxes and their tools has been meteoric. Until the Eighties it was still possible to buy an empty Victorian workbox for pounds 20 and fit it out over time with all the tools it needed. Ivory and mother- of-pearl reel holders, old silver thimbles, needlecases and embroidery scissors with elaborately chased handles could be found on the oddment trays in antiques shops.
However, though prices have risen considerably, gradually fitting out a box is still a satisfying way to start a collection. A late Victorian box containing a modest range of tools is likely to fetch pounds 450 upwards at auction.
Today the silver items are more likely to be found in a specialist sale, or included in the auction houses' regular sales of objets de vertu.
Thimble hunting can mean competing with specialist collectors, who may be members of one of the number of thimble collecting clubs here, in the US and on the Continent.
They are the buyers who will snap up the antique gold, silver, enamelled, jewelled and commemorative examples and the graduated sets of tiny thimbles made for children, three or four nestling inside one another, the smallest one made for a five-year-old just learning to sew.
But a Victorian thimble for adding to a box rather than to a collection can still be bought for less than pounds 20 from the enormous range of silver, brass and porcelain ones which are to be found.
Thimble cases were made from a wide variety of materials: glass, metal, horn, bone, vegetable ivory, tortoiseshell, beadwork and polished wood which was often decorated with a print of a holiday resort, a castle or a cathedral.
Intricately carved or made in a wide range of shapes from the popular acorn to barrels, baskets, shells and animal heads, they were often sold as holiday souvenirs, but are not as easy to find as thimbles. Nor are needlecases, which at the turn of the last century were also made in fanciful shapes such as peapods, church spires, parasols and quivers of arrows.
Until the beginning of the l9th century tape-measures had to be handmade, the inches being carefully inked on to a length of ribbon which was wound on to a spindle and kept in a little box made of carved ivory or wood.
Silk thread was wound on to discs of ivory wood or mother-of-pearl. Matching reel holders joined by a metal or ivory pin, or small barrels with handles or disc tops for winding out the thread, held bobbins of cotton. Cakes of beeswax used for strengthening and smoothing thread were kept in tiny decorative boxes.
Even the average workbox was a Pandora's chest of ornamental trifles. There were marble eggs for cooling the hands, steel or ivory stilettos for eyelet embroidery, crochet hooks, tatting shuttles and needlework clamps shaped like birds or fishes.
`Antique Needlework Tools and Embroideries' by Nerylla Taunton will soon be published by the Antique Collectors Club at pounds 25. Christie's of South Kensington will be holding needlework sales on 22 October and 3 December.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
- 1 Rihanna 'nude pictures' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 What are your fingerprint words?
- 5 Gary Lineker involved in Twitter row after presenter rubbishes claims he will be warned by BBC over foul-mouthed tweets
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
iJobs Money & Business
£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...
Day In a Page
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green