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Stories Before 1850. 0215: Anon., The Silver Thimble

Author: Anon.
Title: The Silver Thimble. By the author of Instructive Tales, etc.
Cat. Number: 0215
Date: 1799
1st Edition: 1799?
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: E. Newbery, at the Corner of St. Paul's Church-Yard
Price: 1s (? - from Roscoe 1973: 262)
Pages: 1 vol., 113pp. plus 4 page book-list
Size: 14 x 8.5 cm
Illustrations: Engraved frontispiece
Note: Missing pp.13-14. Two inscriptions are dated 1799 and 1800.

Images of all pages of this book

Page 004 of item 0215

Introductory essay

The adventures of The Silver Thimble, narrated by itself, are designed to teach a variety of moral, and perhaps above all economical, lessons. It began its life, the thimble records, 'At a famous manufacturing town in Yorkshire' (p.4). This was Sheffield perhaps, for we soon discover that the thimble is not all silver, but is steel-topped (which is presumably the basis for its boast that its parents were 'on one side renowned for worth and beauty, on the other for stability and firmness': p.4). In fact it is this steel tip which is responsible for the start of the thimble's adventures. Though unattractive to Miss Amelia Careless, because not so lustrous as fully silver thimbles, the steel tip appeals to Miss Clara Steady because it is so much more durable, and because it will not soil the thread, and she buys it from the peddler (pp.11-12, and see frontispiece). This is the first of the lessons in economy, and others soon follow. The chapter 'Oeconomy the Source of Liberality', for instance (beginning on p.18), contrasts Miss Careless's carelessness with Miss Steady's precautions against letting the dew soil her frock and shoes, and against strawberry juice and cream spoiling her clothes. These small things, the thimble learns, will over time make large savings. The thimble itself, of course, remains throughout the perfect symbol of female domestic economy.

Once the thimble has become the possession of Miss Steady, it can record all her virtues, as well as the vices of others with whom she comes into contact. Eventually even Miss Steady loses it, and it passes into the hands of the honest and hard-working Patty Primrose, and then the lazy and spoiled Miss Smallwit, before being restored to Miss Steady. The book ends with the suggestion that a further volume of the thimble's memoirs will be forthcoming. This never appeared, although a Dublin edition appeared in 1799 and Elizabeth Newbery apparently found the work to be successful enough to merit a second London edition in 1801.

The Silver Thimble. By the author of Instructive Tales, etc. has sometimes been attributed to Sarah Trimmer (see ESTC and Roscoe 1973: 262). This is presumably based on the fact that Sarah Trimmer published a volume of Instructive Tales, collected from her Family Magazine. However, Instructive Tales did not appear until 1810, eleven years after the first publication of The Silver Thimble. Sydney Roscoe, Newbery's bibliographer, records that Peter Opie doubts that The Silver Thimble is Trimmer's work. He suggests that the work is not in her style, and that Newbery deliberately, but falsely, added the hint of Trimmer's authorship to the work as a catchpenny device (Roscoe 1973: 262). This makes no sense given that Trimmer's Instructive Tales appeared only after The Silver Thimble. No other candidates for authorship immediately present themselves. There were several works for children in circulation in the late eighteenth century which bore titles similar to 'Instructive Tales'. Perhaps Newbery simply abbreviated one of them for the title-page of The Silver Thimble. She published, for instance, Three Instructive Tales for little folk ... By C.P. in the last years of the century. It is possible that the author of this - probably Charlotte Palmer - also wrote The Silver Thimble.

Roscoe, Sydney, John Newbery and his Successors, 1740-1814: A Bibliography, Wormsley, Herts., 1973

Roscoe, Sydney, John Newbery and his Successors, 1740-1814: A Bibliography, Wormsley, Herts., 1973

Roscoe, Sydney, John Newbery and his Successors, 1740-1814: A Bibliography, Wormsley, Herts., 1973