I can see why these cute silver animal pincushions from the Victorian and Edwardian eras have become so collectable. They’re beautifully sculpted, precious but affordable and don’t take up too much space.
However, a tomato pincushion on a Victorian mantelpiece was much more common.
Tomato plants have always had a reputation for evil in that they are part of the deadly nightshade family and were thought to be toxic for many years after they first arrived in Europe from South America. The Victorians believed that placing a fresh tomato on the mantelpiece of your new home would ward of evil and bring good fortune. Of course, in those days tomatoes had a finite season so if you wanted one in winter you would be a bit stuck – hence fabric and paper ones were created as substitutes. These clearly developed into pincushions because they were just the handiest place to stick the odd pin found lying around in the parlour. Many later designs had a little strawberry hanging off the main tomato. This was filled with emery powder so old and rusty pins could be made good as new just by poking them into the strawberry a few times. So clever.
For more about the history of pincushions see: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/sewing/pin-cushions