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  • Nancy Webb

Peace, Love and Sea Glass

The ocean, and in particular the beach, is a very restorative space for me. Whenever I have something on my mind, have the blues, or need a recharge, I head to the beach. The fresh salty air, the hypnotic sound of the crashing waves, and the ever-changing palate of colors of both the water and sky provide the perfect setting for some soul searching. I also walk the beach to keep fit and am lucky that it is a two-blocks away – which makes it convenient to visit at a moment’s notice. I have an additional focus, as a walk on the beach turns into a treasure hunt. I carry a bag for finds that I just had to take home. Shells, driftwood, sea beans, and fossils are all pounced on and taken home. Then there is the piece de resistance of my treasure hunts – Sea Glass.

Is there a difference between Sea Glass and Beach Glass?

The term “Sea Glass” is used interchangeably with “Beach Glass”, but the two are slightly different. Sea Glass – comes from the saline water of the ocean – while Beach Glass comes from a freshwater source and typically has a less frosted appearance which is due to the pH balance differences in salt and fresh water. The terms are often used interchangeably.

Where do Sea Glass and Beach Glass come from?

Sea Glass begins its journey as ordinary glass, mostly old bottles, dishware, and windows. In the old days – before plastic, we didn’t produce much trash, as most things were recycled or used as fuel. What was left was either buried or tossed into the ocean or lakes thinking it would disappear. The trash that wasn’t biodegradable – such as glass - was pushed around by the currents and would end up on the beach and be picked up again by currents and then pushed up on the beach again – sometimes for hundreds of years. The constant tumbling through rock, sand, and the currents over the years, smoothed the glass edges – creating the jewels we hope to find during our treasure hunts on the beach.

What is the History of My Piece of Sea Glass?

Sea glass is so captivating in how long it takes to create and the mystery of what it was before it ended up in the water in the first place. How old is it? What was it? I have listed some general identification points below:

· Bubbles in the glass usually indicate older glass. Automated bottle production was perfected in the 1920s and the number of bubbles in the glass reduced dramatically. A piece riddled with small bubbles could be from the 1700s, while one with several larger bubbles may date from the 1800s.

· Thick shards (pieces) are often older. One hundred years ago, bottles were designed to be reused and had to hold up to the rigors of shipping and cleaning.

· The most common colors – green, brown and clear are from the mass-produced bottles beginning in the 1920s.

· Cobalt Blue goes back to ancient Egyptians. In the late 1800s, most cobalt blues was being used for medicines and poisons and thus were easily recognizable.

· Soft Green was a staple color bottle in the late 1800s and early 1900s mostly for beer, soda, and baking powers. Coca-Cola used this color well beyond the company’s introduction of its own bottle in 1915.

· Forest Green’s peak production began in the 1700s and was used primarily for wine bottles. If you have a shard that is this color is thick and has bubbles – it could indicate a pre-1850 vintage.

· Soft Blue was used in mass-produced bottles in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Shards of window glass, windshields, and other flat glass items can also exhibit a soft blue tone. Pepsi used this color.

· Amber and browns, most likely originated from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. This was the glass of choice for whiskey, beer, bitters, snuff, and Clorox.

· White or Clear glass began production in the late 1800s. Some of the older pieces reverted to a soft lavender as a result of sunlight exposure. During the Civil War ear – this was the glass of choice for medicine. By the 1900s, the demand for clear glass exploded, and was used for food, milk, and sodas.

· Tableware. If you have an unusual color, pattern, or color, the shard could have originated from dishes or Art Glass. To accurately identify your piece – visit antique stores to match to specific patterns.

· Red. This is one of the rarest types of shards as the peak production of the color was primarily from the late 1930s to the 50s. It was used for auto, railroad, and marine warning lights. During the Victorian times – red was used in lamps and stained-glass windows.

Outlook for Sea Glass.

Up until the 1970s, bottles, jars, and pots were made of glass. At that time, they were still being discarded and tossed in the ocean and lakes. It certainly wasn’t a healthy practice from the perspective of the environment, but it does cause pieces of Sea Glass to wash ashore, even to this day. However, with the increasing use of plastic, glass products are simply not as common, so there is a severe decline in the quantity of Sea Glass washing ashore.

Where can I Search for Sea Glass?

There are thousands of beautiful beaches all over the world that are not only good for walking but also double as good hunting grounds for Sea Glass. You could ask Sea Glass Collectors, but quite often, they keep their locations to themselves. As close as I am to the beach in Galveston, Sea Glass is rare here – and one of the main reasons is beach replenishment. Replenishment is used in order to preserve eroding beaches, sand is pumped from offshore and placed on top of the existing beach – covering up shells and Sea Glass alike. You most likely will find Sea Glass on other beaches in Texas, and I know because I have found it.

Some of the best Sea Glass Beaches can be found where people have lived since at least the 1800s that were in close proximity to the Ocean or Large Lakes, including the east and west coast and shores of the Great Lakes of the United States, the shores of northeast England, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Greece, Italy, and Australia.

Want to Learn More?

The North American Sea Glass Association is a non-profit organization that supports Sea and Beach Glass collectors and the beachcombing community through festivals, educational opportunities, and commercial membership. The primary goal of NASGA is to establish a community of informed collectors and sellers of Sea and Beach Glass that are educated on the characteristics and significance of genuine sea glass. If you are a beachcomber and a lover of Sea Glass, I highly recommend that you attend one of their festivals – I did and learned so much and met so many new friends.

Authentic sea glass is not clear or shiny and is not always perfectly shaped. It has a more weathered, natural look and feel. It has been broken down by time and tumbling through the natural aging process in the ocean or lake. Sea glass is precious as each piece is one of a kind, having its own origin, journey, shape, smoothness, and amount of frosting. Kind of like me!

Please note that the majority of the technical information in this post originated from the Pure Sea Glass Identification Deck published by Schiffer Publishing.

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Aug 25, 2022

As I read your article, I could see, hear and smell the ocean, walking beside you, looking for sea glass.

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