Sea glass is fragments of glass that made their way into oceans, lakes, rivers, or streams and were weathered and tossed around by water and sand until they found their way back to the shore years later in a changed frosty and thicker gem-like forms.
Sea Glass or Beach Glass
Generally, most sea glass enthusiasts and collectors call glass from oceans and other bodies of salt water sea glass and glass from fresh water sources beach glass. Sometimes, however, the terms are used interchangeably.
The Irony of Sea Glass
While much of the biodegradable trash dumped in or near water bodies disintegrates over time, glass, on the other hand, tends to break into small chunks or shards and change in its composition.
The irony of sea glass is that it usually begins as unwanted and discarded trash tossed or dumped in or near salt water bodies. The chemical conditions and movement of the water and sand tumble the glass over time similarly to how a rock tumbler turns stones into gems. These conditions change the glass physically and chemically, so glass that was once shiny or dull changes into thicker rounded edged, frosty shards of sea glass.
The Journey From Glass to Sea Glass
It’s estimated that the process of transforming discarded glass into beautiful sea glass takes approximately fifteen to over sixty years.
The time it takes to turn a piece of glass into sea glass varies depending on its location. Usually beaches that have more wave activity transform glass into sea glass more quickly than other beaches with relatively little wave activity.
Sources of Sea Glass
Most sea glass comes from discarded beer and soda bottles in common colors such as green, brown, and white. After automation in the early 20th century, the production of glass increased. Consequently, the amount of glass dumped into the oceans increased but only up until the 1960s and 1970s when conservationists realized the importance of recycling and the effects of polluting the environment.
Rare Sea Glass
Most rare sea glass comes from glass produced before automation. Many rare shards of sea glass in colors such as orange, red, yellow, pink, and turquoise likely come from tableware, vases, glass car lights, and artwork. Unlike most drinking bottles that come from white, green, and brown glass, many sea glass shards that come in rare colors were not mass produced.
Black Sea Glass
In the 1700s and 1800s dark green and dark amber bottles were produced for mostly liquor and medicine. The dark colored glass protected the contents in the bottle from light. These rare pieces of black sea glass are hard to identify because they look similar to rocks when they’re lying on the sand.You can tell if you’ve found black sea glass by placing it in front of a bright light. A dark olive green or dark amber glow will appear through the glass.
Depression Glass Sea Glass
During the Depression in the United States, “Depression Glass” was introduced with thinner glass and patterns in soft pastel colors such as yellow, lime, blue, gray, and pink. These colors are rare too.
Sea Glass Comes from Other Things Too
Sea glass also comes from other things such as perfume bottles, warning lights, bleach bottles, marbles, medicine bottles, poison bottles, and windows. Anything that was glass and found its way into the ocean can become sea glass.
Sea Glass Crafts
Many artists make sea glass into jewelry. Other creative craft makers use sea glass for a number of things like wreathes, mosaics wind chimes, ornaments, and candle holders. Many collectors consider sea glass more precious than gemstones.
Sea Glass Is Disappearing
One of the main reasons sea glass is becoming so valuable besides its beauty is its diminishing supply. As society has become more concerned about protecting oceans and other bodies of water from pollution, less glass and trash are dumped along the shores or into the water. In addition, the production of plastic for containers instead of glass has reduced the amount of sea glass.
Another reason sea glass is disappearing is people are collecting it from shores all over the world. Over the past decade sea glass collecting has been becoming more and more popular. Many popular sea glass beaches have been picked over and very little if any sea glass remains.
The Value of Sea Glass
There are several factors that affect the value of sea glass. The main thing that determines value is its color. The rarer the color and the older the piece, the more value it has to collectors.
In addition, the more frosted a shard is, the more value it has to collectors. However, some unfrosted pieces found in light surf conditions or some found in fresh water are valuable too.
Some pieces of sea glass have designs from being entangled and embedded with other objects in the water, and these pieces usually have more value to collectors.
Sea glass with unique patterns or markings and heavier thickness tends to be more valuable as well as bottle stoppers, buttons, marbles, bottle necks and rounded bottle bottoms. Anything distinctive about a piece of sea glass may increase its value.
Sea Glass Locations
Sea glass is found along many beaches around the world. Anywhere there is some kind of moving water, sea glass can usually be found. Some areas have more sea glass than others. One of the best places to find sea glass is along rocky coastlines with good wave activity.
Some places popular for sea glass hunting include the northern coast of California, the east coast of the United States, Bar Island in Bar Harbor, Maine, Kaui, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Bermuda.
Fort Bragg, California is considered to have the highest concentration of sea glass in the world.
How to Find Sea Glass
The best time to find sea glass is one to two hours before and after low tide. Simply walk in a zig-zag pattern between the high tide line and the water.
Many collectors say they find more sea glass on the beach during the first low tide after a storm.
Difference Between Real and Manufactured Sea Glass
Real sea glass that was tumbled in the ocean will have pit or nick marks in its frosted covering and have rounded edges. Manufactured or fake sea glass is typically more smooth, has sharp edges and has less frosting. Artificially manufactured sea glass is also usually more symmetrical, and its color may appear to good to be true.
Take a look at the photos below. Fake sea glass is on the left, and real sea tumbled sea glass is on the right. After you’ve been collecting sea glass for a while, it will be a lot easier to tell the difference between real and fake sea glass. You’ll also be able to tell the difference by the way it feels in your hand; however, as sea glass becomes more valuable, the production of fake sea glass is becoming more perfected. If you’re considering buying sea glass, be sure to purchase it from a reputable seller.
History of Sea Glass
Sea glass has been around since humans started making glass before 2000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, but most sea glass today likely comes from the 19th and 20th centuries.
How to Identify and Date Sea Glass
The best way to identify and date sea glass is to study the patterns and colors of glass. You can do searches on ebay, for example, for Depression glass or vintage glass. There are also glass museums around the country.
You can also check out Richard LaMott’s book Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems. The book has the most information about sea glass and its history. You can find the book at Amazon, or you can check out the affiliate link below. See why this book is so popular among sea glass enthusiasts and why it gets so many 5-star reviews.