It may have slept at the bottom of the sea in a deteriorating hulk until rolled in a storm tide and set free to roam until it’s tumbled and ground on a gravel or rock beach, to float again and travel to yet another shore. Its journey could last years, decades, even centuries, until finally someone strolling along a surf-washed beach catches a bit of color out of the corner of their eye and bends down to pick up a piece of worn glass.
We’ve always called these bits beach glass, but apparently the experts differentiate between glass found on freshwater shores and saltwater shores. The former is called beach glass, while the latter is sea glass.
The best times to look for sea glass are during spring tides and the first low tide after a storm.
Inside and outside my house I have jars, glasses, and vases filled with sea glass that I’ve put in my pockets after an amble along the shore. Everyone around here has their own stash. Some plan to make jewelry with their glass treasures, others just like to collect them. I know one woman who collected so much sea glass that she put it in a five gallon bucket.
The most common colors are green, brown, and white (clear). Uncommon colors are purple (amethys), citron, and opaque white. Extremely rare colors include gray, pink, teal, very dark olive green, yellow, turquoise, orange, red, and black.
Over the years, wandering remote Alaskan beaches, I’ve found almost all of these colors, from the common to the rare. And what I like to do is make sea glass candles with them.
Some people who make sea glass candles glue the glass to a jar. But because many of my pieces are rare, I prefer not to fix them permanently. Besides, I like a “floating” look that harkens back to where they originated. To acquire this look I put a smaller jar inside of a Mason canning jar and then fit the pieces of sea glass in between the jars.
As I assemble the candle holder I try to vary the colors and fit them as closely together as possible–it can take several tries, dumping them out and starting over. Using a pair of tweezers to maneuver the pieces of glass to different places is helpful.
Handling the glass, some of it frosted from years of journeying, others with edges barely rubbed down, I like to imagine where each piece might have come from and what it had originally been and how it acquired its color.
For instance, the uncommon purple (amethyst) sea glass was originally from clear glass that had manganese in it. The glass turns purple over time as the manganese is exposed to sunlight and sea action. This sort of glass saw its peak production during the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Red glass, extremely rare and highly prized by collectors (some consider it more valuable than diamonds), comes mainly from the Victorian to Depression years. One reason why it’s considered so valuable, besides its beauty, is that the chemical process to make it is complicated and expensive so that the production of red glass has been limited in the last fifty years. Most red glass you’ll find on the beach, therefore, is rare and antique.
Black glass can be even older, and was common aboard the ships of the early explorers, including Columbus. The thicker the black sea glass you find, the more likelihood that it could be from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Black sea glass is actually a dark brown or dark green, which you can see when its held up to a strong light. Weathering and oxidation, along with UV light interacting with metallic oxides and chemicals in the glass, not to mention the effects of seawater on it, are all factors that turn the glass black. It can look like a beach rock and is easy to overlook.
So, the next time you’re walking along the water’s edge and see a fragment of glass, you may find yourself holding a piece of history, highly valued by collectors around the world. Or you may find a common piece that you can add to your sea glass candle holder. Whatever the case, enjoy your treasure from the sea.
The background in the above photo is a print of one of my sister’s paintings. For more of her art see www.madartdesigns.com.
The Middle Sisterlink
4/22/2016 08:31:12 pm
My beautiful mom-by-marriage has some — a very few — stems of that precious red glass that she received before WWII. I’m always afraid to use it because it cannot be replaced. Now, if I should ever break a piece, I will have to figure out how to let the sea soften the broken edges and return it to me! The candle is beautiful. You are giving me ideas . . . .
4/23/2016 08:42:28 am
Thank you for the comment, Middle Sister. My mom had a beautiful red vase when we were kids that my little brothers accidentally broke. She buried it on the beach below our house to let it become “cultured” beach glass. One of these days, nearly thirty years later, we should go back there and do some prospecting! 🙂
P.S. For those who have asked: Middle Sister is not my sister the artist. Middle Sister is a writer who does wonderful reviews of books, a lot of them mysteries. You can find her website at www.middlesisterreviews. com.
4/23/2016 09:20:21 am
Loved this. The candle and art are both beautiful. I have an orange seaglass necklace that a former boss gave me. When she told me it was seaglass, I knew it was a treasure. I feel very fortunate to have my piece of the sea.
4/23/2016 09:34:53 am
Nancy, I’ve seen how beautiful sea glass jewlery can be so I can imagine how lovely your necklace is. I’m glad you’ve got a piece of the sea.
When I get enough sea glass together, I’m hoping to make a lamp shade our of it.
4/23/2016 09:53:48 am
Excellent idea. My aunt made hanging lamps out of sea shells and pictures of flowers out of shells
4/23/2016 09:38:12 am
P.S. I forgot to mention in regard to your sea glass necklace that orange is considered the rarest of all sea glass! You have a real treasure there.
4/23/2016 09:57:44 am
It has tiny brown beads and just slips on. Who knew it would be rare too. I fondle it often, wear it sometimes.
4/28/2016 12:17:38 pm
Tara, your sea glass candle is beautiful. I can see why you would want to make a lamp using sea glass. When light shines through it, it’s especially gorgeous. It was interesting to learn the history of the different colored glass.
Best wishes. I would be interested in seeing your lamp when it is finished.
4/28/2016 12:45:21 pm
Thanks, Susan. I thought it was interesting that we both like to craft with glass. Would you mind sharing the website that shows your stained glass lamps here? They’re so beautiful!
And, yes, I’ll probably do a blog about it when I finally get around to doing the sea glass lampshade. I need to gather more beach glass of the right shape and size first. But that’s half the fun.
4/28/2016 01:41:52 pm
Here’s the link for my stained glass art post. I may also repost it to my website in early May.
4/28/2016 12:47:47 pm
P.S. Does anyone out there know why a brick would have the word COW deeply engraved in it? I found this brick as a child when we lived at the old, burned and abandoned cannery that was last operated in the 1930s. I’d love to know anything about it.
4/28/2016 02:24:45 pm
I tried to reply to your post about the link you give above, Susan, but the app wouldn’t let me, so I’m trying again as a separate comment.
For those reading my blog: Susan Bernhardt writes cozy mysteries, and the site she’s linked is a delightful one that is dedicated to cozies and those who write them. You can find descriptions of Susan’s well-written novels at this site. She takes delight in torturing her readers with mouthwatering descriptions of pastries and other delicacies so be forewarned.
5/10/2016 08:54:04 am
I love beach glass (sea glass, for you!). When part of my job was to actually collect the water samples from several beaches throughout the state, I would collect so much glass as I walked along the shores! Unfortunately, it got lost during one of our moves and now it’s gone. I think it’s a wonderful thing to collect! Candles is a good idea for it.
5/10/2016 09:20:37 am
Jenni, I feel for you, losing all your beach glass. (Yes, we call it that, even though we’re supposed to say sea glass!) I hope you get a chance to gather more again at some point. It’s plentiful here. Every time I go for a walk I find at least one piece, usually the more common brown and green. We live on a very busy intersection of Alaska’s Inside Passage, or Marine Highway as it is also called. All kinds of boaters go by and they think nothing of tossing their bottles and other glass overboard. Happily, their litterbug tendencies get recycled by the rocks and ocean and then by us when we collect the pieces. 🙂
1/17/2022 12:18:47 am
Very much appreciated. Thank you for this excellent article. Keep posting!
If you are looking for coupon codes and deals just visit coupon plus deals dot com