Beauty in Beach Glass

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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When folks go to the beach, they usually comb the shore for rocks or seashells. But there is another treasure, though often overlooked, that can be just as precious as the other two. Beach glass is the smooth, frosty product of broken glass left to tumble in the waves and eventually become the jewels of the sea.

I was first introduced to beach glass when we visited Maine back in 2012. Just off the coast there is an island named Islesboro where we were supposed to go on a lobster boat for a day. However, the owner got sick at the last minute and we were left with a whole day of nothing. The owner’s sister decided to be our tour guide and asked if we would like to visit a little known spot where we could find some beach glass. What a treat, the beach was literally covered in beach glass and we were hooked.

Beach glass is sometimes referred to as sea glass although there is a definite distinction. Beach glass is found in fresh water, whereas sea glass is a product of salt water. It is usually formed when sharp edges of broken glass get smoothed by sand, stones, salt and other elements that continually wear on the broken glass until it becomes smooth. The glass itself is nothing magical, but rather it is ordinary glass that finds itself in the oceans, seas, rivers and lakes.

Beach glass can be found all over the world from the beaches of the northeastern United States, California, Hawaii and North Carolina to countries like Bermuda, Mexico, Italy, Spain and even down to Australia. Although folks think of combing ocean beaches and the shorelines of the Great Lakes, this unique glass can also be found on the shores of rivers, lakes and bays. The more currant or wave action, the more top quality the beach glass becomes.

Geological terms like inclusions, clarity, color, facets and purity pertain to sea glass just as they do to gemstones. However, the impurities and inclusions (things inside) that are bad in gemstones are excellent qualities in beach glass.

Beach glass comes in most all colors but some are rarer than others, thus making certain colors more valuable. White sea glass is the most common color, made from clear glass that has been tossed and turned by waves until it is frosted and white. Fire glass is the rarest of sea glass. Fire glass is glass that passes through fires and has inclusions in the glass itself. After that, orange is the rarest because there has been very little orange glass made. A single quality piece of jewelry made from a piece of orange sea glass can easily command $650.

Red sea glass is also hard to come by. Both red and orange glass originally couldn’t be made without a colorant that required real gold as an ingredient. Rare red pieces are referred to as the “rubies of the beach” and come from perfume bottles, tail lights and old beer bottles like Anchor Hocking produced for Schlitz in the 1950s.

Blue beach glass isn’t just blue, but rather many shades of it including soft blue, cornflower, and the aqua used in Mason jars, medicine bottles and decorative pieces. Turquoise is the rarest blue sea glass. The most sought-after and very rare cobalt blue glass is known as the “sapphire” of the beach. This glass is from Milk of Magnesia, Vick’s Vapor Rub and Noxzema bottles.

All in all, beach glass is one of the little-known treasures that can make a trip to the beach a little more rewarding. So, the next time you are walking in the sand, be sure and scavenge the shores for more than just seashells. There is nothing so pretty as a jar of beach glass gleaming in the sun on a windowsill.

Photo by Getty Images/BruceBlock

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