Building a Sea Glass Collection

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So, you’ve fallen in love with sea glass and want to begin a collection. Or you are a long-time collector and want to expand your collection into sea glass genres not available on local beaches. Well, there are a number of ways to do this.

Travel. Trade. Gift. Purchase.

As a matter of preference, I’d choose travel anytime over the other options because you gather up remarkable experiences along with pocket treasures. But sometimes travel isn’t possible. Trading or gifting sea glass are the next best options to me because it means you’ve taken the time to connect and build relationships with other beachcombers who are willing to share their bounty. You have all taken the most fundamental lesson of beachcombing to heart: to share as freely and abundantly with others as the beach does with you.

Photo by P. Garbutt
Photo courtesy of P. Garbutt

Then there’s the fourth strategy:  purchasing sea glass.  This gives you access to a wide supply of sea glass, some of which can be rare, exotic, very challenging to find, or all three! But purchasing sea glass can be laden with problems.

The Challenges of Buying Sea Glass

It can be an expensive proposition. Some sea glass shards sell for upwards of $100 or more. Much of what is currently for sale is of negligible quality, which calls into question two things: provenance and authenticity. For instance, some sea glass vendors don’t find the sea glass they sell. Instead, they purchase it from other beachcombers, or from other sea glass vendors who re-sell stock they may have previously purchased from someone else.  I rarely purchase sea glass from a re-seller because who knows who they got it from and where, in turn, their seller got it from, and so on.

Which leads us to the second issue: authenticity. The sea glass market is currently flooded, not only with negligible shards of found sea glass, but also manufactured shards of fake sea glass and tumbled broken glass.  Essentially, you could be paying big bucks for ‘air.’ Now, if you have money to burn, don’t care about the symbolic transformation from “something broken into something beautiful,” or are only seeking a ‘pretty-pretty,’ then genuine-ness is not an issue for you. Bottom line, it’s your money to spend.  I just wouldn’t spend too much on the fake stuff. Instead, have more fun and spend less money by buying a tumbler and some wine in colorful bottles. After a few hours of ’wine-ing,’ smash the bottles, toss them in the tumbler and voila! ‘Sea glass,’ just not the true kind. But who cares?

But…! If you do care about the integrity of the product, remember:

The only true way to know the provenance or authenticity of a shard of sea glass is to find it yourself.  Period.

Other than that, it’s pretty much a crapshoot unless you know and trust the beachcomber or vendor selling the product.

 Do Your Due Diligence

So as you wade into the muddy waters of sea glass purchasing, do your due diligence. Know your product!

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Let me pass along a few pointers. But first, some caveats:

  1. I am not telling you what to spend your money on. I’m only telling you what I would spend my money on in terms of building a signature sea glass collection.
  2. I am not suggesting that the items you buy be perfect. I just want you to have the best opportunity to get the best value for your money.
  3. I am not providing you with a definitive list of sea glass vendors. I am only providing you with the names of beachcomb buddies and reputable sea glass vendors I personally know and/or from whom I have purchased glass. This is a very small list. But you won’t be disappointed or misled. They are the real deal.

Nothing, nothing, nothing takes the place of experience and familiarity with the items you seek to purchase.  There is a lot of ‘schlock’ out there, especially on today’s social media ‘show-n-tell’ sites. As a potential buyer, it is prudent to be able to differentiate quality shards from negligible ones.  Great ways to learn include studying friends’ collections; conferring with experienced beachcombers; and joining and studying the content on sea glass group sites on Facebook and other websites (i.e. like www.drbeachcomb.com!)

It also helps to have a good idea of sea glass sources, genres and sub-categories, along with knowledge of the general characteristics of a shard of true sea glass. So below I offer up a list you can refer to along with generally agreed upon characteristics of true sea glass, and what could be considered a rare item within specific genres.

Sea Glass Sources help you determine the gaps in your collection

General (not definitive) Overview :

Vessel: comes from anything that held something – liquid, food and dirt (as in planters), including bottles, bowls, glasses, vases, etc.  Found worldwide, some of the best vessel sea glass comes from productive beaches throughout the Caribbean (Bahamas, Puerto Rico), UK, Italy, Spain, Canadian Maritimes and the US east coast.Vessel glass

– Utility: fishing floats, codd marbles, game marbles, insulators, bottle stoppers, safety glass, glass floor and wall tiles, etc. Utility glass

– Artisan: glass used in artistic renderings such as murals, chandeliers, paperweights, vases. Shards are oftentimes infused with many colors. Sea glass from Davenport, CA. and Murano, Italy are two of the more famous repositories of artisan glass.Artisan glass

– End-of-the Day Glass: Glass leavings purposefully discarded by glass manufacturing plants. Shorelines in the Sunderland region of northeast England are one of the most productive regions for finding this type of sea glass. End of the day

Sea Glass Sub-Categories:

UV Glass: Glass with uranium content that glows an iridescent green, purple, orange or pink under a black light.

Opalescent Glass: Has a milky, luminous opal-like glimmery quality when shifted back and forth.

Fundy Glass: Opaque but lacks serious frosting. Edges are worn but not necessarily smoothed. Common to areas of low impact waves. (i.e. Bay of Fundy/Passamaquoddy Bay).

Black Glass:  Some of the oldest sea glass on the beach, dating back to the 16th century, black glass is really a very deep amber or olive green, though later glass can be a deep brown or purple.  Some black-looking seaglass may even be mottled with colors, such as those found along Sunderland shorelines.

Black glass
Shards of Fundy vessel black sea glass multies
Seaham Black Glass
Sunderland shoreline’s magic black glass multi’s

Slag Sea Glass: furnace-incinerated glass trash, or a glass residue/by-product from incinerating something else (i.e. sugar cane). Found in only a few regions worldwide.Slag

Hawaiian Slag: Found on beaches throughout the state, althought it seems Big Island beaches produce the prettiest slag. Also known as ‘Sugar Jade” or “Hamakua Jade,” colors range from black, deep blue, turquoise, green, a creamy jade to pale white.   Shards are often worn down to smooth lovely orbs.Hamakua Jade

UK Slag: Colors include a pale green cream, opalescent white or light blue, dark blue with veins of light blue or cream, and ‘Mr. Mint’s’ famous  “Dragon Eggs,” a shimmery black glass surrounded by white silica crystals.Sunderland Slag opalescent dragon eggs galaxy blues

Bonfire Glass: Glass that has been melted via a bonfire, house/ship fire, etc.

Sea Gems: Small, wave/sand-worn buds of sea glass. Common to areas of great wave turbulence accompanied by coarse sand. Found worldwide, especially on ocean beaches.

Silkies: Smooth with a silky surface and scant frosting or pitting. Generally found at the juncture where rivers drain into larger bodies of water. (rare)Silkies

“Mermaid” Nipples or ‘Pikos’ (Hawaiian for ‘belly-button’):  the worn blob seal or blob button from broken fishing floats. Found on ocean beaches. (rare)

Kick-ups: The pontil knob in the center of 19th century bottle bottoms. Found in regions with long, western settlement or trade histories. (i.e. UK, Caribbean, US east coast, Canada’s Maritimes)

Mermaid nipples - pikos and kick-ups
Top Left to right, kick-up, piko, kick-up Bottom Left to right: Mermaid nipple, piko

Play marbles: cat’s eyes, creams, shooters, porcelain, glazed-covered clay, or flat Japanese Ohajiki.  Generally not a common find with the exception of a few regions in the world.

Creams
Creams
Cats Eye Marbles
Cat’s Eye
C Mark
C-mark

Boulders (aka: “Hunka Munkas”): Lemon-to fist-sized lumps of sea glass found throughout the world that are by-products of old glassworks, dumpsites or manufacturing plants.

Boulder or Hunka Munka
Photo courtesy of P. Garbutt

Characteristics of True Sea Glass

True sea glass
Grade A Quality Vessel Sea Glass

(To help you determine product quality)

Frosted, sometimes heavily so (with the exception of silkies)

When not rounded in shape then with very worn, smoothed edges (with the exception of Fundy Glass)

Usually with some pitting or grooving, or a “C” markFrosting pitting

Slight or no shine with the exception of:

– a shard recently chipped in wave tumble or beaching;

– shards of glass recently freed from mud, muck or silt so that one side is frosted while the embedded side is not. (Common to Chesapeake and Delaware Bay regions.)

– some silkies have a gloss to them but are not shiny

Characteristics of true beach marbles:

– Pitting, grooves or “C” marks

– Chips

– Frosted

– Often lopsided or a reduced size from years of tumbling

Product Buying

People ask if I purchase sea glass. The answer is, “Yes.” I don’t do it often but when I do, I seek out shards representative of specific genres that I can use for my lectures and educational photos.  These are shards I know I will never find because 1. they are too rare, 2. are from regions to which I will never travel, or 3. require a physical dexterity I no longer have because of post-cancer neuropathy (i.e. escaping big waves during extreme sea glassing in Davenport).

I have mostly had great success with my sea glass purchases in part because I know my stuff, though even a seasoned beachcomber like me can be duped at times. But I also only buy from ethical, reputable seller-beachcombers who I know personally or who come highly recommended by my knowledgeable beachcomb buddies.

Dr. Beachcomb Seal of Approval.”

If you are attempting to build a representative collection of sea glass shards across genres and regions, let me share some hints & pictures on signature shards and colors specific to certain places. (Note: Fishing floats are not included this time around – sorry!).

Let me recommend a few beachcombers/sea glass vendors. Though there are many out there, these nine are people with whom I have beachcombed, from whom I have purchased shards, and/or whose stock I find exceptional. As importantly, they all have a good reputation as friendly, generous, knowledgeable beachcombers (as opposed to ‘beach raiders’ who siphon everything off a beach. Some even have the audacity to tell people to ‘get off their beaches.”  Such sad stories are coming to me with greater and greater frequency.) 

Vessel and Utility Glass

The Scottish east coast has some of the best quality sea glass in both categories.

Notable: thick frosted vessel glass; black glass; glass bottle bottle stoppers, tops and stems; and cream ware tiles

Well frosted Scottish utility botte stopper and codds

To purchase, contact:

**Katie: on Etsy – scottishbeachfinds.etsy.com

**Nicola: email – Nicola@beachart.co.uk

**Sarah (aka “Potter”): message via Instagram: pottersseaglass

Artisan Sea Glass

Davenport, CA. has top quality, sometimes truly amazing artisan sea glass shards.

Notable Shapes/Types: ‘Onions;’ ‘Mushrooms;’ ‘Sunbursts;’ ‘Eyeballs;’ “Hot Lava” shards; blue rods with stars; multi-colored UV shards; colorful patterned designs

UV Glass
UV Glass
Davenport Hot Lava Shards
Davenport Hot Lava Shards
Davenport Mushrooms Onions Sunbursts Eyeballs
Davenport Mushrooms, Onions, Sunbursts, and Eyeballs

Signature Colors:  Kelly green, royal blue, orange-red, cherry, canary yellow, chartreuse cream overlay, opalescent

To purchase, contact:

**Krista: via Etsy  – santacruzseaglass.etsy.com

**Gabe: email at Riddled@hotmail.com

**Jeff: message on FB: Jeffrey Strain

Slag, End-of the-Day Sea Glass

Nothing beats Seaham, England and the surrounding Sunderland shorelines for spectacular examples of end-of-the-day sea glass and slag sea glass.Classic Seaham bubbles

Notable Shapes/Types: ‘Multies’ (shards with two or more colors); pontils with colored tips; bubbles, (rounded lumps of sea glass, many with an incredible inner luminosity); dragon egg slag; dark blue veined slag, opalescent and light cream green slag.Pontil

Signature sea glass colors: champagne, teal or turquoise; black bubbles

To purchase, Contact:

**Lynn: message on FB: Lynn Armstrong

**Paul: message on IG: seaglassgamester

**Paula: via Etsy store: Peblsrock.etsy.com

Happy Hunting & Shopping!

Remember, finding your own sea glass is still the safest route to take to building a credible true sea glass collection. You might not find the most spectacular shards but you know exactly where they came from – the beach – and no amount of traded or bought sea glass comes with those wonderful memories or hands-on experiences.

Happy Combing!

 

This post, any segment of this post, or  picture(s) cannot be used without written permission of the author.

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2 thoughts on “Building a Sea Glass Collection

  1. I’m not sure but they seem more common on rounded sea glass shards and marbles than on flatter vessel sea glass so it may have to do with the way orbs react when hit by other objects (rocks, shells, hard-packed sand). The “c” marks are hard to fake (thus far) on manufactured sea glass so, for now, they are a good indicator of the real deal.

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