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Beachcombing for Sea Glass

Updated on February 25, 2013
Authentic sea glass has been smooted out  by the sea's wave action and taken on an opaqueness provided by the sea water.
Authentic sea glass has been smooted out by the sea's wave action and taken on an opaqueness provided by the sea water. | Source
Artificial sea glass is tumbled in a rock tumbler by craftsmen and so it lacks some of the characteristics of true sea glass.
Artificial sea glass is tumbled in a rock tumbler by craftsmen and so it lacks some of the characteristics of true sea glass. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

Beach combing is a wonderful hobby, Many people simply love collecting seashells, while others go beachcombing to look for sea glass. Sea glass usually begins as broken bottles and jars tossed into the sea. The glass shards are tumbled and smoothed by the ocean's waves. Then the tide deposits them along the shorelines around the world where they became known as "mermaid's tears" by collectors. Sea glass lovers either collect sea glass as art glass, or they turn it into beautiful jewelry, stained glass or other decorative pieces.

Origins of Sea Glass

Authentic sea glass originated from broken bottles, glass tableware and household items used aboard ships. Whenever these glass objects were broken, they were either tossed overboard or were washed overboard by storms or shipwrecks, and then carried out to sea with the tide. The sea glass that eventually washes up onshore, with its smoothed edges and opaque surfaces, was tossed overboard years or even decades earlier. Like a rock tumbler, the sea's rough handling has caused the smoothing of the edges of the glass and rubbed the surfaces like sandpaper, giving the mermaid's tears their opaqueness. It's becoming more difficult to find true sea glass anymore, mainly because glass dishes and containers are being replaced with plastics. It is also due to the fact that littering (tossing your garbage overboard) is strongly discouraged in order to keep water pollution to a minimum.

The increasing scarcity of authentic sea glass has produced a demand for the artisan crafted variety. This rapidly expanding industry uses rock tumblers to create hand tumbled glass pieces, which look similar to the real thing. The artificial sea glass, also known as "craft glass", usually comes out looking like thicker, heftier chunk which are kind of globl-like and it doesn't obtain the etched opaqueness of authentic sea glass due to its lack of exposure to sea water. It also lacks the romantic provenance of the real thing. Despite the differences, artificially created sea glass will still meet the requirements for many collectors and sea glass artisans - at a much cheaper price - as long as the seller is honest, and disclose the source of the sea glass being sold.

Sea Glass Colors

Sea glass comes in many colors, which are determined by the color of the source glass - the bottles, jars, plates, windows, etc. The most common sea glass colors are Kelly green, brown, blue and clear, which sometimes takes on a purplish hue from long exposure to sea water. The brown and green glass colors are attributed to wine and beer bottle industries. Other less common colors include jade green, amber (whiskey, medicine, and sprits bottles), lime green (1960s soda bottles), forest green, and ice blue (used to make soda, medicine, and ink bottles, windows and windshields, and fruit jars in the late 1800s and early 1900s).

Best Places to Find Sea Glass

Avid sea glass hunters rarely disclose their hunting grounds, however, the Caribbean is known to cough up occasional pirate era pieces. Glass Beach in California (previously the town dump) still produces sea glass as well. Any beach, though, yields occasional "mermaid's tears" - whether along oceans, bays, rivers, or lakes. As long as the glass pieces have been tumbled smooth by the waves, they can be called sea glass.

In today's market, fed by demand, there are increasing numbers of sea glass crafters that will make artificial sea glass of just about any color that consumers demand. Just look online. If it doesn't matter that the sea glass is artisan crafted versus naturally produced, you can get some really lovely "mermaids tears."


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    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 5 years ago from Katy, Texas

      Yeah, the manufactured sea glass is not for everyone. The found sea glass has a much more romantic side to it that makes it more special and valuable.

    • Teresa Schultz profile image

      Teresa Schultz 5 years ago from East London, in South Africa

      I've recently become interested in collecting sea glass and making beach craft and jewellery items with it, and although there is not much sea glass around close to where I live, I wouldn't dream of using or making manufatured sea glass - not quite the same thing as finding those special pieces yourself. For those that don't mind, though, as you say, then yes, whether manufactured or not, sea glass can produce some really beautiful pieces for using in jewellery making. Interesting hub, thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 5 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      What a fascinating article! I live in Minnesota, so we don't get sea glass. We do get glass from Lake Superior, however: is there a special name for that? Also, what about river glass--is that just as obvious as it sounds? I've found several pieces of beautiful "Lake Superior" glass--clear except for an ironish tint of rust (iron mines in Northern Minnesota were a big thing until they started running out of new veins to tap). Of course, the glass was found along with my agate hunting, which that area is famous for, and two pieces of river glass (both clear colored). I can't wait to find colored glass "in the wild".

      Excellent hub! Voted up, interesting, shared.

    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 6 years ago from Katy, Texas

      I would love to. So far i have only found one piece of natural sea glass neare where I live. I hav purchased some artisan made sea glass, but it's not the same.

    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 6 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      Do you collect any mermaid tears?

      What do you do with them?

    • profile image

      Mary Jo 6 years ago

      I have picked up tons of sea glass on the shores of Lake Taupo!