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Antique Japanese glass fishing floats

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glass fishing floats
Glass floats have been used in the fishing industry since the 1840s to support fishing nets while in use. These floats would often break loose from the nets and drift around in the ocean until coming ashore many years later.

Early glass floats were hand-blown by glassblowers using recycled glass. In Japan, glass floats were made from broken or otherwise used sake bottles, which accounts for their light green colour. Newer floats which are made of cork and aluminum came into common usage during the postwar period due to their durability.

Glass fishing float colours

The common colour for glass floats is a light sea green due to the recycled sake bottles using in the crafting process. However, other colours include amber, clear, cobalt, violet, and red (very rare) are sometimes found.

Float shapes and sizes

Floats are commonly spherical, but other rarer shapes such as tube rollers and double floats have been found. They range in size from a few inches in diameter to over 16" in diameter.

Common float markings

Japanese and Norwegian floats are frequently marked with their maker's trademark on the pontil. Russian and Korean floats are marked on the sides in addition to having side seams from the molds used when creating the floats.

Warning: Beware of imitations. The glass of authentic floats is thick to enable survival during heavy usage. Remember, these have been floating around the oceans for decades. They don't break easily. Not only do most authentic floats have bubbles, but they will also have "sandblasted" wear patterns on them from the cording which originally held them in place. Occasionally you might even find a float with its original cording intact.

Floats of unusual colour that show no signs of wear are likely reproductions, so buyer beware if you did not collect the float yourself.

Where to find glass floats

Start at your favourite local beach. The best time to search is at low tide if you want to largest area of beach available. Determine where the high tide line is to set that as the outermost point of your search.

When to search for glass fishing floats

Hobby beachcombers watch the weather and ocean currents to predict the appearance of a rare find at their preferred location(s). A wild storm can and will cause finds to end up much higher on the beach than usual.

Glass float collecting gear

Before setting forth on your first collecting expedition, I would recommend acquiring the following gear:

Displaying your collection

Glass is best to be displayed where the light can shine through it to show the colours. Display your newfound treasures on a bright windowsill.

Further reading

You might also enjoy these books:

Beachcombing for Japanese Glass Floats Beachcombing for Japanese Glass Floats by Amos L. Wood (Binford & Mort Publishing, 1975): This book is interesting for its first-hand accounts of the author beachcombing for glass floats in the early days of finds drifting in from Japan. However, the real gem here is the illustrated and annotated list at the back of the book about the markings on the glass floats. This includes a translation if applicable in addition to any information about the manufacturing of that particular type of float. This is invaluable for float collectors. Glass Fishing Floats of The World Glass Fishing Floats of The World: The Collector's Price Guide and Identification Handbook by Stu Farnsworth & Alan D. Rammer (self-published, 2001): This is a very thin spiral-bound volume focusing on the maker's marks for glass floats. Each entry includes a hand-drawn illustration. This includes European made floats in addition to Japanese, Korean, and American made floats. There are also some illustrations of different float shapes. If you collect any floats besides Japanese, this book will be useful.

These books can be difficult to find since many are out of print. Try eBay for items.

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