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Collecting genuine sea glass -- trash to treasures

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collecting sea glass
Sea glass (sometimes called beach glass) is glass from broken bottles or jars which is left in large bodies of moving water. The tumbling effect of the water and sand smooths the rough edges of the glass to create pieces of frosted glass. New sea glass has sharp edges with clean breaks. The older pieces are easily identified with their frosted edges which have been ground down by the nearby waters.

Many beachcombers collect sea glass as they search their local beaches for treasures. Some colours are harder to spot than others, and accordingly are considered more valuable by collectors.

Sea glass colours

The colour of a piece of sea glass depends on its origin. While quite a bit of sea glass comes from bottles, some comes from broken ceramics, old jars, even tableware.

white sea glass -- or blue, pink, green?
Tip: Not sure what colour it is? Try these two tricks to determine colour.

The most common sea glass colours are kelly green, brown, and clear. Most of these come from old beer bottles.

Uncommon sea glass colours include jade green, lime green, and cornflower blue, mostly from old soda and alcohol bottles.

Rare sea glass colours include red, black, yellow, and orange. Most of these were originally bottles of a type that weren't broken often!

Warning: Beware of imitations. Sea glass can also be artificially created in a rock tumbler, but it's not the same. It takes years of wear and tear from the water to create the distinctive wear patterns on authentic sea glass. Such glass is usually called "craft glass" by collectors.

If you see rare colours priced the same as common ones, the seller has craft glass.

Where to find sea glass

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 sea glass

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.

Sea glass 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. Keep a stash of small jars to hold your treasures, then display the filled jars on a bright windowsill.

Further reading

You might also enjoy these books:

A Passion for Sea Glass A Passion for Sea Glass by C.S. Lambert (Down East Books, 2008): Rather than a reference guide, this is more of a craft inspiration book for collectors who are not content to display jars of sea glass as-found. If you enjoy working with sea glass, there are several project ideas included in the book. Sea Glass Hunter's Handbook Sea Glass Hunter's Handbook by C.S. Lambert (Down East Books, 2010): Not a bad resource for sea glass collectors, but the ratio of personal reminiscences of favourite finds from various collectors compared to the actual information on finding and organizing a collection of sea glass seems large.
The Official Sea Glass Searcher's Guide The Official Sea Glass Searcher's Guide: How to Find Your Own Treasures from the Tide by Cindy Bilbao (Countryman Press, 2014): Very useful and practical tips for those new to the hobby of collecting sea glass. Sea Glass Treasures from the Tide Sea Glass Treasures from the Tide by Cindy Bilbao (Countryman Press, 2014): Lovely photos if you are in the market for an art book on sea glass, but definitely light on the content. This one is for the coffee table.
Sea Glass Chronicles Sea Glass Chronicles by C.S. Lambert (Down East Books, 2001): I would categorize this as an art book rather than reference book for sea glass collectors. For each large photograph of a particular grouping of shards, there is a bit of trivia on where there were found and the probable origins of those particular pieces. Very pretty, but not useful for those who need a general reference. If you just need a coffee-table book, though, pick this one for the lovely photos.   ure Sea Glass Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems by Richard LaMotte (Pure Sea Glass, 2004): A must-have reference with regard to sea glass colours and their origins. Which colours are rarest, and why? There are full-colour photos for each sea glass colour, helpful in determining the difference between citron and lime, for example.

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

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