There are a lot of people who are confused about where sea and beach glass come from. They think
there was a ship wrecked that was full of glass or that there once was a glass factory. Others think
sea glass just comes from the sea somehow, a natural wonder.
Technically speaking, sea and beach glass are different. Sea glass refers to salt water and beach
glass refers to fresh water glass. The difference is that glass slowly dissolves in salt water, which
gives sea glass a satin-like patina, while it does not dissolve in fresh water. This is because the Ph
of salt water is different from that of fresh water.
In the old days because sea and beach glass have been around as long as there was glass (since
5000 years BC) it was said to be “Mermaid Tears”. The story was that every time a sailor drowned
at sea, the Mermaids would cry and the sea glass washed their tears up on the shore.
Sea and beach glass is found everywhere in the world, because people have discarded glass in the
oceans and water bodies everywhere. It was natural for waterfront communities worldwide to
discard their trash in the water because the water carries it away. Landfills were a terrible health
hazard in those days, filled with vermin that carried dangerous diseases like the Plague. The world
was a much larger place in those days and the population was much smaller. It just made good
sense at the time. This practice is still followed in many third world countries.
Everywhere sea glass is found and its value is partially determined by its color. This is because only
a few items were stored in red, blue lavender, purple of pink glass containers. Likewise certain rare
tins and shades of these polular colors are found.
For instance, very rare cobalt blue, the “sapphire” of the beach, came from such apothecary items
as Milk of Magnesia, Vick’s Vapo Rub, Noxema, Nivea and Bromo Seltzer bottles, along with some
prescription bottles and perfumes.
Pinks, lavenders, purples, lime greens and other rare shades came from things like perfume
bottles and art glass. Many lavenders and pinks come from what was originally clear glass that was
clarified because the sand from which glass is made is actually amber in color. Over time the sun
causes the magnesium and selenium to oxidize, creating the lavender and pink colors.
Greens, browns and aqua’s come from beer and soda bottles and nearly every other source, like
Clorox bleach jugs, shampoos etc.
And sometimes, like in the old town dumps in Fort Bragg, California, the sea glass is also passen
through fires and becomes “Fire Glass”, the rarest of sea glass and often has inclusions just like or
better than, precious gems.
The extremely rare red pieces or “rubies” of the beach, might come from perfume bottles, the tail
lights on old automobilesm lantern and traffic light lenses, or even some types of old beer bottles,
like the bottles made by Anchor Hocking for Schlitz Beer in the 1950’s.
In fact gemological terms like “inclusions”, “clarity”, “color”, “facets” and “purity” also pertain
directly to sea glass, except that inclusions and impurities are bad in gemstons and often excellent
in sea glass and a lot of people prefer their sea glass “frosted” instead of claer (unless there are
inclusions) and no one would think of byying a cloudy diamond, ecept to HIDE an inclusion!
Sea glass goes back in history for as long as man had glass.
As the raw glass is broken into smaller pieces and slowly polished by the sand as it is tolled around
the surf, it becomes “beach” or “sea” glass: sea glass of gemstone quality.
The pits in the surface of the glass, giving it its soft feel, come from a process called “hydration”.
where the soda and lime used in making the glass is leached out of the glass, leaving the small pits.
The soda and lime also often react with minerals in the sea water, forming new mineral deposits on
the suface that give the glass a “sparkling” appearance.
Most beaches that produce sea glass are open to the sea, so even if the site was originally a town
dump, where a lot of material was deposited in one place, like in Fort Bragg until 1967, the glass is
drawn off the beach by the sea and distributed up and down the coast by the “long shore currents”,
making it difficult and rare to find, which explains it normally high cost.
Like precious gems, beach glass is rare and beautiful.
A lot of sea glass is also found on the beaches in de vicinity of old ship anchorages, like in the
Chesapeake Bay, because ships also used to discard their refuse over the side.
If you have an old ocean dump site near you, take a stroll on a sunny day and you might find
Mermaid Tears flistening in the sun and sand.