I collect beach glass. Beach glass is also known as sea glass. It is found on beaches along oceans and the great lakes.
When I see the shards glistening among the shells and stones, I think of them as little pieces of history that have washed up on the beach, making a return home to land from the sea.
© Celia Pearson, cover photo for the book Pure Sea Glass
Every weekend I walk along the beach at Orient Point on the far East End of Long Island. In addition to beach glass, I have found pieces of antique nautical instruments, 19th century china and pottery, pieces of “diner-ware” from the 40s and 50s, whalebone, and fishing lures old and new.
A lot of the glass is from beer and soda bottles people have tossed over the sides of their boats. The glass breaks on the rocks, but the tumble of the sand and tides create pieces of smooth frosted glass with scruffs and shapes that give it beauty and individuality.
In addition to glass from fishing boats and shipwrecks, a lot of stuff washes into the ocean from abandoned dumps on the Connecticut shore and Shelter Island. These old dumps are the best sources of antique bottles, including clay and blown glass inkwells. Bottle collectors scavenge them and really guard their locations. I have picked up a few of these sea-returned inkswells in nearby antique stores in Greenport and Southhold.
The most common colors of sea glass are green, brown and clear, which started life as soda, juice or beer bottles. One of the rarest, and my favorite, is the red glass that comes from old ship lights. I’ve also found pieces of thick glass that used to be part of a porthole, and a stopper from an antique perfume bottle.
The best time to look for sea glass is a low tide right after a storm. The sea churns up the bottom, and all kinds of things come up. Like sluicing for gold dust, the water helps to wash off the gravel and sand to leave behind a beautiful piece of glass. But look quickly, because the next wave could cover it up for another 50 years.
If you’re ever out Orient-way, come join us on a walk!