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The Sea Glass Story

What is sea glass?

Sea glass begins its life many years ago as glass bottles, household glassware, stained glass, even shipwreck items. Long before laws prohibiting littering, many people, and even towns, used the cliffs and rocks at the shore as a place to dump their garbage.

This was before the invention of plastics; so most items were either metal or glass. The glass, over time breaks up on the rocks and in the surf, tumbling back and forth with the tides, much of it for many decades. It finally is worn smooth and rounded from the waves, sand and rocks.

Is it real?

There are some sellers out there who try to pass off man-made sea glass as real, so there are some things to look out for when buying genuine sea glass. Glass is sometimes tumbled in rock tumblers or acid etched to try to duplicate the frosty appearance of sea glass. The surface of sea glass made this way is very uniform, and satiny with no real discernible imperfections. The glass is often flatter and more angular in shape. Genuine sea glass has several things you can look for that cannot be duplicated by any process.

First, very small "C" shaped marks on the surface are from years of tumbling in the surf, sand and rocks. Genuine sea glass also has a distinctive "frost" appearance on its surface. The high pH level of seawater actually leaches sodium hydroxide from the glass leaving a crystalline "frost " on the surface. Thickness of the glass, roundness, other imperfections, such as bubbles in the glass can all be indicators of very old glass.

Colors of Sea Glass

While there are many colors of sea glass, they are usually divided into rarity categories. Some colors are very common, while there are others such as red and orange that, by some estimates, are only found once in every 10,000 pieces of glass collected!

Common Colors: White, Brown and Kelly Green. Many browns most likely started out as beer, whisky or bitters bottles. The kelly greens also were, and still are, used for beer and soda bottles. The whites were originally clear glass soda, other beverage or household product bottles; some were even window panes or automobile glass.

 Uncommon Colors: Seafoam Green, Soft Blue, Forest Green, Lime Green, Golden Amber, Amber and Jade.   Seafoam green glass may have begun life as a coke bottle, although other sodas, as well as some canning jars, around the turn of the century had this same soft green-blue color. Soft blue glass was often soda bottles, fruit jars, medicine or ink bottles. Forest green glass was, and still is, used for wine bottles. Lime green glass was used for some soda bottles and tableware. Golden amber was used in medicine, spirit and bitters bottles. The slightly darker color, amber was used in whisky, bitters and poison bottles. Jade glass was used in mineral water, soda, bitters and poison bottles. 

 Rare: Pink, Aqua, Cornflower Blue, Cobalt Blue, Citron, and Purple/Lavender. Pink glass was primarily used in tableware, especially during the Depression era. Cornflower blue glass was used in early medicine bottles. Cobalt blue was used in medicine bottles, like Bromo-Seltzer, Milk of Magnesia, and also poison bottles. Citron glass was used for wine and bitters bottles, and fruit and snuff jars. Purple/lavender glass many times was actually clear glass that turned lavender over many years of sun exposure. This glass was widely used for food containers. 

 Extremely Rare: Orange, Red, Turquoise, Yellow, Black, Teal, and Gray. Orange is probably the most rare of all. Some experts estimate that the chances of finding an orange piece are 1 in 10,000! This glass was primarily tableware. Red sea glass, nearly as rare as orange, is one of the most coveted colors for collectors. This glass comes from Victorian lamps, lanterns, tableware and even automobile taillights. Turquoise is the most rare in the blue family. This glass was used in tableware, flasks, and art glass. Yellow glass was used for tableware and ornamental pieces. Black sea glass was used for gin, beer and other alcoholic beverages, most prior to 1900. Teal glass was used for baking soda bottles, mineral water bottles, and ink bottles. Gray sea glass is often glass that was intended to be clear. Some byproducts in the making of the glass can, over time, give the glass a smoky gray hue. Most well worn gray glass dates before 1900. 

Information from LaMotte, Richard, "Pure Sea Glass." Chestertown, MD: Sea Glass Publishing, 2004