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Photo By Rosie Burr
Photo By Rosie Burr

The Sea Glass and Mermaid’s Tears

Sea glass are pieces of broken glass that have made their way into the waterways of the world. Sailors folklore tells the story that the sea glass are the tears shed by mermaids caused by the jealous wrath of Neptune when they fall in love with a sailor, or else they are their tears shed when a sailor drowns. These broken pieces of frosted, weathered glass are found washed up on coastal shores or along river banks. There are two types – those that are created in a salty environment and those in a fresh.  The ocean gems have been tossed and turned along the ocean floor, abrading themselves along the way over rocks and sand and tumbling in the waves, which help to create their polished appearance. A high ph balance of the sea also adds to the frostiness of the glass by a process called hydration which extracts lime and soda from its surface creating C shaped pits that can been seen on close inspection. Ph balance or acidity varies in different coastal regions allowing for some sea glass to be more frosted than others. Fresh water sea glass (or beach glass as it is commonly called) is found by inland lakes and rivers. This glass has a more shiny patina compared to its salt water counterparts.

It can take between 20-50 years for a shard to become what enthusiasts would consider a well rounded specimen, where the sharp and shiny sides have been worn away to a smooth edge.

Photo By Rosie Burr
Photo By Rosie Burr

The colour, size and shape you find also add to its rarity and value. White, brown and green are fairly common colours because of mass production originating from windows, wine and beer bottles or soda bottles. Olive greens or soft blues are a little less common probably from old canning jars and liquor bottles. Pinks and purples may well have come from clear glass that was clarified with magnesium or selenium as the sand that made the glass was amber in colour. Over time, the sun oxidizes the magnesium and selenium creating the lavender and pink colours. Cobalt blues, turquoise blues, amethyst, reds and yellows are all rare and considered prize pieces. They could be part of anything from antique medicine or poison bottles, from tableware to decorative art glass, from old Chinese fishing floats to mariners broken navigation lights. Designer glass from blown or stained glass is most prized especially as you might find a mixed coloured piece. Orange is perhaps the rarest colour you will find, originating during the art deco period in the form of various tableware and vases. Black glass is also considered to be fairly rare due in part to how hard it is to find amongst dark rocks and rubble, but also because it dates back to the old seafaring days when goods were transported across the seas in darkened glass containers as their contents were sensitive to light. Iron slag was added to the glass-making process to darken and fortify the bottles. It is in fact not black at all, but dark olive green or brown when held up to the light. It is referred to as black as that is how it appears in normal light.

Sea glass can be found anywhere there is a beach or rocky shoreline that is open to the ocean.  Some glass gets washed ashore from old shipwrecks but mostly it is rubbish from the days when the oceans were used as a dumping ground. Anywhere that is close to a shipping lane can be rewarding. A smooth clean beach won’t produce good results but a rock-strewn beach with debris may well be fruitful. Low tide is the best time to hunt. Since the advent of plastic, the amount of sea glass in the oceans is on the decline.

The Caribbean is a great place to hunt for sea glass because of the old trading routes from seafaring days.  Ships passed through from all over the world especially from Spain, England and the North Americas. Anywhere that used to be a major port will be a good hunting ground for glass treasures. So, next time you take a stroll down a beach, keep your eyes peeled for that special piece that might date back to the days of Columbus. 

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