David, what exactly is sea glass?
It begins as any glass object, such as bottles, windows, dishes, et cetera. When a glass object becomes broken or useless, it is thrown in the trash.
If that trash winds up a beach, the tumbling action of the waves among the rocks and sand wears all the harsh edges off the glass shards, leaving them nicely rounded.
How did you get involved in the hobby?
Well, I got pulled into it because my wife, Lin, liked picking it up. Since she is artistic, she began making wire-wrapped jewelry with it. However, she has always liked finding it better than making the jewelry.
I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. But what can you do? Gotta join the wife. But then I found out what a danger that was. Like a lot of people these days, I got hooked, especially when I found a few of the rare pieces and learned the difference between the worthless and glass that could be worth hundreds of dollars.
Since I grew up surfing in California, and Lin has always loved the water, we have lived most of our lives close to the beach; California, Hawaii, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and here in Washington. We have also collected glass in other areas while visiting.
I would think that most people, even beach lovers, aren't familiar with this collectible. How popular is the hobby?
Well, I have been really surprised at the large number of people who are crazy about it… And I mean crazy, like fanatics! Of course, we ourselves are not crazy… Are we?
Some families here in the U.S.A. and Canada have been “collecting” beach glass for generations without really thinking that there was anybody else doing it. Then came the Internet and the diffusion of knowledge about lots of things, this hobby included.
We currently get about 500 people a day visiting our site, Odyssey Sea Glass, every day from more than 30 countries.
Everybody has seen glass on the beach and most people either walk around it or pick it up to dispose of later. Is it possible to tell at a glance that I've spotted sea glass and not just litter? Or do I have to pick it up and study it?
That is a good question and really is the basis for any kind of collecting hobby – is it collectible? Is it valuable or rare?
It’s like baseball cards or matchbooks – some are worth nothing, others are worth a lot, but at first you don’t know.
There are a number of factors that are discussed in detail on our web site, but the main factor is this: Where does it cease to become a glass shard and become a collectible piece?
Basically, the glass needs to be well rounded on all edges. The surface must be totally frosted with none of the original shine showing. That is when it can be called sea or beach glass. Other factors such as color, size, and shape then come into play when considering the rareness/value/beauty.
Once that you have decided that you've found sea glass do you take all of it home, or do you leave any of it?
At first you will want to pick up every piece of glass you see. But as it starts to accumulate and you learn more about the glass, you begin to recognize quickly whether it is worth bending over for (pieces with a side cracked off or shiny, for example)… although you MIGHT miss a valuable piece if you don’t look closely sometimes.
I was picking up some obvious colored pieces of sea glass and saw what looked like a pebble, black like the rest of the rocks. But I though, hmmm, it just has a look to it. When we checked it out later, it was a rare very dark red color.
That gets us to the next question. How valuable is sea glass?
Well, like anything collectible, that depends pretty much on what someone is willing to pay for it. A rare orange, red, or yellow piece in “jewelry grade” condition and the size of a quarter could go from $100 on up to $300 or more. The common colors such as white (clear frosted glass) and “beer bottle” green and brown are worth less than a dollar, usually, even in perfect condition.
I spend a lot of time on the beach, most of it on smooth white sand of Gulf Shores, Alabama. I don't see much litter unless we've just had a tropical storm or stronger. Do I need to look a little closer or find a better "sea glass beach?"
Both. It is possible to find sea glass on any beach...but generally flat, sandy beaches are not going to provide much. It gets buried too easily and deep. You can narrow down the type of beach to look for, but there are so many factors that come into play that I couldn't do it justice in this interview. I would suggest looking at the detailed information on our web site.
Do collectors generally just collect the raw material, or do they have it fashioned into jewelry or or other objects?
Most people will take it home and put in jars or whatever along with their seashells, beach rocks, and driftwood. However, a lot of people want to know what they can make with it … They want it out where they can enjoy looking at it.
So sea glass crafts are getting very popular, and we do feature a lot of ideas and projects that others have made, along with some detailed beach glass crafts projects that most people can do. The possibilities are endless, from picture frames to wind chimes to splash guards and driveway inlays.
On the other end of the scale, sea glass jewelry has become VERY CLASSY and there are many artists who specialize in making bracelets, necklaces, pendants, earrings, and even rings out of sea glass.
Have you been able to date any of your finds?
Yes, although most often it is not possible. There are characteristics of glass that can allow you to identify the period of time when it was made if those characteristics are present, i.e., bubbles in the glass would indicate that it is not of modern origin.
When you find pieces that have shapes, letters, and certain colors, many times you can identify within a few years how old it is and occasionally even its exact origin. Some interesting very collectible pieces are bottle stoppers, figurines, and marbles.
Of course, by definition it is worn smooth, so for the most part, identifying the date or origin is going to be difficult.
For those who don't get to the beach often, where can they buy it?
You can buy sea glass jewelry as well by the piece or in bulk on sites like ours or on eBay. There are a lot of fakes though, so take your time and learn the differences. Invest wisely!
David, Thank you for your time. I'm sure you are going to have a lot of people searching for sea glass during their next beach vacation.