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Friday, November 12, 2010

Introducing the Sea Glass Book Store!

Just for fun, I have decided to add a small online "book store" to the blog and to the North Beach Treasures web site. You can find it by clicking on the "Sea Glass Bookstore" link, above, or by following the link at the end of this post.

Although the popularity of sea glass-- both as something to collect, as well as a medium for jewelry making and crafts-- has greatly increased over the past decade, it still remains very much a "specialty" item. As such, not many books have been published about the subject, and 8 years after its publication, Richard LaMotte's "Pure Sea Glass" remains the standard against which all other books about sea glass are judged. If you don't own a copy already, I highly suggest you click on the link and buy it, now!

The Sea Glass Bookstore is actually about more than just sea glass-- it's a collection of my favorite books (and related!) about beach combing and coastal nature, which has been such an integral part of my life, for the past 40+ years. I've also included a few art books, and art instruction books.

I'm not really doing this to "make money" (although I'd certainly not complain if you decided to buy a book, or two!), but more as a way to share some of my favorite books and make it possible for people to get "instant gratification," rather than just read about a book and then wonder "I wonder how I get my hands on one of those?"

For the moment, there's only about 25-30 titles listed, but I think they are worthwhile ones. I will add more, as I find them.

Visit The Beach Comber's Bookstore!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Keeping a Sea Glass Blog

I have recently been considering the whole issue of writing a blog about sea glass.

I have been a blogger for better than ten years, and have developed several blogs with followings of hundreds-- if not thousands-- of readers. I have also have a couple of "specialty" blogs-- one about collecting stamps, and one about the Enneagram-- so writing about a "specialized topic" is not new to me.

But why keep a blog about sea glass?

As a life-long writer, I am always considering the purpose of my words.

In part, this blog exists simply because I enjoy writing, and I enjoy beach combing... and it's fun to keep track of what happens on the beach, so I can go back and look at "highlights and lowlights," at a later date. So that's a reason I keep the blog-- for me. Of course, I also enjoy taking pictures of sea glass, and posting them online...

For others?

I have to ask myself the question "Why write this as a public blog, and not just as a private journal?" The answer I come up with is much the same as the answer I came up with, for my stamp collecting blog: To share with other collectors... which, ultimately, is a way of saying "To connect with other beach combers and sea glass collectors, and to be part of a community of people with similar interests."

Of course, with that established, the next question becomes "So what should I write about? What will other people find sufficiently interesting to come read this blog?" Again, I consider the same process as I considered with my stamp collecting blog: I ask myself what I would find interesting, as a reader, when I look around the web to see "what others are doing?"

  • I enjoy "tall fish tales;" that is, stories about people's amazing/interesting finds.
  • I enjoy reading about "really rare" stuff I may never get to see, myself, in person.
  • I enjoy reading about "the finest and the best" that's out there.
  • I enjoy (or at least find it useful) to be able to read "community news:" Are there any shows? Has someone won an award? Any new discoveries? New dealers/businesses? New books I should buy?
  • Specific to sea glass-- which is so often used in an artistic manner-- I enjoy reading about (and seeing) people's creativity.
  • Last but not least... since I am in the "business" of periodically selling sea glass, the blog-- at least in a small way-- serves as a way to make announcements about new items I have for sale.

At this point, you might be wondering why I am writing these words.

As a writer, I find that I must periodically take stock of what I am doing, and assess whether the words I am putting out there serve a purpose-- or are helpful/useful-- or are merely self-indulgent drivel. No matter what your field might be-- a human, a writer, a business person-- it's important to sometimes ask yourself why you are doing something. I've always found that taking these thoughts-- which typically bounce around inside my head-- and actually putting them down "on paper," tends to clarify what I am thinking, so I can find a sense of direction.

So, since this blog is somewhat over three years old, I was just pausing to take stock.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Looking at Colors: Red

For many sea glass lovers, "finding a piece of red sea glass" can be the highlight of a beach combing trip. For some, it can even be the highlight of the entire year, or an entire beach combing career.

Red is, indeed, both very rare and quite beautiful-- and it is perhaps this combination of scarcity and beauty that makes it particularly sought after. But just to "put the record straight," though-- Red is NOT "the rarest sea glass color." That said, it is commonly estimated that a beach comber will have to pick up between 3000 and 5000 pieces of sea glass to find one piece of red. In addition, red glass (due to its chemical composition) tends to be "softer" and more "brittle" than many other colors of glass, and thus even when a collector does find a piece of red, the piece is often quite small, and not necessarily in nice smoothly frosted condition.

So, what's the story with red glass?

For starters, red simply isn't a color that has been used very often, for commercial glassware. There are a couple of reasons for this: Red glass is costly to make, and difficult to work with. And, ultimately, "difficult to work with" also drives up the cost of making red glass objects.

As I have written in other posts, colored glass is typically the result of adding metals and minerals (in oxide and chloride-- powder-- form) to sand and silica mix that is glass before it is molten. The simplest way to obtain a medium to deep red glass color is by adding gold-- in powder form. And, at $100s per ounce, this has generally not been an economically viable proposition for glass manufacturers. As often as not, when we run into red glass in an antique store, it is more likely to be "art" glass than manufacturer production glass.

Because of the cost of using gold, alternatives have been explored. Most successfully, highly purified iron and cupric oxide has been used. However, new challenges arose.

Some years ago, I was proprietor of an art gallery, and one of our specialties was blown art glass from small studios and individual artists. In the course of ten years or so, I got to know a lot of glass blowers-- and often noticed the absence of deep red glass in their work.

Knowing that there were alternatives to using gold for red glass, I asked "why no red?" And learned that even though there are non-gold options to make red glass, they can only be used in extremely controlled furnace environments. The raw materials have to be extremely pure and highly processed-- and that quickly becomes expensive. One glass artist described red glass as "too temperamental," explaining that he could make a "pot" of red glass, but if the furnace got just 10 degrees too hot he'd "end up with brown soup." Keep in mind what it might take to calibrate in 10-degree increments in the context of glass having a melting point of 2700 degrees Fahrenheit. I also learned that red glass-- in its molten state-- is extremely corrosive and damages the "pots" used in the furnaces, meaning that they have to be replaced more often than when working with most other colors.

As an example (again, returning to my days at the art gallery), in 1987 major Finnish glass manufacturer iittala decided to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their world famous "Aalto" glass vase by making a special limited edition in deep red. The original intent was that the edition size was to be 1000 signed and numbered pieces worldwide. After extensive experimentation and numerous failures, the edition size was cut short to just one hundred pieces, due to "manufacturing difficulties."

Red sea glass, as beach combers might find it, comes from a very limited number of sources. Some can be traced to automotive tail lights and lenses from warning lamps and ships' lanterns-- most often, these pieces have some kind of texture on one side, put their to increasing the reflectivity of the lens. A small amount comes from Victorian- to Depression-era production and decorative glass, with a few other pieces coming from decorative art glass. Finally, a tiny amount of commercially produced red glass (most often made by Anchor-Hocking in the 1950's) might show up "locally" in various parts of the US, for example from one particular type of Schlitz beer made during the 50s. In all cases, very limited quantities were made... and red was often the color chosen for various "special" or "limited edition" objects.

As an interesting aside, red glass was often used as "tiny accents." For example, when I look at sea glass "objects" such as buttons or beads (which in and of themselves are rare to find), red is a relatively "common" occurrence. Perhaps a full one-quarter of the sea glass beads I have found have been red... but it's very much a "relative" thing, as the chances of finding any sea glass bead is maybe 1-in-2000! Although beads are not exactly rare, most are never picked up because of their tiny size-- beach combers see a piece of glass less than 1/4" in diameter and think "why bother?" not realizing that the tiny round piece has a hole through it, making it a miniature treasure.

"Cranberry Glass" as sea glass
I am occasionally asked why there is not more "cranberry glass" found as sea glass. People point out that when you go to an antique mall (for example) there is far more cranberry glass-- essentially a "pinkish/purplish" red-- than pure red glass. Most likely, the answer lies in how glass is used, and how we-- as "consumers"-- treat the glass we have around us. Whereas cranberry glass was made on a fairly large scale during the first half of the 20th century, it mostly was made into decorative objects. As such, relatively little of it was actually broken, and subsequently very little of it found its way to trash dumps. The same is true of colors such a deep amethyst and bright orange, which was used for decorative objects but is extremely rare as sea glass. Think about it, for a moment: If you chip a glass canning jar, what happens? You throw it away. If you chip your favorite cranberry glass vase, what happens? Unless it's seriously broken, you probably try to fix it. Or leave it out, with the chip facing the wall...

The bottom line is that most sea glass-- probably 99% of it-- comes from commercial glassware. That is, glassware that "contained" something, and/or was "used" for something... after which its utility ended, and it was discarded.

Whatever its origins, red glass is definitely a "treasure" for a sea glass collector, as well as for the few jewelry artists who are bold enough to use it in their work.

To see more photos of red sea glass (and I have many!), please visit my Red Sea Glass Photo Album on Flickr.

About Me

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1960 vintage Danish national now living in the Pacific Northwest... active in the global HSP community; active beach comber and sea glass collector; lifetime collector of postage stamps from Scandinavia; writer and consultant, primarily to the metaphysics and self-help industries, writer at OM Times magazine; artist who doodles on rocks; eBay & Etsy entrepreneur and studio and production assistant at Radio Nahmaste.

Diverse enough for you?