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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Odd Bits: Sea Glass Beads

When people think about sea glass, the idea that comes to mind is typically that some glass object-- let's say a bottle or storage jar-- broke and ended up in the ocean. With time-- and the abrasive effect of water, sand and rocks-- the sharp pieces of glass became the softly rounded and frosted gems we now call "sea glass."

Opaque yellow sea glass bead
However, not all sea glass started as "sharp broken shards of glass."

Today, I'll take a look at a type of sea glass that typically did NOT start as "broken glass," namely sea glass BEADS.

Beads-- as sea glass-- tend to be fairly rare. For one, beads are usually pretty small, so they can be hard to spot, when you are beach combing. In addition, since they are small, it doesn't take a whole lot of rough surf and being beaten against rocks before they completely wear away.

The good news about beads as sea glass is that when you DO find them, they are typically in "whole" condition-- this is not a shape that usually suffers a lot of breakage. Of course, that doesn't automatically mean that they can be used for jewelry, since most tend to have small rocks and grains of sand lodged in the original hole (see photos)-- and these can sometimes be impossible to dislodge, without breaking the bead.

Very rare squared bright green bead
How do beads become sea glass? Usually, they can only be found in places where there were trash dumps on the coast. Sea glass beads usually started as inexpensive glass jewelry that got thrown away when the string in a bracelet or necklace broke and it was too much hassle to fix it. The individual person's garbage made its way to the city/town dump by the seaside, and then ended up in the ocean... after which the process of it "becoming sea glass" is exactly the same as any other form of sea glass.

Most sea glass beads have very humble and "common" origins. A great "treasure" for a sea glass hunter would be to find a "sea glassed" antique trade bead, made in Venice... and perhaps used for trade in Africa or Asia. Since these can cost several dollars each from bead stores, they are very unlikely to have been discarded.

As stated above, sea glass beads are quite rare. And they are getting rarer, because they are one of the few kinds of "discarded glass" that was almost always processed through a trash dump-- and since trash is no longer thrown in the ocean as a means of disposal, there are really no more sea glass beads being created.

A rare deep turquoise bead
Relatively speaking, "color rarity" is completely different with sea glass beads, than with other forms of sea glass. If you think about it, the most common colors used for glass casual/costume jewelry are completely different from the most common colors used for glass, in general. In my personal collection, otherwise very rare red is actually the most common sea glass bead color. Green-- which is common "in general"-- is quite rare, when it comes to beads.

I say "relatively speaking," because no matter what color it may be, a sea glass bead is something I only find as maybe 1-in-5000 pieces of sea glass, overall. In the course of 40-odd years, I have only collected only maybe 25-30 whole beads, and at least half of them were tiny round opaque reds ("seed beads")-- some of which I almost didn't pick up at all, because I was thinking "no, that's just TOO small for anyone to care about."

As an interesting aside, I actually had several beads in my sea glass collection for years without knowing they were beads. I had collected them and decided they were just "a small piece of round glass with a grain of sand embedded at one end." Had I taken the time to hold them up to the light, I would have noticed they had a hole running all the way through them! I bet I am not the only sea glass collector who has had an experience like that.

Red sea glass bead. Note the sand in the hole.
There are no particular ways to find sea glass beads, when you are beach combing. The main thing to keep in mind is that these are so small they are often overlooked.

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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.

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