The Wonders Of Sea Glass

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Sea glass, that weathered glass that is usually found upon the shores of bodies of salt water, is a favorite collectible for many Long Islanders and beach-goers alike. Many folks delight in the discovery of a frosted chunk of glass that has been worn smooth by saltwater kisses. It is the stuff of gift shops, jewelers and photographers, a beautiful reminder that Mother Nature is bad ass.

Sea glass is physically and chemically weathered glass found on beaches along bodies of salt water.
(Photo by Moximox/CC BY-SA 4.0)

For the record, sea glass and beach glass are not the same, although the process is similar. While sea glass is found along the seashore, beach glass is found along rivers and bodies of fresh water. The process of frosting can take anywhere from 20 to 200 years for a piece of glass to become smooth and frosty in appearance.

I really don’t remember when my love for sea glass began. It may have been on our first trip to Marco Island, when I was a young pregnant woman who found a shard of yellow and tossed it back, unsure of its potential. Gift shops on the island offered corked bottles and glass-bottomed lamps that were filled with frosty chunks of white, sea foam green, lime green and cobalt blue. When I glanced at the price tag, I realized that it might be more fun to find pieces for myself. Hubby and I share a gift of creativity, so the challenge began.
A trip to Montauk when our daughter was young offered us a view into the wonderful colors of glass that the sea could sprinkle upon the shoreline. Lavender, turquoise, rich red, yellow, gray, pink and orange, as well as the standard amber, brown, lime green and seafoam, stood stock still in a jar on a ledge in the Montauk Bakery. Together with our daughter, we combed the seashore for bits and pieces of glass that we could salvage in a pretty jar in our own window. While the trip didn’t yield much of a haul, we still were able to find a few pretty pieces of green and brown.

It became a quest for us to find rarer colors. When our daughter was in kindergarten, we took her and her friend Jessica up to Teddy Roosevelt Beach in Bayville. Upon the sand lay a tiny shard of red sea glass that winked in the hot July sun. We awarded it to Jessica since she had found it first. It was the one and only time we found red sea glass, yet we were grateful to have seen it up close and personal.

Our daughter began to make sea glass necklaces while she was a junior at Hicksville High School. It was a painstaking process of smashing the pieces of glass to bits, then feeding them into small glass tubes that were fixed upon a leather string. Because each necklace took so long to create, she gave up after making 20, the tips of her fingers sore and calloused.

Last month, I found a large chunk of cobalt blue sea glass on the shores of Stehli Beach in Bayville. I was thrilled, especially since previous pieces were more like slivers. Perfectly weathered, it found its way into the pretty jar in our greenhouse window. However, I longed for a piece of purple glass.

On Fourth of July, Hubby and I took another walk along Stehli Beach’s shoreline. There among the seashells was a large chunk of lavender sea glass. At first, Hubby thought it was a piece of plastic until he held it in his hands. It was the real deal. A few moments later, he found a rare piece of turquoise glass, perfectly weathered by the waves along Long Island Sound.

A friend asked me if I knew the reason sea glass “turned purple” and if I knew that the glass was “very old.” In the 1880’s until World War I, glass makers had difficulty getting glass to remain clear. Batch sand used to make glass often gave a greenish tone from iron deposits, so manufacturers began to add manganese to the glass, a process known as “decolorizing.” This yielded a clearer product. However, the use of manganese in glass manufacturing was stopped in 1915 and 1916.

Now, when glass treated with manganese hits ultraviolet rays, the process is known as “sun-purpling.” Depending on how many years the glass has been touched by the sun, the hues vary from light lavender to deep violet. The longer the sunlight exposure, the deeper the color. For an in-depth look at this chemical reaction, I would advise reading Rebecca Ruger’s article in Beach Combing Magazine. Visit www.beachcombingmagazine.com/blogs/news/lavender-sea-glass to check out Rebecca’s piece. Another article of interest can be found at https://beachlust.com/sea-glass-color-complete-guide-to-origin-and-rarity.

Sea glass and beach glass are lovely little trinkets left behind by years of wear. While some may think of it as litter, it all goes back to the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It applies perfectly to Kauai’s Glass Beach, which is a shoreline made of millions of sea glass pebbles created from broken bottles and auto glass that was dumped there for years. For a spot closer to home, you can try the shorelines of Smith Point Beach in Mastic, Flying Point Beach in Watermill or Wading River Beach in Wading River. To those about to embark on this delightful collectible trail, or for those who have already snagged some beautiful pieces, I wish you a happy hunt and some glorious finds.

Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.

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