Sea glass and sea pottery is very collectable now, and is one of the few examples of rubbish being collectable. EBay and Etsy frequently have pre-determined lots of sea glass for purchase. Sea glass has always been more mainstream than the pottery to collect, but I do prefer the pottery. When you turn over a piece and find a wonderful pattern on the other side its such a rarity and its pursuit can become quite addictive!
Types used in my work
I mostly use Cornish sea glass and sea pottery in my work. Most of the pieces I use have come from old harbours, shipwrecks and general tourist littering.
What is it
Sea pottery is made from shards of pottery, ceramic or porcelain, and sea glass from glass. Many strange things end up in the sea, either through littering, spilt cargo from shipwrecks or sea erosion. Fragments of tiles, plates, ornaments, clay pipes, mugs, jugs, bowls, bottles, pots and teapots are polished by the sea against the sand, rather like a stone tumbler, to smooth the jagged edges and leave beautiful sea smoothed treasures on the sand. River glass and pottery comes from a similar origin, but is smoothed, as the name suggests, my river currents, which can sometimes leave the shards more jagged than sea weathered finds. Because the sand is much smaller it polishes more of the edges like a finer grit.
Where do you find it?
You can find sea glass and pottery all around the world, amazing thick mosaic type pieces on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, Big shards of rare red sea glass in Thailand, chunky pieces of Turquoise in Barcelona and unusual Victorian tea ware pottery in rivers in Suffolk! Sea glass and pottery will usually occur in areas where there has been some sort of urban development, for example in Hawaii it is not uncommon on one beach to find pieces of cobalt or very rare turquoise sea glass due to an old factory on the coast succumbing to the elements. Where harbours once stood or still stand many cargos were lost on the way in, cases and cases of teapots slipping away off the deck in stormy seas coming into port. Sometimes you find whole bottles, marbles or old bottle stoppers that have avoided being smashed against the rocks and have been preserved and tumbled to leave a frosty finish on the glass.
High tide after a storm is the best time to beach comb, as all the pieces will have been dislodged from the seabed and pushed up the beach.
How old is it
A piece of sea glass or pottery is very hard to date unless it has a very defining feature, like a date or stamp, colour or iconic pattern. But it is uncommon to find the bottom of a plate or cup, with the makers stamp still preserved on the bottom, even more uncommon if they have been hand numbered or signed.
It is meant to take 3-5 years to weather a shard; although the likelihood is that most pieces have been swishing around in the sea for much longer. Thicker sea glass is usually older and the frostier it is, the more time it has been in the sea.
Safety glass is an unusual find too, old safety glass with thick wire inside to prevent the glass from shattering if it did break, from old cars and boats that had probably sunk or just ended up in the sea.
The elusive Vaseline sea glass is a light lemon lime colour that is radioactive and glows under UV light. This glass is harmless as although it is radioactive is registers very low on the Geiger scale. This type of glass was most popular between the 1880’s – 1920’s. It can be classed with depression glass, although this is a very common term used for any cheap translucent glass mass produced during the great depression, with many of the colours being light pastel hues, like pale pink or clear glass, with intricate texture on.
My personal favourite however is the milk glass, or opal glass, which was first produced in Venice in the 16th Century, becoming very popular in the Victorian era in the UK. This opaque glass basically looks like milk, and many pieces glow under UV light, although this is not because of the uranium in it, like Vaseline glass, but because of the glowing fluorite used in producing the opaque colour. Custard glass, a pale yellow milk glass, and Jadite glass, a pale green, were all popular colours, but opaque white was the most popular and what milk glass was originally named after. There have also been examples of flashed glass, where glass has a different colour on each side. Some of these colours are opaque and some translucent, the technique was used to carve through and reveal the base colour of the glass underneath, or as a cheap substitute if you could not afford the whole colour!
Types – rarity
Sea pottery is defined by its pattern or previous form. Most sea pottery is white, but sometimes a piece is overturned and will yield an amazing work of art on the other side. Flowers, boats, art deco motifs, oriental gardens, makers stamps, animals and people are all great finds, as is unusually textured pieces or broken ornaments, limbs.
Sea glass is then classed in colours but the rarity of colours can vary in an area. Emerald, bottle green, brown, white and aqua are all common colours found whilst beachcombing, although the darker an aqua the more desirable it is. This is because these are the common colours used in the bottling industry today, brown beer bottles, green wine bottles, clear spirit bottles and aqua water bottles. Anything that isn’t one of these common colours is considered harder to find, for every 100 pieces of the common colours, only one out of that 100 may turn out to be cobalt or navy, the cobalt usually being descended from an old medicine bottle used in the Victorian era. Lime, Turquoise, yellow, pink, purple and red (from car light, buoys and lanterns) are very rare, with orange thought to be the most uncommon colour.
But as mentioned before, regional rarities of sea glass can exist. I have found many unusual pieces of flashed Fuchsia sea glass, which I have only seen turn up in Scotland. Many variations of types of glass can be found too, carnival glass with an iridescent sheen, popular from the 1900s onwards, and slag glass, an opaque marbled glass, sometime called malachite glass, which was very popular around the 1880’s. I found a piece of cloud glass, similar to the slag glass, but being translucent and usually having a darker colour added in at the last moment to create swirly cloud effects, hence the name. This was made around the 1920’s – 30’s and has now become highly collectable. Camp fire, Bonfire, or fire sea glass is a term used to describe glass that has been melted, in a beach fire, so the glass has bubbled over and usually dried over another object like a pebble or burnt wood. Spatter, or splatter glass is a technique popular in the 1880s onwards which involved coating the glass in tiny pieces of glass, to create a splattered effect, and spangle glass, which used a similar technique except there were flecks of metal in with the glass to make it glitter rather like a crude early form of dichroic.