Collecting Sea Glass: Treasures to Find on the Beach

I've been excited about collecting sea glass since I was a little girl.

Growing up in a small town near Manhattan Beach, California, I was able to spend nearly every day after school and all day on the weekends at the beach.

The Strand, a 22 mile bike path right on the beach, was the perfect way to get from beach to beach. It runs from Malibu and travels through all of the South Bay beach communities and ends about 2 miles past the South end of Redondo Beach Pier in Torrance.

It was like a "sea glass freeway" and I would stop off at as many beaches ​as possible, looking for beach treasure. Sometimes, of course, I would only find a few small pieces but then there were the amazing finds, such as part of an old Coca-Cola bottle which had been smoothed by the waves.

The Strand at El Porto, California

The Strand at El Porto, California

What is Sea Glass?

Sea glass is a broken fragment of glass which has been well tumbled by the ocean waves, giving it a frosty and lightly pitted appearance. This process can take somewhere between 10 and 100 years.

When Mother Nature is ready, these beautiful sea gems are deposited on beaches for sea glass collectors to discover. It's fascinating how sea glass ends up on the beach, a true story of 'trash to treasure'.

Handful of red, blue, green and white sea glass from Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California

A handful of sea glass at Glass Beach

What is Sea Glass Made of?

Each piece of sea glass has a story. Most serious collectors love the hunt as well as learning what the piece was originally.

  • Most sea glass started out as some sort of bottle, perhaps perfume, beer, soda, medicine, seltzer water, wine, whiskey or other liqueur bottle. Maybe even an ink well! These pieces can be clear, brown, green, sea foam, cobalt blue, aqua or - more rarely - red.
  • Insulators from old light bulbs are often deep purple and may look black. Electric power and phone line insulators were usually teal.
  • Glass floats, usually aqua or green, were colorful glass balls that were wrapped in rope then tied together and used by fishermen in many parts of the world to keep their fishing nets afloat.
  • Carnival glass is moulded or pressed glass which has an 'iridescent' shimmer. It was made from 1905 and into the 1930's. Carnival glass was used to make vases, bowls, candy dishes and other similar items. Vaseline (uranium) glass is similar, but looks yellow-greenish.
  • Depression glass is thin and either clear or colored. It was made into translucent dish and glassware which was distributed free, or at low cost, in the United States and Canada around the time of the Great Depression. Common colors are clear (crystal), pink, pale blue, green, and amber.
  • End of Day Glass,  This sea glass is multi-colored refuse glass from a glass blower in a factory or art studio. Sometimes glass blowers honed their skills or worked on their own project at the end of the day and introduced an additional color. The leftover globs of glass were accumulated then dumped into the sea at the end of the day respectively.
  • Milk Glass, Opaque Glass originated in 16th century Venice and came in a variety of colors, including white, pink, yellow, blue, and brown. Milk glass became popular again thanks to a frenzy of mass production during the 1950s and 1960s from companies such as Anchor Hocking, Fenton, and Westmoreland.
  • Sea Pottery, Blue willow is the most popular china pattern in the history of dinnerware. Blue Willow was made by approximately 150 potters from 13 countries and it's still made today. Wedgwood pottery was produced from 1765 till present. English Ironstone China, white tableware made from 1813-1860. You may also find pieces of the highly collectible Fiesta Dinnerware.
Various vintage medicine, perfume bottles and flasks as well as Noxzema face cream jar and a teal power insulator

Vintage bottles become amazing sea glass!

Shape of sea glass pieces

​You might be surprised by the amount of information you can gather just from the shape of your piece of sea glass.

  • The fact that most sea glass started out as some sort of bottle, explains why we have so many curved pieces, bottle bottoms, bottle necks, threaded bottle lips and kick ups, these are the hollow indentation in bottle bottoms to give it stability.
  • The older bottle bottoms may have raised lettering which can tell you when and where it was bottled and with a little research can sometimes tell you a story about the person who made that bottle. blob bottle lips (these were made from 1840 to 1890)
  • More rare items include marbles, bottle stoppers, jug handles, buttons and beads, these are so much fun to find.
  • Bonfire Glass, is any glass that has been melted usually by camp fire or dump fire. Bonfire Glass can have more than one color of bottle melted together or may have entrapped sand, water and other small objects in the glass.
Sea glass and sea pottery from East Lothian, Scotland

Sea glass (and pottery) from East Lothian, Scotland

How does glass get in to the water?

The abundance of sea glass on some beaches may have to do with the way people used to dispose of their trash.

  • In the past it was common for people in coastal towns to dump their garbage including broken glass over the bluffs by day and burn it at night.
  • Towns like; Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California, Glass Beach, Port Townsend, Washington, Glass Beach Oregon, Sea Glass Beach Bermuda, Glass Beach, Kauai, Hawaii and several others beaches named for trash that has turned into treasure.
  • Even a small natural disaster of mother nature. The incredibly unique sea glass found off the coast of Davenport, California is the remnants of glass from Lundberg Studios. In the 1970's a heavy rainstorm caused the San Vicente Creek to overflow. The flooding swept away containers of discarded blown-glass trimmings from behind the shop into the ocean.
  • Beach towns that were popular fifty years ago, old amusement piers, hotels, bars or other waterfront recreational areas nearby, beaches that have fire rings, as parties frequently leave behind remains of bottles, waves can reach the melted bottles tossed into bonfire pits and wash them out to sea.
  • Cruse ships at sea frequently discarded glass and broken table ware carelessly tossing it overboard in to the sea.
Sea glass bottle neck on rocks in Laguna Beach, California

Sea glass bottle neck in Laguna Beach, California

What about Shipwrecks?

In the book "The Official Sea Glass Searcher's Guide" author Cindy Bilbao says...

Some of the sea glass we find on beaches today comes from shipwrecks or working ships entering and leaving the many ports along the coast.

Here is a brief rundown of what their cargos may have contained as it relates to sea glass treasures:​

Shipwreck
  1. Glass oil lamps
  2. Porcelain figurines
  3. Porcelain tableware
  4. Pressed glass
  5. Gold and silver coins
  6. Elegant glassware
  7. Ceramic dish sets
  8. Pitchers
  9. Crocks
  10. Marbles
Cindy Bilbao 
Author, "The Official Sea Glass Searcher's Guide"

I'd love to hear what you find so alluring about finding a piece of frosted surf-tumbled sea glass.

Is it the hunt? Is it the mystery of what it was or how old it might be? The excitement of spotting your favorite colored gem washed up after a high-tide?

For me, it's all of the above and the sharing and caring community of other sea glass collectors, some of whom I now get to call friends.

Happy sea glass hunting!

Jonna

Jonna

I have been gathering sea glass for many years. I can never resist a stroll along the beach and the opportunity to add some more beach treasure to my collection!

9 Comments

  1. I’m obsessed with strolling along the beach searching for sea glass. I’m ready to get a head lamp so I can check the low ride at early eve when the sun goes down. I went to the beach 3 times today. Am I obsessed?

    1. Hi Will, Capo beach is between San Clemente and Dana Point. I have found small smooth pieces of sea glass on the beach near the basket ball courts in either direction. I found a beautiful blue marble in the direction towards the houses. We will post the information in the next couple of days. Thank you so much asking. Have you been collecting sea glass for long?

  2. I will be in Julian, California the middle of November. I really want to search for sea glass while I am there. I live in Colorado and have only been to the beach a couple of times in my life. Where would a good and close by beach to Julian be for me to go? Thank you.

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