The Mystery and Allure of Cobalt Sea Glass

Updated from version published in spring 2014 edition of Shorelines Newsletter 

Ellie Z. Mercier

 

Sea glass collectors can certainly relate to the jubilant sensation that transpires when striking gold. Of course, not the sought after nuggets that lured settlers west during the Gold Rush of 1849, yet smoothly tumbled specimens of the finest quality, which actually have no resemblance to gold whatsoever but are dressed in the magnificently rich hue of cobalt blue.

Many enthusiasts would likely agree that discovering prized shards of ruby red, yellow, and purple – and especially those boasting coats of orange – are surely hobby-related milestones worth writing home about. However, although true blue finds are generally more plentiful than the shades ranked as most scarce, few collectors can resist the mysterious allure of cobalt blue sea glass.

Detecting glimpses of well-worn cornflower or royal blue gems ashore may generate well-deserved shrieks of delight on behalf of some beachcombers, while others may experience a stunned silence. Yet despite the differing external reactions to such feats, collectors are often left to ponder the magical significance of the cherished shade.

Represented as the first element in the ninth column of the periodic table, cobalt possesses an atomic number of 27 and is recognized by the symbol Co. The mineral was formally discovered in 1735 by Swedish chemist George Brand, who dispelled the myth that the element Bismuth was responsible for the rich blue color of glass. However, coba

lt compounds were used for thousands of years before Brand isolated the element. Scientists have traced the use of cobalt back to the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii and to early civilizations of Ancient China, and the mineral was also used in Egyptian art and Persian pottery. Although prior to the 1940s, cobalt was used sparingly due to the limited quantity, the expense, and the difficulty to extract the mineral. Modern day collectors often associate the shade with luminous blue medicine bottles and cosmetic jars produced during the early to mid-twentieth century.

However, cobalt’s use as a coloring agent is not limited to glass, jewelry and ceramics; the compound is also used as a pigment for paint, ink and even cosmetics. Other applications of cobalt include the production of rechargeable batteries and the electroplating of cutlery and jewelry. Rather than an element found in nature, cobalt is a hard yet brittle mineral contained in the Earth’s crust and is a byproduct of the mining of other metals, including nickel, copper, silver, lead and iron. In its natural state, the color is a bluish-white shade, similar to gray. Cobalt salts are actually the source of the brilliant and permanent rich hue associated with the mineral. The majority of cobalt is mined in Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (or Zaire, prior to 1997), which extracts close to forty-percent of the world’s supply annually. Other sources are found in Canada, Brazil, Russia, China and Morocco. Also, researchers believe there is a vast source of cobalt contained in the ocean’s floor, although scientists currently lack the technology to extract the element. Interestingly, studies conducted by the United States Geological Survey conclude that cobalt likely exists in the shallow waters of the Hawaiian Islands (USGS).

Ironically, among the many interesting facts about cobalt is the mysterious nature of how the color’s name originated. Long ago, superstitious German silver miners believed that malicious spirits were affecting their health as well as stealing silver ore from the mines, and they referred to these spirits as kobalt, a derivative of kobold, which is German for goblin. Other fascinating facts surrounding the element include artist John Varley’s presumption that cobalt is an ideal substitution for the shade of ultramarine blue, which was widely used for painting skies. Another artist, Maxfield Parrish, was so well known for his superior cobalt blue sky-scape paintings that the hue is sometimes referred to as Parrish blue. Cobalt was also the primary pigment used in notable blue and white Chinese porcelain, originally produced in the late eighth or ninth century. Furthermore, cobalt is used to illuminate the cornea of the eye to detect corneal scratches and is used in the production of magnets, and Radioactive Cobalt is used to treat cancer. And oddly enough, cobalt is added to the diet of sheep in order to prevent disease and improve the quality of their wool.

The outward reactions of those fortunate enough to experience such a hobby-related milestone as striking gold – or rather, witness sudden brilliant glimpses of blue jump out from the sandy canvases before them – may differ significantly, but few sea glass collectors can resist the powerful allure of cobalt treasures, which in many aspects, are truly gifts of Mother Nature.

Photos: Ellie Mercier

  • Ellie found the frosty marble in the Abacos (her first marble find & she remembers that she was extra excited because Richard LaMotte shared that cobalt marbles are more rare than red marbles).
  • The bottle is from Ellie’s bottle collection – She also collects antique bottles.
  • Ellie found the jar lid in the Chesapeake Bay (almost a decade ago)
  • Yet most interesting is the image of the large cobalt shards, which Ellie found following the 2009 festival in Lake Erie…One of her customers took me combing along the river in nearby Conneaut, Ohio, where much slag glass was discarded in the 1960s by the GE Light Bulb Base Plant (these are huge, and the hue is extremely vibrant, alike bright violet).

Beer and sea glass bottles in Wilmington, Delaware

The 12th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival will be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017  and Sunday, September 24, 2017 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware along the revitalized Christana River waterfront.     Wilmington is a city in Delaware on the Christina and Delaware rivers. Downtown’s early-20th-century DuPont Building is part of the local DuPont family legacy, which is also evidenced at the Hagley Museum. Those grounds include the 1802 DuPont gunpowder works and the family’s Georgian-style home. The Old Swedes Church, between the Christina River and Brandywine Creek, is from 1698.  European settlement had begun with the arrival of the Swedes and Dutch in the 1630’s and were the first European settlers in the Delaware Valley.

This year the North American Sea Glass Festival is excited to take place in one of the first locations in the United States to brew and bottle beer.  Why is this fun fact relevant to our festival?   Because as all sea glass collectors know, beer bottles and their colors, clear (white), amber and green are still plentiful to find and still makes sea glass collectors happy to find, even if they are considered sea glass common colors.

Here’s some interesting information and excerpts from Delaware Beer History about the history of beer (and bottling!!) in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Brewing began in Delaware with the arrival of the first sizeable European settlement.  Shortly after establishing a trading fort, Fort Christina, at present day Wilmington in late March 1638, Swedish and Finnish settlers immediately began making preparations to grow barley and locate hops for brewing beer.  Beer was a staple of the European diet in the 17th century, as it was recognized as the healthful alternative to drinking water.  Back in their native homelands, water supplies were often polluted and unsafe for drinking.  Of course, they had not yet discovered that boiling  during the brewing process killed bacteria.  Ale was consumed throughout the day by men, women and children, though the latter two groups tended to be served drink with a lower alcohol content.”

Bavarian-Luxburger label (John Medkeff collection)

Skip ahead a few hundred years and prohibition stopped beer operations in America.  However, one of Delaware’s beer pioneers, Carl H. Eisenmenger maintained ownership of Wilmington’s Bavarian Brewery at 5th & DuPont Streets.   “Eisenmenger, who understood that Prohibition would likely soon be a reality, had began brewing a ‘near beer’ cereal beverage as early as 1918.  In 1919, the Bavarian Brewing Company officially changed its name to the Peninsula Products Company, Inc.  The company continued with its Quex ‘near beer’ product and added a line of soft drinks.  After an initial surge in business, the venture ultimately failed and, in 1925, Peninsula closed its doors for good.   Eisenmenger, who maintained ownership of the 5th & DuPont property, rented the complex to other soft drink companies and businesses.  He temporarily withdrew from the beverage industry but would return again to revive brewing operations after repeal of the 18th Amendment.

When Repeal came in April 1933, Eisenmenger immediately formed a stock company and began working on plans to revive the brewing business.   Delaware granted Bavarian-Luxburger the state’s first post-Prohibition brewery license on September 1933.  After securing a Federal brewing license a few weeks later,  the company began production.  On November 27, the first cases of bottled Bavarian Beer finally left the plant.”

Read more Delaware Beer History here>

After the North American Sea Glass Festival, meander along the Christina waterfront to find modern day craft brewers to quench your thirst, such as Iron Hill Brewery, located a short walk from the Chase Center on the Riverfront.

View a map of the Wilmington Riverfront here>

Hartmann and Fehrenbach Brewery, had its origins with the “Father of Lager Beer in Delaware”.  The year 1890 also saw the Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewing Company expand their operations into bottling,  which were beautifully embossed with the company’s logo, the mythical winged stallion, Pegasus.

While other regions in America have been better known historically as centers of beer production, few have been brewing as long as Delaware brewers.  For nearly four centuries, First State brewers have been producing high quality, award-winning ales and lagers.  Explore the state’s fascinating and, until now, largely unknown brewing history on this site and in the pages of the book Brewing in Delaware by John Medkeff, Jr.

More fun facts about beer history and how to date bottles:

“Until the late 1800s, most beer was sold in kegs since bottled beer had to be consumed quickly or it would spoil. But the advent of pasteurization in 1876 made it safe to bottle fermented products, and along with America’s growing rail system, the bottled-beer industry boomed.

In the early 1890s, Congress passed taxes on bottled beer, along with legislation allowing companies to bottle their brews onsite and bypass an archaic process of barreling, transporting, and packaging their drinks into bottles elsewhere. Prior to this action, beer bottles often featured a bottling credit on them in addition to the name of the brewer, which is one way to date a beer bottle. While early beer bottles came in a variety of glass colors, including brown, blue, green, and clear, the first American bottles were made from ceramic stoneware. This style was often used for dark beers like porters and stouts or non-alcoholic drinks like root beer or ginger ale.

Since bottling was costly, many early containers were embossed with a company’s name to help ensure their safe return, although this didn’t deter bootleggers from reusing them. At the time, many would-be brewers made their products out of their homes and used their bottles for multiple beverages, so some of these embossed bottles never even included the word “beer” on them (the brewer’s company and city names were all a customer needed to know). As these fledgling enterprises grew into mature companies, though, phrases like “Brewing Co.” were added. Less common embossing features included a company’s phone number and graphic icons like animal mascots. William Painter’s invention of the single-use “crown cap” in 1892 sealed the deal for mass-produced beer bottles. The innovative design, with its crimped edge and cork lining, overtook some 1,500 different styles of bottle stoppers used prior to 1892. The crown cap also led to more uniform, machine-made bottles.” – Collectors Weekly

Have you found old bottles, beer, soda, liquor, medicines?   The body of a bottle has an assortment of characteristics or diagnostic features that can assist a person trying to date or at least tell a more complete story of a given bottle.  Learn how to date your bottles on the Society for Historical Archaeology website here>

Happy hunting!

Excerpts in this post from Collectorsweekly.com and DelawareBeerHistory.com 

Find out more about the 2017 North American Sea Glass Festival in Wilmington, Delaware here>

North American Sea Glass Festival 2017 lectures announced

North American Sea Glass Festival Lectures to be held Saturday, September 23, 2017
Wilmington, Delaware, Chase Center on the Riverfront

Fake Versus Genuine Sea Glass Across the Globe
Richard LaMotte and Mary McCarthy
11:30 a.m.

Buyer beware! With all the fake sea glass for sale online, how can shoppers tell the difference between fake and genuine sea glass?  This lecture by NASGA founder Richard LaMotte and the current NASGA Education Chair Mary McCarthy will describe how consumers and collectors can distinguish the difference between genuine sea glass and fake sea glass, including an exhibit of sample fake sea glass.

Richard LaMotte is the author of the award-winning book Pure SEA GLASS and a recent sequel titled The Lure of Sea Glass. He was a co-founder and past-president of the North American Sea Glass Association.  Richard works in Chestertown, Maryland and lives in southeast Delaware. He and his wife Nancy started a Chesapeake Bay sea glass collection for her jewelry business in 1999. In 2002 he began researching glass history for a lecture which led to extensive research into glass colors, as well as the physics and chemistry behind the frosted glass forms found along the shoreline.

In 2006 Pure Sea Glass was awarded first place for non-fiction in Writer’s Digest 13th Annual Self-Published Book Competition.  Richard and his book have been featured in The Washington Post, on Martha Stewart Living TVCoastal LivingParade Magazine, Baltimore SunThe Boston Globe, Delaware Beach Life, on NPR and Maryland Public Television.

Bestselling author Mary McCarthy is a lifelong journalist whose career includes a number of national and regional newspapers, magazines and websites. She lectures at the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism and is an instructor at the Writer’s Center.  Mary serves on the Board of Directors of the North American Sea Glass Association where she is also Chair of the Education Committee, speaking regularly at beachcombing conferences around the country. Mary is a mother of four on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where she enjoys kayaking and beachcombing. She is the founder of SeaCrate, an ocean-themed monthly subscription box service and is currently working on a beachcombing memoir.

Amazing Journeys: Glass Fishing Floats, from the East and the West
Dr. Deacon Ritterbush (aka Dr. Beachcomb)
1:30 p.m.

A life-long beachcomber, Dr. Deacon Ritterbush (aka Dr. Beachcomb) is an award winning author (A Beachcomber’s Odyssey) and founder of the annual International Beachcombing Conferences. She lectures throughout North America on sea glass, pottery shards and the archaeology of beachcombing. To learn more about her or about beachcombing, visit Dr. Beachcomb on Facebook, Instagram and http://www.drbeachcomb.com.

Her lecture at the 2017 NASGA Sea Glass Festival will focus on fishing floats from the east and west, including their practical and spiritual aspects as well as the amazing sea glass shards resulting from their breakage.

 

What Makes Sea Pottery Regionally Distinct?
Connor O’Brien
3:30 p.m.

Lifelong beachcomber and avid collector Connor O’Brien will discuss his experiences beachcombing and investigating sea worn artifacts that were collected during his international travels and correspondence with beachcombers around the world. The topic will be sea pottery, with an emphasis on factors that make sea pottery regionally distinct. Attendees will enjoy one of the largest showcases of sea pottery to date, handle exotic shards from around the world, as well as learn the skills required to identify and date sea pottery. Viewers should expect to walk away with an increased appreciation for the aesthetics and history of sea pottery as well as an eagerness to take a closer look at their own pottery finds.

 

Mary McCarthy to host lecture during North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland

Mary McCarthyMary McCarthy will host a lecture “Sea Glass Marbles From Around the Globe” during the 11th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland on Saturday, August 27th.  Mary will share her knowledge and years of experience on sea glass collecting with you, particularly marbles along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.  Sea marbles wash up on beaches around the world. Why? Were they used as ballast for ships? Did they come from the insides of bottles at bars? Or were most simply used as children’s toys, ending up in the waves after many years on beaches at play? This lecture will explore the origins and history of the different types of marbles that wash up on shorelines, and include a display of sea marbles from over 20 countries and waterways from around the globe.

Mary McCarthy is a bestselling author and lifelong journalist. Currently Senior Editor forSpliceToday.com, her writing career includes Salon.com, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, editorial positions at regional magazines and newspaper humor columns.  She has blogged for Katie Couric and appeared on The Today Show.  She is an Adjunct Instructor for American University and an instructor for The Writer’s Center in Washington, D.C.

Mary started sea glass hunting when she moved to Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2001. She often writes on sea glass related topics. She has spoken at the International Beachcombing Conference and Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center Sea Glass Conference, and joined NASGA this year as a commercial member. You can follow her sea glass finds in real time online at Instagram.com/marytmccarthy.

North American Sea Glass Festival, Ocean City, Maryland

Sea Glass Soiree  Friday, August 26, 2016   5pm – 9pm

Sea Glass Festival  Saturday, August 27, 2016  9am – 6pm

www.seaglassassociation.org

Richard LaMotte to host lecture during North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland

Richard LaMotteRichard LaMotte will host a lecture “The Lure and Mysteries of Sea Glass” during the 11th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland on Saturday, August 27th.  Richard  will share his knowledge and years  of experience on sea glass with you, accompanied by Celia Pearson’s beautiful images from his two books, Pure Sea Glass and The Lure of Sea Glass.  Richard plans to provide insight into the art of identifying unique shards and review the basic science of how sea glass is formed.  Learn why certain colors are so much harder to find than others and explore the history of sea glass.  Questions are encouraged as this lecture will serve to be a valuable exchange of information between Richard and anyone seeking to learn more about these vanishing gems.

The Lure of Sea Glass

A little bit about Richard and his latest book, The Lure of Sea Glass: Our Connection to Nature’s Gems.

Richard LaMotte, author of The Lure of Sea Glass: Our Connection to Nature’s Gems, is America’s leading authority on sea glass.  His new book, which focuses primarily on the emotional side of sea glass, was prompted by the many stories and anecdotes he has heard over the years from people who shared with him how much sea glass collecting has meant in their lives.

Since the publication of his first book, LaMotte has hosted or attended hundreds of events for sea glass collectors all over the nation.  At these events, sea glass aficionados have had an opportunity to view others’ collections and learn more about the sea glass phenomenon.  He is a former president of the North American Sea Glass Association, which annually holds a national festival for sea glass collectors and those interested in learning more about the subject.

The new book is a sequel to his classic, Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems, which was published in 2004.  That book, which has become the definitive book on the subject, helped spark the increasingly popular pastime of collecting treasures from the sea.  It earned first place in non-fiction from the Writer’s Digest 13th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards.  Since 2004, his company, Sea Glass Publishing, L.L.C., also has produced calendars, note cards, identification cards and other products featuring photographs and information about sea glass.

LaMotte and his family have collected more than 40,000 pieces of sea glass, much of it from the Chesapeake Bay, near their home in Chestertown, Maryland.

LaMotte has been interviewed in leading newspapers including The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the New York Times and the Boston Globe.  His work also has been featured in magazines including Coastal Living, Parade and Delaware Beach Life.

North American Sea Glass Festival, Ocean City, Maryland

Sea Glass Soiree  Friday, August 26, 2016   5pm – 9pm

Sea Glass Festival  Saturday, August 27, 2016  9am – 6pm

www.seaglassassociation.org