NASGA is a non-profit organization positively supporting sea glass collectors and the sea glass community with festivals, information, educational opportunities, commercial membership and more. The primary goal of NASGA is to establish a community of informed collectors and sellers of sea glass that are educated on the characteristics and significance of genuine sea glass.
Long, long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the skies were pierced with cries of enormous birds, something was happening geologically just below the water. Unusual formations in the silt and mud began to take shape that would, millions of years later, reveal themselves and wash up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. These “formations,” resembling hollow rock balls, tubes, ocarinas, and more avant-garde shapes, are created from sand, clay, and iron oxide.When my family and I first moved to the shores of the upper Chesapeake and roamed the beaches in search of beach glass, we also began to find peculiar, round, metal-like objects. We felt certain they were a type of ammunition for guns used during the Revolutionary War because George Washington had munitions created in the Principio Iron Works just a heron’s flight across the bay, near the port of Charlestown.
Being new to the area and excited to show our finds to our neighbors, our newly found friends chuckled and told us that the strange formations were called ‘pop rocks,” small hollow stones of which our neighbors would toss into beach fires and watch them explode. Another neighbor told us that the formations (are) derived from ‘Indian paint pots” and that Native American tribes used the iron oxide inside the stones to paint their faces. But it was not until we met another neighbor, and now long-time friend, Alice Lundgren, that the mystery was solved. The formations, in all their various shapes, are known as “concretions.”
Alice has a collection of well over a thousand concretions ranging in size from a quarter of an inch to about twelve inches, all of which she has gathered from the bay. Alice was a true inspiration to my family and me, and we soon joined forces to not only hunt for sea glass, but to eagerly search for concretions. These unusual rock formations date back to the late Cretaceous and Eocene eras. Even more fascinating than the “pop rocks” are tubular rocks. The tubular concretions are iron oxide formations that reflect a pipe-like structure.
When we go exploring along our nearby beach, Alice, a seasoned concretion seeker, has the ability to spot the stone tubes instantly, yet the rest of us are not so fortunate, as the finds appear camouflaged to the untrained eye. Some of the concretions boast unique shapes, such as small cups, snowmen, and acorns while the tubular concretions often resemble coral, branches, and even small musical pipes (although they do not carry a tune))! Similar to sea glass, each concretion seems to carry its own story and personality.
Having been formed millions of years ago from sedimentary rock, concretions have been significant and mystical to many cultures. Some cultures believe them to be holy stones while other cultures believe the stones bring luck, or perhaps represent the divine feminine. However, theories of modern science suggest the concretions are fossils or meteorites.
As beachcombers, we are treasure-hunters. We are always seeking the next great find. The Shard of the Year Contest, which is one of the highlights of the North American Sea Glass Association’s annual Festival, would be ideal opportunity to view both natural and manmade treasures (this year’s North American Sea Glass Festival will be held in Wildwood, New Jersey on October 27 – 28).
*Many thanks to Alice Lundgren for sharing her collection of concretions, and to Meredith Keating and Brandon Boas for their photography.
The 13th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival will be held on Saturday, October 27, 2018 and Sunday, October 28, 2018 at The Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey.
The North American Sea Glass Festival is the premier sea glass event in the country celebrating the history and beauty of sea glass. The event will be held on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Admission is $7.00 per day, Children Under 12 Free. There will be a two-day ticket available for purchase on Saturday for a reduced rate of $10.
This year the festival will also include Sunday lectures. The North American Sea Glass Festival will feature expert lecture presentations on the history and collection of genuine sea glass. Each lecture will be approximately 45 minutes. There will be a Q & A session after the lectures. The lectures will be located in the main hall of the festival.
Lectures: Saturday, October 27, 2018
Beach Marble History in Wildwood, New Jersey and Beyond
The National Marbles Tournament has been held in Wildwood since 1922. Learn about the history of beach marbles found locally and why they’re found on other beaches around the world. The lecture will feature Doug Watson, board member of the National Marbles Tournament explaining the history of the tournament followed by Mary McCarthy, who will showcase her collection of vintage sea marbles while discussing the many types of marbles you would find along the East Coast and beyond.
Doug Watson has been involved with the game of marbles for over 20 years. He won the 1999 National Marbles Tournament at age 14. With a team of other mibsters, he traveled to England to compete at the World Marbles Tournament. Doug has competed in the U.S. Marble Championship, Rolley Hole Tournament in Tennessee, the Former National Champions Tournament, and the NMT alumni tournament held every 5 years in Wildwood. In more recent years, he has taken to the microphone on the Wildwood beach as emcee for the annual National Marbles Tournament in June; he’s also a committee member, continuing the tournament’s 95-year tradition. Doug also runs a local marble club in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where he coaches kids between the ages of 7-14 to learn the competitive side of playing marbles. This year he coached the National Champion runner-up. He is an avid collector of antique and contemporary glass artists marbles.
Mary McCarthy is Education Chair and a Board Member of the North American Sea Glass Association and Co-Executive Director of The Sea Glass Center nonprofit. She is a bestselling author, Reiki master, and lifelong journalist and editor including work for Salon.com, the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Glassing magazine, Chesapeake Family and splicetoday.com. She is the founder of thehealingbeach.com.In addition to many conferences, she has lectured at American University, University of Maryland, The Writer’s Center, and she teaches at Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, MD. She is a mother of four and beachcombs and kayaks on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Bottle Bottoms, Lips, and More
Richard LaMotte returns as our keynote lecturer with an informative sea glass identification lecture covering tips for dating unique bottle shards top to bottom. Learn techniques to quickly discern which bottle bottoms and lips in your collection date prior to 1800, 1860, 1900 and 1950.
Richard LaMotte is the author of the award-winning book Pure Sea Glass and a sequel titled The Lure of Sea Glass. He was a co-founder and past-president of the North American Sea Glass Association. Richard works and lives near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland where he began sea glass hunting 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 found along the shoreline. In 2006 Pure Sea Glass was awarded first place for non-fiction in Writer’s Digest 13thAnnual Self-Published Book Competition. Richard and his book have been featured in The Washington Post, on Martha Stewart Living TV, Coastal Living, Parade Magazine, Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe,Delaware Beach Life, on NPR and Maryland Public Television.
Lectures: Sunday, October 28, 2018
Sea Glass Sourcing: Beaches Known to Relinquish Specific Finds
Discover how exploring beaches can help you connect to the sources of unique finds based on local history. Ellie Mercier will share her passion for sea glass with her informative lecture on sea glass hunting and what makes each place unique.
Ellie Mercier, a current as well as former NASGA board member and longtime member of the association, has lectured at several beachcombing events and is the author of The Sea Glass Companion, a comprehensive hobby guide. When she isn’t teaching college English, writing, or working in her sea glass studio, Ellie is likely to be found combing along the Chesapeake Bay. She is also a proud mother and grateful daughter, and is especially thankful for her husband John, who puts up with her compulsion to bring home every stray remnant that rolls ashore.
Hurricane Maria: Renewal, Hope and the Love of Sea Glass
One island’s story of destruction and rebuilding through the lens of the sea glass community.
Carolyn Pigford is a sea glass hunter, diver, and owner of Huntress by Sea jewelry. Originally from the foothills of Maryland, Carolyn has been sea glass hunting in Puerto Rico since 2008 and a full time resident there since 2014 when she started making sea glass jewelry. After Hurricane Maria, Carolyn was amazed by the way the sea glass community came together to help the victims of Hurricane Maria and is sharing some of the stories of the rebuilding and how the beachcombing community has been affected in Puerto Rico.
For sea glass enthusiasts, there are many reasons to celebrate the spring, one of which is the highly anticipated announcement of NASGA’s annual festival. Hence, as recently publicized, the association’s 13th annual North American Sea Glass Festival will take place on Oct. 27 – 28 at The Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey.
Although it can be difficult to capture the wonder of the festival in words, chairperson Roxann Williams paints a fairly accurate picture: “The North American Sea Glass Association is unique; it is a love of history, reclamation, recycling, and treasure -hunting, all wrapped into one. It’s extremely rewarding to see the excitement and joy of our attendees as they learn through our lectures and shard identification experts, and purchase unique and artistic pieces from the exhibitors to add to their home and jewelry collections.”
However, unlike annual events that are held in the same location, and on similar dates each year, the fact that the sea glass festival is a “traveling show” requires never ending planning and fails to lighten the workload from one year to the next. For instance, solely selecting a venue each year – one that can not only accommodate the specific needs of the festival, but is also affordable, conveniently located for the majority of exhibitors and attendees, and available on preferable dates – can be particularly challenging. Promoting and advertising the event can be trying too, especially since the members of the planning committee, who also vary from year to year, are often unfamiliar with the city chosen to host the event. Yet probably the most difficult task associated with a traveling festival is recruiting volunteers, and NASGA could not be more blessed in this area.
While enlisting help is vital to the success of a show, it requires a very special person to establish a group of loyal, devoted volunteers. Therefore, the association is indebted to our festival chairperson, who just happens to possess such talent. Williams, an ardent sea glass fan who has extensive experience in the non-profit sector, was asked to chair NASGA’s fifth annual festival in Hyannis Port, MA during 2010, and no one else has been given a chance to fill her shoes ever since. Her strong organizational skills and compassionate nature make Williams an ideal mentor and leader, and she has a knack for fostering meaningful friendships and camaraderie among the festival volunteers. As long-time NASGA volunteer Dr. Barbara Boyce states, “The people are the reason I volunteer my time for this event, and Roxann (Williams) and her husband, Steve, are great people and easy to work with. They deal extremely well with all of the challenges and stresses of putting on a fantastic festival.”
According to Williams, without the excitement and commitment of the volunteers, it would be difficult to handle all of the behind-the-scenes tasks that allow the festival to operate smoothly. Throughout the event, as avid hobbyists display their impressive sea glass collections, exhibitors offer their artwork and books, and speakers share their special knowledge, the volunteers oversee NASGA’s information table, distribute tickets and programs, answer questions, direct attendees, and provide coverage for exhibitor booths. And on Sunday, the second and final day of the show, the volunteers assist with the culminating event, the infamous SOTY (“Shard Of The Year”) Contest, which many consider the highlight of the festival. For the contest, attendees are encouraged to enter their most impressive sea glass finds, and cash prizes are awarded for the “winning shard” in each category (frosted bottle, art glass, buttons/beads, figural, most unusual, whimsical toys, pottery/ceramics, historical, marbles, and the grand prize, the “Overall Beauty”). The contest is comparable to a “traveling sea glass museum” and is an absolute treat for those interested in the pastime.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Boyce and her friend Sharon Brubaker were inspired to contribute to the event due to their mutual affection for sea glass. In September of 2014, the two friends embarked on a road trip to Cape May, New Jersey to volunteer at the association’s 9th annual festival, which proved to be a particularly memorable experience. For the first time in the show’s history, the number of attendees exceeded the maximum capacity of the ballroom, and the fire marshal had to step in to monitor the number of individuals exiting and entering the hall. As Boyce suggests, “The Cape May NASGA festival was my first experience. Every person who attended can likely recall a crazy, fun, and crowded time. I was hooked. I thought I was familiar with sea glass through reading, but I realized that I had much to learn. The folks at NASGA are the experts, and I drank in every word and could not wait until the next year to volunteer.” Today, both Boyce and Brubaker are extremely knowledgeable about sea glass, and it is a joy to observe them respond to questions from attendees and help educate the public about the tumbled treasures.
Each year, the allure of the hobby encourages seasoned and new volunteers alike to contribute to the festival. Among the group of devoted “regulars” are mother and daughter teams, husband and wife pairs, and close peers who share a passion for sea glass and enjoy working together. Some volunteers have been assisting at the festival for over six years, and as each show kicks off, it is especially rewarding to overhear shrieks of delight as friendships are reignited between returning exhibitors, volunteers, and attendees. Yet even though NASGA is blessed with loyal volunteers, further support at the show is always welcome, so the association reaches out by advertising on the festival’s Facebook page and contacting local sea glass groups and non-profits, as well as the hosting city’s Chamber of Commerce in an effort to recruit enthusiasts.
Particularly when an event is running smoothly, attendees are unlikely to give any thought to the source of organization and support behind the scenes. Therefore, it bodes well for the sea glass festival that those who are busy pulling the strings often go unnoticed. However, if it seems to defy logic that the individuals who do the most work also receive the least amount of credit, keep in mind that the explanation is all in a name: “volunteer” – a person who does something, especially for other people or for an organization, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it” (dictionary.cambridge.org). A statement made by volunteer Sharon Brubaker lends credence to the definition, “It has been a pleasure to interact with everyone at NASGA. Now that I am a repeat volunteer, I genuinely look forward to seeing sea glass kindred spirits each year.” Without a doubt, the NASGA volunteers are the hidden gems of the annual festival.
It is the mission of the North American Sea Glass Association (NASGA) to educate collectors and consumers about pure, natural sea glass. NASGA requires that its commercial members “leave sea glass in its natural state and do not create imitation sea glass; meaning that the sea glass will not be altered by, acid etching, sand blasting, tumbling, or by any other means so as to artificially replicate genuine sea glass.” This article is provided to provide information to consumers in order to help identify some of the differences between genuine, imitation and altered sea glass.
At the North American Sea Glass Festival and certain other festivals where noted, only genuine sea glass is allowed. At some events, craft glass and other altered sea glass is used and it is up to the consumer to determine what they’re buying. NASGA feels our commercial member artists who create only using genuine glass can’t compete with those using those much less expensive materials. Ideally, as long as vendors at various regional sea glass and coastal festivals don’t label their items “pure,” “genuine,” or “wave-tumbled” sea glass it’s not a huge problem because essentially they can use any materials they want. But consumers should know what they’re buying. Sometimes it can be easy for people to tell the difference between real or tumbled glass, and sometimes it can’t, especially online.
The number in manufacturers of artificial sea glass has grown in recent years as demand for pure sea glass has increased and its supply has dwindled. Beaches are overpicked, with more and more people hunting for sea glass. Entire businesses have been created in which “sea glass” is being created nowhere near the sea by savvy individuals with a good working knowledge of what real sea glass should look like. Some of the manufacturers of eco-friendly or “green” glass very clearly label their product this way and make it clear to consumers that what’s being purchased is not glass from the sea, and some do not.
Many producers trying to pass off non-genuine sea glass as real go to a great deal of trouble to make the counterfeits look natural. Unlike the rock tumblers of the past that made fake glass easier to spot, they’re using advanced tumbling, sandblasting and acid-washing processes that give glass a similar appearance to real sea glass, and buyers think if they see the “c” marks and white-coated “frosting” layer on glass, it must be real, and this isn’t always the case. Sometimes manufacturers purchase vintage glass (including marbles, perfume stoppers or figurines) from antique stores or other venues and put the glass into cement mixers or even cages in the ocean and let it tumble around for a period of time, then sell it online in Facebook groups, Etsy shops and on eBay as real sea glass.
Feeling the glass in your hand is often the best way to tell real from fake because textural differences in the surface make the consistency of genuine sea glass in your hand nearly impossible for a machine to reproduce. The depth of the pitting in the surface of genuine glass is something that goes nearly to the center of the glass that historically spent time in the body of water; while in a tumbled piece, only the surface has been made smooth, leaving a shallower appearance to the glass. Real hydration over time in a natural body of water in random wave patterns will always leave a different finish on a piece of glass than anything a machine or artificial process can produce.
Unfortunately, people are spending a lot of money on fake sea glass at shows, in shops and online every day and may not know the item they have purchased is not genuine sea glass. Here are some things to consider.
Signs the “sea glass” you’re buying might be fake:
Does the seller keep selling similar batches of the same rare styles and colors and shapes of glass over long periods of time with hundreds of sales? No beach in the world produces endless hundreds of pounds of rare colors in repeated jewelry quality perfect shapes and sizes.
How trustworthy is the seller? Did they beachcomb the glass themselves or purchase it from another party? Do you know them personally? The sea glass community is small enough that if you want to buy, often someone can point you in the right direction (whether it’s a Facebook group or reputable eBay seller known by a friend) without having to buy from complete strangers. Only buy from people you trust. This is simply the best way to know you are buying genuine glass. Reviews on eBay and Etsy are not always the best way to get information, since people have been buying fake glass and not knowing it for a long time from many sellers.
If you’ve bought a piece you suspect is fake, does it feel unusually smooth compared to other pieces in your collection? Sea glass often has a rougher texture to it after tumbling in the ocean. Fake glass is more likely to have an odd perfect satiny sheen on it. However, this can often depend on which beach it comes from as sea glass surfaces depend on ph levels in the body of water. For example, sea glass from different parts of the world can have a more satiny sheen. There is still a difference between the finish in the glass from these beaches and the glass a machine tumbler produces- the main clue being the similarity in shape and size and color across batches. So texture can be one clue to determine genuine glass, but is not always the best one since some beaches do produce silkier glass. If you hold a handful of genuine glass in one hand and a handful of tumbler glass in the other, you can feel the difference in a very clear way. At NASGA’s annual show, educational samples showing the difference between genuine and manufactured glass are available to help you learn the difference.
Another way to spot sea glass that’s been in a tumbler is tiny diamond “glints” on the surface. If you turn the piece in your hand, often the tiny “cuts” will catch the light and will reflect in a diamond-like glinting fashion that pure sea glass generally does not. (This feature can be found on genuine sea glass sporadically because of the way it broke in the surf, but if you are holding a handful of fake glass, you can find these glints consistently across the pieces).
It is very difficult to tell genuine from fake glass, especially in photos. Knowing your seller (and whether they have beachcombed the glass themselves or know exactly who did) is key! Keep in mind that when you buy sea glass from North American Sea Glass Association members, you can be certain they are required to sell only genuine sea glass, so ask if the seller is a member of NASGA.
In addition to manufactured fake glass, other methods are used to alter sea glass from its original form. Some are allowed by NASGA as part of our commercial memberships and some are not. For example, the drilling of sea glass in order to create a jewelry piece is not restricted, because this method is used by the artist in order to create the piece of jewelry and it is also clear to the consumer that a hole has been drilled, so no effort to cover up the alteration has been made. Similarly, some artists paint on top of the surface of sea glass in an artistic manner. For example, artistic renderings of sea life are depicted on the top of a piece of white sea glass. This is also allowed since the alteration of the sea glass is clear to the consumer purchasing the art piece.
Glass that has been altered using paint or coloring added to create the illusion of color. Can be genuine or tumbled glass, either way, it is not genuine authentic unaltered sea glass.
A newer method of altering sea glass called “colorization” has entered the industry in which sea glass is permanently altered using a chemical process from the backside of a piece of white sea glass (see photo on the left), which is then placed into a bezel setting and sold as genuine sea glass. Also “staining” (see two photos on the right) sea glass is taking place where the color of white sea glass is changed in a dyeing process. It is the opinion of NASGA that since the color is being presented to the consumer as an “illusion” this violates our guideline that commercial members should “leave sea glass in its natural state and not create imitation sea glass”and that “sea glass will not be altered by …any other means so as to artificially replicate genuine sea glass.” These artificially created colors have the potential to confuse consumers both at sea glass shows and online since in a bezel setting or (with staining) even loose, individuals cannot tell the difference between genuine and artificial colors, especially when natural sea glass colors are being replicated.
It is the opinion of NASGA that sale of colorized sea glass undermines sale of genuine rare and common sea glass colors by artisans and sea glass hunters who obtain these colors in natural bodies of water and that this glass should not be labeled “genuine” since it has been permanently, irreversibly altered and therefore does not represent genuine colors found in glassmaking history.
The majority of sea glass originates from mass produced utilitarian vessels, while tableware and art glass are less common sources. The same can be said about sea pottery. Yet due to the immense variety of ceramics, identifying sea worn fragments can be particularly challenging. A good way to start is by classifying shards into one of three categories: earthenware, stoneware, or porcelain. Ceramics are grouped into these categories based on the density and firing temperature of the clay. The clay mixture and body of a ceramic is referred to as paste, whereas the surface coating is known as glaze. Grouping ceramics by paste type is the first step in identifying the origin of a shard, and learning to distinguish different pastes and glazes is crucial to making accurate identifications. (Figure 1)
Investigating traditional and regionally relevant ceramics is a great place to start when studying sea pottery. Understanding the history of production is also very helpful when it comes to identifying and dating shards. For beachcombers in North America, especially those on the shores of the Great Lakes and east coast, stoneware is a common source of sea pottery because it was once popular and locally produced. With basic knowledge of vessel shapes and glaze types it is possible to know the origins of these stoneware fragments, despite the fact that they are highly altered from their original form. An immense variety of products were available in stoneware, the most common being jugs and pots. Learning to recognize the characteristics of these forms is another important part of identifying sea pottery. (Figures 2-5)
Stoneware ceramics in North America began with immigrants from Germany, England, and France who brought the craft over seas in the 17th and 18th centuries. Colonists continued to import English and German stoneware well into the 19th century, yet over many generations of master and apprentice, ceramic artisans blended old world techniques and styles to develop a distinctively American variety of stoneware. The earliest American stoneware was made from scratch in small batches and distributed locally. These ceramics were often plainly salt glazed, crudely shaped, and occasionally decorated with cobalt motifs. The nature of ceramics allowed for artistic expression, stoneware creations were individually handmade and often intentionally embellished with a personal touch. For these reasons collectors regard 17th and 18th century American stoneware as a folk art. The uniqueness and relative scarcity of these vessels make them a rare source of sea pottery that is difficult to trace. (Figure 6)
Potters’ firms and their networks grew alongside the development and expansion of the United States. By the 19th century utilitarian stoneware was an essential part of everyday life and potteries were established all across the country. Potters were able to obtain better and more consistent materials, improve their shaping techniques, as well as distribute their wares beyond local communities. These advancements, paired with the increasing demand for American stoneware, lead to a transition from small family businesses to unified potters’ firms. Individuals who specialized in specific tasks of an assembly line began to replace the tradition of master and apprentice. By the turn of the 19th century, the demands for American stoneware were met by the mass production of simple and uniformly slip glazed vessels commonly known today as crocks or crockery. (Figure 7)
The quantity and consistency of mass produced vessels is what makes them common and identifiable. Glaze type can be used to date stoneware to a relative era (Figure 2). The iconic two-toned stoneware with brown Albany type glaze on top and white Bristol type glaze on the bottom began to replace plain salt glazed stoneware during the mid 19th and early 20th century. By the 1920’s, stoneware glazed entirely in white Bristol glaze was favored for the sanitary appearance and easy to clean surface. The great depression effectively ended the era of American stoneware, though it has been continually produced, it can be assumed that most fragments of stoneware sea pottery are near or over a century old. With basic knowledge of these ceramics even ambiguous shards are relatively identifiable. When dating sea found shards, the context and history of the beach is equally important as the history of the fragment and may help provide a more accurate identification. A perfect way to display these beachcombed shards is to store them in a stoneware vessel, such as an open container. (Figure 8)
Works Cited: Greer, Georgeanna H., Chris Williams, and Tina Griesenbeck. American Stonewares: The Art and Craft of Utilitarian Potters. Exton: Schifftler, 1981. Print.