A collectors Interview – Lisa Crabtree – Florida


Credited to fate (and possibly, in part to a “Peace, Love, and Sandy Feet” tee shirt I wore while boarding a bus in St. George), I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with Lisa Crabtree, our featured collector in this issue of Shorelines. A Florida resident with a deep passion for sea glass, Lisa introduced me to some prime collecting sites in Bermuda, and in turn, I introduced her to NASGA!
By Ellie Mercier, member,
North American Sea Glass Assocation


NASGA: Hello again Lisa! First, thank you for teaching me that a profitable beachcombing trip is not necessarily limited to returning home with an abundance of gems from the sea, yet if Mother Nature’s timing is especially ideal, an unexpected encounter with a fellow collector could blossom into a meaningful new friendship! Can you share the circumstances surrounding your discovery of sea glass?  I was fortunate to have met the “right person” at the “right time.” My boys had just moved out of the house, and I was experiencing the empty nest syndrome and desperately needed a hobby after work. One day, a newly hired coworker had on a piece of sea glass jewelry, and I had never seen anything so beautiful that wasn’t an actual gemstone. My co-worker shared that her boyfriend had found the shard while walking on our local beach, and he was kind enough to share his knowledge of how to find these gorgeous gems with me. Once I found my first piece, I was hooked. It was “hello new hobby,” and “bye-bye empty nest syndrome!”


green sea glass
Special Green sea glass

NASGA: Since beachcombing is an ideal form of therapy for those experiencing the “empty nest syndrome,” I have a strong suspicion that the timing of your newfound hobby was not a coincidence! Do you have a special piece you can share with us?   I actually have several favorites, but the one that stands out is a Kelley-green patterned piece that I found when my oldest and dearest friend, who was intent on learning how to hunt for sea glass, came into town for a quick visit. Despite the fact that the weather on this particular day happened to be rainy and windy and the tide was exceptionally high with rough surf, I was optimistic we would find a piece in the shade of green that my friend desired. Still empty handed as the end of our walk neared, a strong wave rolled in, and as I looked down at the edge of the surf, I eyed a green piece and screamed out, “Green!” However, when I dove in to grab it, I missed, and my friend, who had been watching me intently, followed the piece and was able to scoop it up. Ironically, not only was the sea glass in the shade of green she had hoped for but it was a beautifully tumbled and patterned piece. I believe that my girlfriend’s mother was our “sea glass angel” that day and sent the beautiful gem our way from heaven. It remains the only patterned piece I’ve spotted on my local beach and was an amazing first find for my girlfriend.

NASGA: What is your definition of an “ideal” find?   My absolute favorite color is turquoise. Although the hue is extremely uncommon, particularly in Florida, I do have one small piece of turquoise sea glass in my collection that I found locally.

NASGA: Is there a specific beach that you regularly frequent or do you generally comb in various areas?   I primarily search along Florida’s central east coast beaches and have been very lucky to find an array of sea glass in this region, including rare shades of black and yellow (as well as turquoise, of course)! I must comment that it requires a sharp eye to locate these beauties. Outside of Florida, I have combed on the Jersey shore and have had the opportunity to hunt in Bermuda twice last year (and my husband and I just made plans to return to Bermuda over the summer for a third visit)!

NASGA: Do you generally beachcomb alone, or do you have any designated “partners in crime” who accompany you on searches?   I comb with my husband the majority of the time, but lately, the activity has become a family affair. My youngest son, who never particularly enjoyed the beach, is now combing with us on a weekly basis. It’s the thrill of the hunt that brings us all together.

 NASGA: In addition to sea glass, do you scout the beaches for other nautical treasures?   My husband and I love to collect driftwood, buoys, and old lobster traps, many of which we find in the Keys. Some of these remnants have been repurposed into picture frames and yard art. One cool find was a piece of driftwood shaped like a whale.

NASGA: Aside from the obvious payoff of discovering nautical treasure, are there other benefits of the hobby that you revel in?   I revel in the simple beauty of the beach and everything it has to offer; it allows me to find peace, rejuvenate my soul, and occasionally, to find myself after getting lost from time to time in the daily shuffle of life.

NASGA: Your words of wisdom in response to the previous question beautifully capture some of the key advantages of the pastime! Do you have a memorable beachcombing experience you can share with us?   It would have to be the time I observed three baby sea turtles making their way to the ocean. If it were not for my new found love of beachcombing, I never would have witnessed this once-in-a-lifetime event since I used to spend my days ashore with my behind planted in a beach chair!

 NASGA: You mentioned previously that you create picture frames and yard art with your beach finds. Do you incorporate your discoveries into other projects and/or home décor as well?   This hobby has opened up many new doors for me and has especially allowed me to discover a creative side to myself that I never knew existed; I couldn’t be any happier. Most of my collected remnants are reserved for jewelry projects and shadow box art (yet it can be difficult to part with my creations since I develop a connection with each piece of sea glass I bring home). I also enjoy dividing my finds by color and displaying them in glass jars on windowsills throughout my home. Currently, my husband is working on a sea turtle mosaic with his Bermudan finds, so I am anxiously awaiting to see the finished project adorned on one of our walls!

NASGA: What are some of the beachcombing destinations included on your “bucket list”?   Many sea glass destinations remain on my “bucket list,” and I hope to cross them all off in this lifetime, but the beaches of Spain (where, as my intuition tells me, I would discover a nice sized shard of turquoise) absolutely top the list.

NASGA: Aside from collecting, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?  Before I discovered sea glass hunting, I enjoyed metal detecting, and although I never found anything of substantial monetary value, I did find an old matchbox helicopter buried in my yard that belonged to my son some twenty years earlier. Similar to sea glassing, those “thrill of the hunt” hobbies are what intrigue me the most. Every piece of found treasure tells a story.

NASGA: Many collectors would likely agree that the history associated with found remnants is certainly one of the main attractions of the pastime. To illustrate, for the past two decades, my Father and I have frequently combed along a specific section of the Chesapeake Bay, and every now and then, we discover a tiny, square, blue or maroon ceramic tile; not only do we continue to speculate about the original source of these tiles, but each time I happen to find such a specimen when combing alone, I immediately think about my Father and break into a smile, and vice versa. It is truly fascinating that a small, seemingly trivial, tangible object could represent a link to the past as well as initiate a connection between two individuals. Do you have any parting thoughts, or perhaps a helpful tip for fellow collectors?    Probably the most valuable advice is that I am often successful in finding rare shades of sea glass along the highest wrack line closest to the dunes, as some of the treasures that lay buried in the “sands of time” are eventually unearthed during high storm tides.

NASGA: Lisa, thank you for entertaining the sea glass community with your personal stories and wisdom and for pointing out that the pastime has allowed you to overcome the “Empty Nest Syndrome,’ which effectively demonstrates the intense passion and inspiration for the hobby shared by many collectors. And as always, “Peace, Love and Sandy Feet!”










Sea Glass Insulators: Intriguing, Illustrious Finds

The History surrounding Sea Glass Insulators: Intriguing, Illustrious Finds
By Ellie Mercier, member North American Sea Glass Association

Discovering remnants of historical significance is certainly one of the most fascinating thrills of the hunt, and uncovering finds boasting the romantic charm of those derived from the bygone era of insulators is no exception.

Blue insulator
Blue insulator

The desirable attributes of insulators are not limited to beauty and nostalgic appeal, but the invention of these sought after collectibles was integral to the advancement of technology. During the nineteenth century, hopes for a promising future following the discovery of the telegraph began to fade when it became apparent that society lacked a viable means to transport electricity. However, attributed to the debut of the insulator in 1844, public faith in the innovative technology was soon restored. Originally produced from glass, in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes, insulators were installed on telegraph lines (and eventually, on telephone and power lines) to separate the wires from the tall wooden poles used to secure the lines in the air. Their purpose was to keep the wires isolated to allow electricity to pass through without interference. As technology progressed, particularly as the railroad expanded and electricity was required to operate train signals at stations throughout the nation, the demand for insulators skyrocketed, and hundreds of millions were manufactured between 1875 and 1930.

aqua insulator - a common color
aqua insulator – a common color

Alike bottles (and sea glass remnants), the majority of insulators were either colorless (clear) or produced in the shade of aqua (due to the fact that glass possesses a green tint in its natural state); however, glass insulators were fabricated in many other colors as well, including amber, cobalt, darker greens, and purple. Around the turn of the century, the onset of higher-voltage electric wires prompted a demand for ceramic insulators, of which offered more protection for wires than their glass counterparts. Ceramic insulators were also manufactured in multiple hues, ranging from yellows and greens to blues and browns. In addition, factories tested insulators of various shapes and sizes to develop models that would efficiently hold the electrical wires in place and ensure the wires remained insulated.

After an entire century of active production, the demand for insulators significantly declined as utility and electric companies began to install wires underground, and by the 1960’s, it was common to observe retired insulators, in an array of colors and styles, strewn on the ground in the vicinity of railroad tracks and construction sites. Not surprisingly, individuals began to seek out the charming, but no longer practical objects, prompting a flurry of passion for insulators that would ultimately inspire a generation of collectors and continue into the twenty-first century. In fact, the 1960’s onset of  “insulator fever” was so intense that by the end of the decade, pioneers of the hobby had founded The Crown Jewels of the Wire, the first national insulator magazine, and another major milestone transpired in 1973, with the establishment of the National Insulator Association.

Blue insulator sea glass - photo by Lisa Crabtree
Blue insulator sea glass –
photo credit Lisa Crabtree


As enthusiasm for the hobby continued into the 1990’s, the value of insulators skyrocketed, and it wasn’t unusual for rare specimens to fetch thousands of dollars at auction houses. For the most part, insulators manufactured between 1885 and 1960 are considered collectible, yet those produced prior to the turn of the century are the most desirable. Generally, collectors determine the values of insulators based on the same characteristics used to rate sea glass and bottle finds, including color, shape, condition, and the presence of, or lack of embossing. Since they were produced in 460 shapes, 2800 different embossing patterns, and almost 9000 color combinations, it often takes time to become familiar with the multiple varieties of insulators. Therefore, insulator price guides are an extremely helpful resource for novice and experienced collectors alike. The guides are not only ideal for identifying manufacturer marks and style numbers commonly embossed on insulators, yet they feature sections dedicated to topics such as foreign produced insulators, the countless styles of insulators (IE: pin type and non-pin type), and favored collectibles, including the beloved ‘Mickey Mouse” shape and highly prized examples comprised of carnival glass.

Insulator sea glass - photo by Lisa Crabtree
Insulator sea glass – photo by Lisa Crabtree

Today, support for the pastime remains strong, as reflected by the numerous clubs and shows that exist around the globe in celebration of the vintage beauties. In addition, hobbyists have access to dozens of insulator-related websites. Two particularly notable online presences include www.nia.org, hosted by the National Insulator Association, and www.insulators.info, a site referred to as “Insulator Collectors on the Net,” which has a following of 1500 members.

In addition to history buffs and railroad enthusiasts, it’s common to encounter sea glass and bottle collectors at insulator shows due to the fact that the pastimes share a direct connection to the history of glass manufacturing and the timeline of bottle production. Whether admiring a lustrous insulator made from carnival glass or discovering the smoothly tumbled remains of a cobalt insulator ashore, the experience is bound to arouse nostalgia for the romantic charm of an earlier