Unusual Finds Along Chesapeake Bay

By Sharon Brubaker

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.DSC_0555.jpgWhen 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.”

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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 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).

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.

 

NASGA’s 10th Annual Sea Glass Festival 2015 Shard of the Year Winner, Earl Brown

The 10th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival held in Ocean City, Maryland this past August was an exciting time for attendees, particularly those that entered the coveted Shard of the Year contest.   The Shard of the Year contest gives private collectors an opportunity to show off some of their collections and win a cash prize.

The 2015 festival brought many unique finds,  so much so that the five judges had a hard time deciding the final grand prize winner.    After deliberation, the grand prize chosen was a stunning large aqua ridged piece.

earl brownThe judging closed and the time came to announce the winners.  The room was filled with anxious collectors, each hopeful that their piece would be the winning piece.   The Shard of the Year contest has ten other categories, and as each winner was called up to the podium, they were beaming with excitement.    Finally, the grand prize winner was announced by Richard LaMotte, former President and noted sea glass expert and author.    As Richard held up the large piece of aqua, the room was full of oohh’s and aahh’s, and Earl Brown’s name was announced as the Grand Prize winner.   Earl was in a bit of shock and quiet in his demeanor.    You will see from the photos and his answers below that he’s a no nonsense straight shooter.  Just as each piece of shard entered holds a story behind them, the photos after the contest tell a story.  The photos taken inside immediately following the announcement, Earl was stunned.   A few minutes later, in the photo taken outside with Kim Hannon below,  Earl is showing off his beautiful winning shard and the smile on his face is emerging.

earl brown and kim hannon nasga vice president
Earl showing off his winning shard with
Kim Hannon, NASGA Vice President

Earl entering the contest:

Earl explained after winning that he found  the piece a week prior to the festival and was talked into submitting it on Sunday, making his win even more exciting!  Earl had attended the festival on Saturday and showed one of the exhibitors who was amazed at his find and told him to enter the contest, however, Earl hadn’t planned on coming back on Sunday.   After thinking about it Saturday night, Earl decided to come back and enter his new find.

Earl explaining how he found it:

aqua brass lightEarl explained to Kim Hannon, that he was out sea glass hunting very early in the morning, while it was still not quite dawn, and as he walked along the beach, somewhere between Bethany Beach and Fenwick, he came up to the aqua piece which was embedded in the sand in a shoe print!  Can you imagine?    Earl believes that it may have been stepped on by night fishermen. Wow, they weren’t aware that they were stepping on such a gorgeous piece of history.

What the piece was in its first life:  The aqua lens more than likely came off a 20th century small vessel starboard light, similar to the antique brass lantern shown here.

Earl’s Q & A:

  1.  When did you start collecting sea glass and where did you get the “bug”?   Earl:  Five years ago.
  1.  Where did you find the gorgeous aqua piece?   Earl:  Between Fenwick & Bethany
  1. What do you think it was in it’s first life?   Earl:  Lather lens
  1.  What did you do when you found it?   Earl:  Yahoo loud enough, you should have heard it
  1.  What do you plan on doing with it?   Earl:  Too big for a necklace,  try to sell it or trade it
  1.  If you could travel anywhere to sea glass hunt, where would it be?   Earl:  Bermuda
  1.  Besides this beautiful find, do you have another favorite find you’d like to share?   Earl:  I have many nice pieces.

2015 Shard of the Year Contest Winners – North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland.  List of winners and where they live.  To view Photos of all the 2015 Shard Winners, please visit our website’s 2015 Shard of the Year Winner Photo Gallery
Photos by Tommy Allen Photographs

Winners of the Shard of the Year Contest
Grand Prize – Overall Beauty – Earl Brown – Maryland
Winners for the other categories are as follows:
Runner Up to Grand Prize – Arlene Klaasen – Florida
Pottery/Ceramics – Stephanie Martucci – Delaware
Whimsical/Toys – Hailey Goddard – Maryland
Bottle Stopper – Kelsey Palma – Ohio
Most Unusual – Larry White – Ohio
Historical – Mike Yandle – Maryland
Art Glass – Virgil Hibbs – Virginia
Marbles – Gina Husta – New Jersey
Buttons – Cindy Williams – Maryland
Figural – Dave Wright – Virginia

Meet NASGA’s 2015 Sea Glass Festival Lecturer, Bill Winkler

The North American Sea Glass Association’s 10th Annual Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland will be held August 29-30th, 2015 and will feature three lectures on Saturday.  Each of the lectures will offer attendees a unique look into the historical significance of objects found along the region’s DelMarVa shorelines, and we’ll also have a lecture on Greek Sea Glass.

winklerLGBill Winkler, with the Delaware Marine Archeological Society, will offer his knowledge of the local historical significance of sea glass and treasures, which can be found along the Delaware and Maryland beaches.

Bill has either spent time at the beach or lived by it almost his entire life. In the early 1950s his family vacationed in Dewey, Delaware, where they rented a cottage on Dickinson Street. That’s where his love for the ocean started. Since then, that love has taken him from coast to coast, provided Bill with a career and even a glimpse of a time when schooners either mastered the sea or were swallowed whole by it.

In ninth grade, a guidance counselor asked what career Bill wanted to pursue. He chose marine biology. He figured it would give him a chance to be by the ocean. That meant not being indoors—something Bill didn’t want to do if it would feel like the confinement of school.  Bill received his biology degree from the University of Hawaii in 1970, then continued in graduate school through 1973. He eventually left his studies to work for the airlines. My career included working for Island Air, Aloha and Western Airlines. By the time he left the islands, Bill had lived surrounded by the Pacific for a decade.

After Bill returned to the mainland, he migrated to the East Coast, where he made Pompano Beach, Florida, his home. Bill spent 17 years there fishing, surfing, scuba diving, treasure hunting for Mel Fisher and loving the beach life.

Yet Bill returned to Sussex County, just miles from where he had vacationed as a kid. Though Bill was a skilled diver, he had spent years working along Florida’s submerged barrier reef system, there was little demand for his services. So Bill ended up in the retail business with TreasureQuest Shoppe on Route 26, where he sells nautical decor and specializes in metal detectors, for treasure hunting.

Shipwrecks of Delmarva - art work by Robert Pratt, cartographer & research of the shipwreck locations with names & dates of sinking by Don Shomette. Of the 10,000 to 12,000 wrecks believed to lie on the sea floor, this is a one of a kind comprehensive representation.
Shipwrecks of Delmarva – art work by Robert Pratt, cartographer & research of the shipwreck locations with names & dates of sinking by Don Shomette.  Of the 10,000 to 12,000 wrecks believed to lie on the sea floor, this is a one of a kind comprehensive representation.

After years of selling metal detectors to people who discovered shipwreck artifacts on the beach, Bill and several friends founded the Delaware Marine Archaeological Society in 1997.

In 2002 the society completed the first maritime archeological survey in Delaware at no cost to the state. They focused on one 255-foot unidentified ship that was in the surf zone at Beach Plum Island. The fact that this boat remains anonymous is amazing, considering that it is one of the largest schooners built during its time. After years of work, we put together a 3-inch-thick report titled the “Beach Plum Island Project,” which details the architecture of the schooner. It includes VHS video, more than 300 photographs and plenty of drawings. Since the report was finished, much of the ship has been broken apart and scattered by waves, but at least part of her history has been documented.

Working in and out of the sea has taken Bill from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but now Bill finds himself on the same sandy shores he loved as a kid.  Bill finds himself at home along the Delaware beaches; although he still has the urge to seek adventure on an uninhabited island somewhere out in warmer waters.

Bill Winkler will feature a lecture, “The Historical Significance of Sea Glass & Treasures found along Delaware’s Coast” on Saturday at 11am during the North American Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland on August, 29th – 30th.