The Slowly Vanishing Gems

by Ellie Mercier

While beachcombing last week, I began to reminisce about the frequent “aha moments” associated with the thrill of the hunt. Less than two decades ago, a morning stroll along my usual stretch of the Chesapeake Bay would undoubtedly yield a pail full of treasures, including smoothly tumbled bottlenecks, colorful shards of historic pottery, and cobalt Bromo-Seltzer bottles, which were manufactured in Baltimore between the turn-of-the-century and the 1970s.

However, my fond memories of bountiful finds faded as I pondered the gradual decline of sea glass carried ashore with each passing year. Although a variety of circumstances have contributed to the slowly vanishing gems, legislation passed in the mid-to-late twentieth century to protect the environment is largely responsible. Without a doubt, the state of the environment takes precedence over a mere hobby, and regulations designed to cleanup the oceans have certainly benefited global ecology and marine life. Yet ever since the 1970s, when the centuries-long practice of discarding refuse into the world’s waterways came to a halt, discovering sea glass has become increasingly more challenging. Probably the most drastic threat to the hobby was the abrupt closing of popular dumpsites adjacent to rivers and beaches, which cutoff an endless supply of bottles and jars that would otherwise have been washed ashore decades later in the form of desirable, frosty finds.

Also responsible for the dwindling number of tumbled treasures, although to a much lesser degree than environmental regulations, was the widespread switch from glass to plastic. As Digger Odell, the notable bottle author and collector states, “Plastic was the undoing of the glass bottle” (bottlebooks.com). Some ecologists believe that Tupperware, introduced in 1946, paved the way for the plastic bottle. Yet manufacturing bottles from plastic was not affordable until the 1960s, when high-density Polyethylene (PET) became available, and soon thereafter, plastic became preferred over glass due to the lighter weight and lower cost. In fact, only ten years after switching to cans, Coca-Cola began to use plastic bottles in 1970.

According to Odell, “The invention of PET plastic forced both Owens of Illinois and Continental Can Company to join the movement to plastic.” Michael J. Owens, of the Owens Bottle Company founded in 1903, is credited with the invention of the automatic bottle machine (ABM), and avid collectors are likely to possess numerous remnants derived from Owens bottles and jars. Incidentally, the company, which was renamed the Owens Bottle Machine Corporation in 1907, became the Owens – Illinois Glass Company in 1929 due to a merger and continues to produce over half of the world’s glass containers.

Although advancements in bottle production have had little impact on the existing quantity of sea glass, the same cannot be said for the quality of found treasure. When the era of hand-blown bottles came to end during the late nineteenth century, bottles lost many of their charming qualities, characteristics that boast historical significance and often provide clues to effectively date and identify finds. To illustrate, bottle bases that possess a pontil mark – a brownish or reddish residue caused by the removal of a punty rod, a long tool that was used to hold the hot bottle while the lip was manually formed – date prior to 1858, while shards that feature hand-tooled lips are associated with bottles produced between 1870 and 1910. Other clues that enable collectors to identify found treasure include color, evidence of embossing, and bubbles present in the glass. Conversely, all bottles manufactured after the mid-1920s are machine-made and reflect little variation. Finds derived from such objects are limited to typical machine-produced shades of colorless, amber, and green, and possess thin even mold seams that rise all the way to the bottle’s lip.

A steady decline in shipwrecks has also played a small part in the dwindling quantity of treasure swirling through the waterways. Again, alike environmental regulations, the correlation between shipwrecks and the quantity of sea glass is not at all intended to minimize the vital importance of safer ship travel. Credit for the decline in shipwrecks largely belongs to advancements in navigational technology, improved ship design, and international maritime legislation.

Historically, more ships have wrecked due to running aground on rocks, sandbars, or coral reefs, so state-of-the-art improvements in navigation have particularly increased the safety of ships close to land. Yet these very developments have also had a small impact on the quantity of remnants that wash ashore. Because glass and pottery do not float, treasure that escapes into the sea during a wreck rarely travels far from the point of entry into the water. Thus, unless a shipwreck occurs near the coast, it is unlikely that any potential finds would be carried to shore. However, more relevant to the dwindling supply of sea glass is the fact that close to three million wrecks remain undiscovered on the ocean floor, many of which are trapped in the depths of the sea, so the challenge for beachcombers is not a lack of shipwrecked treasure, but the inability to access the treasure.

As my search along the bay came to an end, a glimpse into my not-quite-half-full pail proved to be a cruel reminder of the circumstances that plague collectors. Feeling defeated, I began to ascend the steep wooden stairway to the top of the cliffs, all the while striving to invent a silver lining. Suddenly, a second glance into my pail generated an unexpected epiphany: alike other pleasures enjoyed in moderation, such as the occasional indulgence in a banana split, perhaps the case of the slowly vanishing gems simply warrants further celebration of the “aha moments.” With a brighter outlook, I reached into the pail to inspect my finds. My fingers first encountered assorted seashells, followed by a few prized pieces of driftwood and a sprinkling of shark’s teeth, all of which I looked forward to incorporating into projects. Eventually, my sandy paws made their way to the bottom of the bucket and retrieved two handfuls of smoothly tumbled, frosty gems, and despite the ordinary colors, I relished in the moment.

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

 

A New Year and A New Calendar: Reserve a Date with Mother Nature

by Ellie Mercier

Photo from iloveshelling.com
Photo: iloveshelling.com

For an avid beachcomber, no day planner is complete without penciling in a few dates with Mother Nature (permanent ink is preferable). As stated in an article that appeared in a former edition of NASGA’s newsletter, Shorelines, “Ideal dates for beachcombing outings are often attributed to ‘being in the right place at the right time,’ yet enthusiasts do not have to depend solely on luck or chance to experience fruitful searches (Winter/Spring, 2013).

This article continues to focus on fluctuations in the usual volume of nautical remnants that wash ashore in a coastal area as the direct result of natural phenomena, notably recent storm activity, flooding, and the phase of the moon and state of the tide.

Tracking the phase of the moon and state of the tide, both independent of one another, as well as in unison, is not only valuable for determining potentially preferable times to beachcomb on a daily basis but can inform collectors of infrequent instances of natural phenomena that are particularly ideal for sea glass hunting. As most hobbyists are aware of, low tide, or the period when high tide begins to recede, up until the tide is at its lowest level, is much more desirable for beachcombing than during high tide, when turbulent waves pull the remnants deposited ashore back into the ocean.

Although the general difference in the magnitude of daily tides is often not particularly significant, the moon, which is the primary gravitational force that determines tidal conditions, reaches a perigee in each of its 28-day elliptical orbits, defined as the moon’s closest point of approach to the earth. At perigee, or on the specific day of each month in which the moon is closest to the earth, a heightened tidal range ensues, producing slightly more preferable conditions for beachcombing.

Additionally, twice per month, during the new moon and the full moon, the earth, sun and moon are nearly in line, a phenomenon referred to as a spring tide, which also produces an increase in the average range of tides. However, when the occurrence of a new or full moon (spring tide) coincides with the time of the month in which the moon is closest to the earth (perigee), an even greater impact on the tides results, known as a perigean spring tide, an uncommon incidence that transpires an average of three to four times annually (during the spring and fall months). Finally, and even more miraculous and infrequent than the occurrence of a perigean spring tide is the manifestation of a proxigean spring tide, a rare, unusually high tide. This very high tide results when a perigean spring tide coincides with the moon’s closest approach to the earth within an eighteenth month (or longer) period and may result in gravitational pulls so strong that the earth can experience extremely powerful high tides, often twenty to twenty-five percent higher than those that result from normal perigean spring tides (NOAA).

For those who wish to reserve a date with Mother Nature, the following charts list the dates of future perigean and proxigean spring tides through 2023 (again, using permanent ink is preferable)!

About three or four times a year, the new or full moon coincides closely in time with the perigee of the moon—the point when the moon is closest to the Earth. These occurrences are often called ‘perigean spring tides.’ The difference between ‘perigean spring tide’ and normal tidal ranges for all areas of the coast is small.  In most cases, the difference is only a couple of inches above normal spring tides.  Image and caption via NOAA.

*Tide charts compiled by Ellie Mercier, author of The Sea Glass Companion

Future Dates of Proxigean Spring Tides, 2016 – 2023*

Year  2016  2017  2018  2018  2019  2020  2021  2023
 Date Nov 14 May 26 Jan 01 Jul 13 Aug 30 Oct16 Dec 04 Jan 21
Moon** FULL NEW FULL NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW

**Conditions can be more intense during a new moon since both the Sun and the Moon are on the same side of the Earth, and with the Moon near its closest point to the Earth, the tide- making potential is highest.  Note that there are two scheduled for 2018 and none in 2022.

Future Dates of Perigean Spring Tides, 2016 – 2023* 

Year  2016 ***  2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Date Nov 14 May 26

Dec 04

 

Jan 01

Jul 13

 

Feb 19

Aug 30

 

Mar 10

Apr 07

Oct 16

Dec.  04 Jun 14

Jul 13

 

Jan 21

 

 

 

***The full moon on November 14, 2016, will present the closest supermoon of the year (356,509 kilometers or 221,524 miles). What’s more, this November 14, 2016 full moon will present the moon at its closest point to Earth thus far in the 21st century (2001 to 2100), and the moon won’t come this close again until the full moon of November 25, 2034.   Information on November 14th moon via Earthsky.org

Find out more about Supermoons and Spring Tides in the coming year, visit Earthsky.org article for more info.

Visit NOAA for your area’s Tide Charts here.

“Meet the NASGA Members”- SeaGals Gallery of DE, Sue Lemmons and Cheryl Eashum

The North American Sea Glass Association (NASGA) has been working towards integrating NASGA‘s online presence, including the NASGA website, NASGA’s Facebook pages, the NASGA‘s NING social networking site, the Shorelines Newsletter, as well as our blog, to strengthen NASGA’s mission and increase NASGA’s presence within the sea glass community.

Each member of NASGA will have the opportunity to share their involvement with NASGA and the NASGA Mission, and “introduce” themselves as members of the North American Sea Glass Association. We’re calling this the “Meet the NASGA Members” blog series. We’re excited to share our next member with you.

Our next NASGA Members are Sue Lemmons and Cheryl Eashum from SeaGals Gallery of DE.  Sue answered the questions for the two of them.

NASGA:  How long have you been a member of NASGA?    

We are new members this year, but have been following the organization and related links and members’ sites for several years.

NASGA:  Can you share your “personal sea glass story” (how and when you became interested in sea glass)?

Cheryl and Sue of SeaGals Gallery of Delaware
Cheryl and Sue of SeaGals Gallery of Delaware

Our sea glass journey began long ago. As sisters, we have always been very close. We grew up camping and doing all the things that do along with that, including beachcombing.  Our jewelry boxes were full of fossils, beach stone and sea glass from the Delaware coast. Over the years, we continued our beachcombing and collecting beachy things. As these things began to pile up, my husband, a neat freak (a real challenge for an artist…), asked me one day to either get rid of the piles or use them. So, of course, I chose option number 2, and I used them!  We started with a lot of shell and beach stone art.  It was Cheryl who came up thought to wrap beach stones into pendants.  They were quite popular.  Then we thought about the sea glass we had been collecting forever, wrapped it and quickly learned that there was there was an entire sea glass culture out there. We were hooked and have been making jewelry and sea glass art ever since. Lucky for us, our families have been very supportive of our venture.

NASGA:  Please tell us about your particular craft and when you formed your business or began practicing your skill. (For members who create jewelry, the questions would, of course, differ from those who design mosaics or authors).

sea gals Eight years ago, I assisted a Girl Scout troop with arts and crafts, of which many were beach themed items we invented, such as shell ornaments, soaps, etc.  We decided to create a business badge, which would incorporate learning basic business and marketing skills by selling their items at a local craft show. When unexpectedly asked the name of our business, we impulsively replied “SeaGals Gallery”, since we were all girls. The items we had were a huge success, and although the girls were pitifully bored, that moment rekindled my deep-down desire to create.  The next year, my sister, Cheryl, joined in and together, we have cultivated and grown SeaGals Gallery of DE. Although we started with ornamental decorative type things, we moved into sea glass jewerly world six years ago- and now- cannot imagine life without it!

seagalsNASGA:  Are you also an avid sea glass collector (or do you solely enjoy working on your craft or skill), and are you partial to a certain type or color of sea glass?

We are absolutely committed to finding and using the glass in the state in which it is found.  We like to find the pieces with words, letters, and unusual shapes, and of course, all the different colors.  We also use pottery, fossils and still at times, pretty beach stones. Cheryl is very creative with pieces that have markings or patterns, using them as a background to create pendants with tiny artistic scenes.

NASGA:  If you are a collector, can you tell us about your collection and whether it may be difficult to part with some of your creations or incorporate your favorite pieces into projects?

We have quite an extensive collection, so we try to separate by color in organizers and jars. We have specific pieces that we are partial to and will probably never part with those pieces. These special pieces are the ones that we found on trips or were found by someone close to us and have sentimental value.  We also have jewelry that we made for ourselves that would be hard to part with, although we have sold jewelry right off our bodies before, at client’s insistence.  There was one piece that sold that way and although I was hesitant, I decided to do it, thinking I could make another for myself.  I haven’t been able to find the same elements since, so, I learned that lesson the hard way.

NASGA:  How has your craft evolved over time (how has experience helped you to perfect your craft and whether you were self-taught or took classes or had some other type of training, or whether you perhaps happened to discover your craft by accident or had an experience that shifted your focus from one type of craft/skill to another)?

Cheryl at annual pirate festival
Cheryl at annual pirate festival

As mentioned, Cheryl started out wrapping beach stones and fossils and then we incorporated sea glass.  We initially sold some really old sea glass & good colors for next to nothing!  I do wish I had kept the large lavender one from my ‘old jewelry box’ though, but we live and learn!  It is interesting to look at pictures of our original work and see how far we have come in technique and style.  We make unique pieces for women, kids and men, but we really enjoy making Pirate and Wench bling the most!

 

 

NASGA:  Have you previously been (or are you currently) active in the association (have you had the opportunity to organize a festival, serve on the board, deliver a presentation, participate in educational-related events)?  

seagalsWe have never organized a sea glass festival, but we have organized several craft shows, and it is truly a challenging experience.  Those who have never set one up, most likely have little idea of how difficult it is. We did host classes for the first time last year, at the request of group hosting a week-long event. We initially committed to one class for about 15 people.  These slots quickly filled during event registration, so we opened up a second class, both for 20 people and quickly filled all 40 slots. During the classes we discussed what genuine sea glass is, where if comes from and how to learn more from the NASGA website and the festivals.  These folks were from all over the country and several from other countries, so it was really fun to share our passion and see their creative sides unfold. During the 2 hour class, each person were able to wrap at least 2 pieces,  not all expertly, but enough to get a fair try with guidance. However, some were quite good at it and to see the pride of accomplishment from each attendee was very rewarding. One lady even went sea glassing while she was here in the one of the worst places for bugs, and we were so excited that she found glass.  She wrapped it and did a nice job.

NASGA:  How has your membership in NASGA benefited you professionally and/or personally?

Formal membership demonstrates commitment to the cause of preserving genuine sea glass.

NASGA:  Is there a particular NASGA festival that stands out as your favorite (if the member has participated in several, or more than one), and can you a share a memorable experience associated with a previous NASGA festival (whether sentimental, humorous, ironic)?

This year will be our first NASGA Sea Glass Festival, but we’ve participated in many over the past 6 years.   The first one in Lewes was most memorable. People loved our items, and we did very well. However, as the culture has grown, we’ve not been accepted into that show as often as we would have liked.

NASGA:  What are some of your other interests or hobbies? If you could learn another skill (does not need to be art related) what would it be?

Hobbies:  gardening, making jelly and canning. Other things I would do: Write mystery stories; rehab old houses, travel the world

Sue during craft festival
Sue during craft festival

NASGA:  Where can readers find out more about your craft or skill? Also, are readers welcome to contact you, and if so, what is the preferred method for them to reach you? 

We have a Facebook page and welcome contact via email seagalsgallery@ymail.com

 

NASGA:  What is your favorite beachcombing find?

I found a red marble very early on.  I sold it on an artsy seashell pin for $5.00.  Again, live and learn, right?  I’ve never found another.

NASGA:  How have you helped strengthen and support the NASGA Mission?

By continuing to get the message out to others that using genuine sea glass in natural state as found is true sea glass.  We also throw back any sea glass pieces that are not totally ready yet, to secure future sea glass finds.  Also, researching the history of found sea glass.