Did you ever go treasure hunting as a kid?
I know I did. Every beach holiday I had ( I was born in the Midlands) I pretended that it was my own little treasure island. I would build dens and imagine a treasure chest full of special gems of all colours.
Birthday and Christmas as a child was amazing too, as one might expect, but the best bit about getting presents was the unwrapping, the ‘oh my goodness, I wonder what this is’ feeling.
By embracing the pleasure of discovery when I go out to comb the beach for sea glass, it almost feels like I am re discovering my inner child too. It’s very therapeutic. In my next post I am going to invite you inside my workshop and show you how I take natures gems and transform them into timeless and truly unique pieces of jewellery.
Which means that this post is a bit of a prequel to my workshop. I’m going to share my tips and tricks for all you sea glass treasure hunters out there – where to find the best sea glass … and in true Antiques Roadshow style I’ll give you a guide as to what is rare and what it could be worth to a collector (of whom there are millions worldwide).
A little background
I dived into the beginnings of sea glass in my previous post, but if you’d like a quick origin story:
Forty to two hundred years ago people bought medicines and drinks in glass bottles. Factories and craftsmen / women produced multifarious items with ornate glass decorations. Ships set sail carrying cargo, some of which was made from glass.
Empty glass bottles, waste glass items and shipwrecked glass debris made its way into our oceans, allowing Mother Nature to take these raw materials and recycle. Forty to two hundred years later the frosted pearls that we recognise today as sea glass is washed up on our shores.
Today people all over the world collect it and enthusiasts flock to international conventions dedicated to identifying and collecting i
Perhaps the attraction is how human art and nature have combined their efforts to create these stunning pieces, maybe it is the undeniable connection to and preservation of our heritage from years gone by.
For me it is all of this, and as an artist the sheer beauty and emotion that these gems evoke.
Let’s get combing…
Your journey begins here, and like any other adventurer in search of nature’s beauties it is advisable to pick the right location, the right conditions and the right time of day (or night). You wouldn’t see David Attenborough turning up to Newcastle’s Grey street at 11pm to film Gorillas interacting in their natural habitat – well, unless he was making a comment on modern society of course.
Werewolves aren’t the only ones that benefit from a full moon. The bigger the moon appears, the higher and lower the tides. If you happen to be sea glass hunting during a full moon AND following a storm, then the chances of you finding some amazing pieces are greatly enhanced.
Stay away from the sunbathing spots
As a sea glass hunter you are primarily looking for pebbly and rocky areas, which is not to say the odd piece doesn’t wash up further up shore but I’d go with probability on this one. You will find more pieces nestled in the rocks and pebbles.
Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet
I’m not advocating deep sea diving in the early hours of the morning but if you are willing to wade out a little then you may find some lovely items.
Look for the sparkles
You do need a sharp eye, as sea glass can be wholly or partially covered by sand and debris. Sometimes though, it literally glistens in the sun / moonlight.
Go where there are waves
Sea glass is washed up on shore, carried there by the waves – so it makes sense to go where there are waves.
It’s one of my favorite beaches. This stretch of coastline has seen the rise and fall of chemical works in the 1860’s, the old iron works and the Londonderry Bottleworks.
In 1853 the Candish family opened the Londonderry Bottleworks (closed in 1921). The abundance of sand and coal made Seaham the ideal place for glass production. It very quickly became the biggest glass manufacturer in the UK producing up to 20,000 hand blown glass bottles every day.
In 1917 a cargo ship on route to deliver empty bottles to the factory was hit by a German mine and sank at Robin Hoods bay, fifty miles east of Seaham. Conceivably those bottles were smashed and found their way to the bottom of the North sea.
The factory also dumped vast amounts of waste glass into the North Sea. One hundred years of recycling later we have beautiful frosted sea glass wash up on the Seaham shore.
Seaham shores were also used in the opening credits of the Alien 3 film. The crashed spacecraft was filmed there but I don’t think we can class that as a genuine probable sea glass discovery.
Let’s look at some of the treasures
Have you ever marveled at some people’s ability to look at an item and know within a reasonable degree of accuracy where it originated, the history behind it and perhaps even how much it could bring in at auction?
As an artist I am primarily attracted by the sheer beauty and ‘personality’ that sea glass has. Just as we are all a product of our own heritage and environment sea glass is much the same. It is a living embodiment of times gone by. This is why some pieces are rarer and worth more than others – production of certain colours / types were more common than others. Add to this, what was seen as imperfections in the 1800’s and discarded into the North Sea, Mother Nature has turned into a one of a kind treasure.
Orange Red and Turquoise sea glass
The most common sea glass colours found are white, brown amber and green and I’ve collected some truly beautiful specimens from varieties of these colours.
Do keep your eyes open for some of the harder to find colours too:
Very little orange glass was made for glass bottles, which means the only orange sea glass you would find would have originated from decorative tableware, art or perhaps the edge of a red warning light. A quality specimen made into jewellery can easily expect to sell for over £700.
Red sea glass jewellery is beautiful and exudes emotion. Though some bottles were made using red glass it was more commonly used for tableware, car taillights and at one time, ships lanterns. I’ve seen many red sea glass jewellery items sell for around £500.
Very rare indeed and similar to deep aqua sea glass except for it’s neon appearance, turquoise sea glass originated from decorative tableware and early seltzer / siphon bottles from around 1825. Much like orange sea glass, turquoise will often command a high price.
I hope you have enjoyed dipping your toe into our ‘how to’ treasure hunters guide. In future posts we will look at other amazing sea glass types. I’m looking forward to welcoming you all into my workshop in our next blog.
Till next time…