Mystery on the Beach

By Kirsti Scott

glass intaglio with ship found in chesapeake

Elementary school teacher Michele Messick and her husband Sean enjoy beachcombing along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. “I primarily collect sea glass and pottery,” says Michele, “But I also enjoy anything that might catch my eye while exploring: unique pieces of driftwood, old bottles, buttons, doll pieces, pipes, etc.” Michele has an old entertainment armoire filled with sea glass and pottery, plus showcase lamps in her living room that display some of her favorite pieces. “One of my favorite displays is a large bowl made of driftwood with broken bottle necks in it,” Michele says. “There is just something I love about broken bottle necks!”

One of the family’s favorite beaches was once home to a steamboat wharf in the late 1800s. “The kids would fill buckets of shells, glass, pottery, etc.” Michele says. “My husband and his father would probe for old bottles.” Now they go beachcombing as often as weather permits, sometimes joined by friends. What Michele loves about beachcombing is the tranquility and surprises. “I just always feel connected with the water in some way; it brings me peace.” While her favorite all-time finds include the first arrowhead and first whole bottle she found on the beach, she has a new number one find.

green beach glass flagship intaglio

One day in early spring, Michele and Sean were exploring near the site of an abandoned home, now washed away after years of erosion, when they spotted something really interesting. It was a green rectangular intaglio carved with a ship and an inscription that reads “I’ll come and see thee in spite of all.”

o logie o buchan flagship carved glass rectangle

They were stumped. “I have never found nor had I heard of anyone else locally finding an intaglio,” Michele says. “We are not exactly sure how it came to the location in which we discovered it, but pretty sure it may have been either left behind or washed up from somewhere else. I have been told there was an old packing house in Scotland, Maryland, which is located on the opposite side of the Chesapeake Bay from where the intaglio was found.”

I met Michele when she and her girlfriends attended the Eastern Shore Sea Glass Festival in St. Michaels, Maryland, in 2022. She showed me the intaglio at the festival, and when I couldn’t identify it, she asked Richard LaMotte, who was also attending. “He identified it as an intaglio, but he couldn’t identify its material nor its original setting,” says Michele. “I also reached out to Ian Post, a Local History Archivist at the Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University. He and his colleagues were unable to provide any additional information about the intaglio.”

carved intaglio of shipWith help from a group on Facebook, I was able to identify the inscription as part of the song “Logie o’ Buchan,” a Scottish song from the late 18th or early 19th century. I asked mudlark Jason Sandy for help from his mudlarking colleagues, but they couldn’t identify the piece, either. Michele reached out to some groups on Facebook, posting photos and a description, but with no luck. Since the inscription is right-reading, it is not a wax seal like that shown above.

One of Michele’s favorite things about her beachcombing finds is figuring out their history. She says, “I often wonder what the original owner was like. For example, if I find the handle of a teacup, I often wonder what the conversation was about over tea; was it happy news, or was the cup broken while moving their home away from an eroding shoreline?”

For now, the intaglio’s origin remains a mystery. “If it’s a piece of jewelry, I would like to have it made into a similar piece so that it appears as authentic as its original,” says Michele. “Although I would love to know exactly who owned this intaglio and its origin, there is a small part of me that enjoys the mystery…the unknown.”

Photos courtesy of Michele Messick and Richard LaMotte.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2023 issue.

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Beachcombers would love your help identifying some of the puzzling finds they have picked up on the beach. See if you can Help Solve a Beach Mystery.

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