By Peggy Campbell-Rush
“Are you going to church?” my mother asks me as I walk out the door. She’s not talking about the brick and mortar location of our Sunday worship, but my daily six-mile pilgrimage across the beach. The purpose of my journey? To find sea glass.
I have been collecting sea glass for over 40 years now, ever since my time on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, when I first marveled at a piece of blue that my best friend found. I collect all over the world—if there is a beach, off I go in search of my holy grail.
Moving to Florida last year has made a significant impact on my collecting. Now, I walk and search almost every day of every season. My husband asks me when it will be “enough,” but if you are a beachcomber you know that enough is never enough. It is about the thrill of the find.
The find is the “eureka moment” when you are walking aside the beige, brown, and white and suddenly you spot a piece of strikingly brilliant blue standing out.
People who hunt for sea glass have a hierarchy of finds. Brown is the easiest followed by clear. Green and blue are next, with blue being the harder to find of the two. Then you get into the really rare colors: red, orange, yellow, black, and true purple (Sometimes you find clear that has been oxidized and has a light purple hue). I have only found orange and yellow in Italy and black in Barbados.
Florida is the perfect state to hunt for sea glass. With 1,197 miles of coastline and 663 beaches, the possibility to find sea glass is endless. The Atlantic side is best because of the wave tumbling which makes the glass smooth and opaque. The northeast coast offers a lot of beachcombing opportunities in the summer months. You can get your toes in the water and look for sea glass as it rolls in and out with the waves. There are wonderful beaches on the west coast as well.
I’ve realized over time that finding glass, like shark teeth collecting, is about training your eyes over time to find specific things that others can’t. On my six-mile walks I can sometimes find over 50 pieces— or I can find three or four. You can get better at beachcombing, but a lot depends on the tides, direction of the wind, and roughness of the sea. You want to hunt at or near low tide. The calmer waters gently pull the sand and it acts as a sifter leaving the glass and shells exposed. I suggest wearing sneakers unless your feet are very tough, because you want to walk on top of the shelled areas to look for the glass that may be intermingled.
It is easy to spot sea glass if you are looking for it. If it is a sunny day, the light often glints off the glass and may be easier to find. If you are new to searching, you will find a piece of sea glass and realize how truly unusual that color looks among the brown, beige, and white colors of sand and shell fragments.
When you find a spectacular piece, you might wonder where it came from. In Florida, you can usually guess where specific pieces came from. Brown, clear, and green are often from modern day beverage bottles that have been littered in the sea and tumbled recently. The sea foam green, with those familiar ridges and valleys in the sides, is from Coca-Cola bottles. The cobalt blue, true lilac, red, and orange pieces, all glorious finds on any day, are likely from historic shipwrecks.
Sea glass is getting much harder to find. We have become much better at recycling and putting bottle/container restrictions on beachgoers. This move to eco-friendly bottling along with the increased use of plastics has made sea glassing a real skill and art.
I proudly display my special pieces in my home in Ponte Vedra Beach. I found two reds this winter, which I could not stop talking about for weeks. Last month I found a piece of a Chero-Cola bottle. Chero-Cola had to change its name and drop the “cola” from its logo in 1920 when The Coca-Cola Company won their trademark infringement claim. Last week, I found the bottom part of a 1950s Breck Shampoo glass bottle.
I love finding treasures and I love finding everyday finds too. And, for me, when someone asks, where is that from? I respond that it is from my walk and it was heavenly.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2021 issue.