The Journey of Bonfire Glass
By Mary T. McCarthy
While many pieces of sea glass resemble each other in size, color, and form, often no two pieces of bonfire glass are alike, making their uniqueness part of their charm. But the best part of bonfire glass is its journey from useful vessel to discarded trash to the waves and back to the beach to be discovered and treasured.
In his book, Pure Sea Glass, Richard LaMotte noted that the first pieces of bonfire glass weren’t bottles discarded into an actual bonfire by the sea, but rather raw glass produced accidentally in the first century AD by Phoenician sailors on a Syrian beach who used blocks of natron (soda) to support a cooking pot. As their “bonfire” burned, a clear substance flowed into the sand, and glass was created.
In modern times, what has been nicknamed “bonfire glass” (or sometimes “campfire” or “melts”) comes not often from actual beachside campfires, but more commonly from coastal landfills, where trash on a larger scale is burned in larger controlled fires prior to being buried. Then, as shorelines break down due to coastal erosion, this glass enters the body of water, tumbling in the waves and smoothing to varying degrees depending on wave action and returning to shore to be discovered as sea or beach glass.
Glass melts at just above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and at lower temperatures it is pliable enough to change shape. Beachcombers find a variety of bonfire, such as bonfire bottles, marbles, stoppers, and multis that include pieces from different bottles that burned near each other in the fire. Rare “enhydro” pieces include a trapped drop of water that was encapsulated during the original fire.
According to LaMotte, “Finding glass with embedded ash and sand provides a profound respect for the energy generated by a seemingly innocent bonfire. When these molten shards are worn smooth by exposure to a rough shoreline environment, they can become an attractive oddity.”
From the tiniest bonfire nugget to the largest misshapen bottles and slag pieces, exploring the inner bubbles, ash, and sand within bonfire glass finds is a window into hidden stories of times past.
Rare enhydro bonfire glass found in Sicily, Erica Lyons, Orcas Island Sea Glass
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This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2020 issue.
Images courtesy of: LMarie Allen, Kristina Braga, Mary T. McCarthy, Lori Librande, Daniela Lindberg, Jane Kirk, Jodie Greene, Carol Roche, Megan L. Mortimer, Mickey Morey-Kiernan, Maureen Wyer, Barbara Smith, Sarah Taavola, Eric Ogriseck, Cindy Cerefin, Lori Julian, seasidebeachglass.com, Rebekah Aguilar, Jayne Orlando, Erica Lyons. All rights reserved.