In Print

Pure Sea Glass

Sea glass - more than colorful trinkets

By Laura Wainwright - October 11, 2007

Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems, Richard LaMotte, Sally LaMotte Crane, and photographer Celia Pearson, Chesapeake Seaglass Publishers, June 2004, 224 pages. $35.

When I come back from a walk on the beach my pockets are usually full. Recently I've been picking up heart rocks. A few years ago it was egg-shaped rocks. I always collect whatever beach glass I find. Today's prize was a tiny pale green chip from Lamberts Cove Beach.

For years I have collected sea glass and put it in Mason jars or small bowls mixed with shells. My interest has been in the shape, color, and feel of the glass. I'm excited when I find a blue or other unusual color, but I've never really thought about where the glass came from or how old it might be.

All this has changed thanks to "Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems" by Richard LaMotte, which a friend gave me after we took a long walk on the beach, and found some sea glass. Now I realize each piece of sea glass I find is a little bit of history. The Kelly green may have been a coke bottle made in the 1950s. The cobalt blue perhaps started as a medicine bottle in the late 1800s.

The sliver I found today is not Kelly green and it is too thin to have come from a soda bottle. Using the lovely photographs by Celia Pearson as my guide, I compare my little piece to her pictures. There it is - lime green. The description tells me this color is uncommon, found once for every 50 pieces of glass. The pieces found are usually shards, small and less smooth and rounded. My piece is a bit sharp and smaller than most I find. It's not that old, having been manufactured in the mid to late 1900s. Question answered!

Sea glass
Every bit of sea glass has a story to tell. Photo by Lyla Griswold

Curious in a new way about my own collection, for fun I decide to sort my sea glass by color according to the author's rarity scale (see insert). I place four sheets of white copier paper on the dining room table and label each one: Extremely Rare, Rare, Uncommon, and Common. Next I pour my sea glass into a big bowl and search around the house for little pieces here and there. Finally, I begin sorting. There are many colors I don't have, such as orange and yellow, but the range I do have, including a few nuggets of red, surprises me.

My daughter Lyla joins me and the afternoon shadows grow long as we hold the glass up to the light, compare it to the photographs in the book and try to determine which pile it should go in. We look back at the book, read the history, then reexamine the glass, savoring its beauty. Lyla looks over my shoulder to the display of old bottles on the windowsill: another collection I've created over the years of bottles harvested from Island beaches and a bottle dump in our own back yard. Tomorrow we can delve into the chapters on bottle history and identification, but for today I am satisfied.

The next time you go to The Bunch of Grapes, treat yourself to this lovely book. Even if you don't collect beach glass, the story is fascinating and the photographs are beautiful. When you do go to the beach and happen to pick up a smooth piece of sea glass, remember, you are holding a little nugget of history in your hand.

Laura Wainwright is a contributing writer to The Times.