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Beaches Magazine Interview 2000
[Editor's Note: The bits of frosty colored glass one can find along the shores of oceans, lakes, bays and rivers are sought after by people's all over the earth. NOTE! Copyrighted 2000 - Use of this text in whole or in part is strictly prohibited unless express written permission is first obtained]
To discover one of these translucent silica gems on the beach can be the high point of a summer. Somehow, the web of scratches on a fragment of the bottom of a Heineken beer bottle can produce a gem more precious to a romantic mind than emeralds. Old Phillips Milk of Magnesia bottles, in their cobalt blue grandeur, when tumbled for years in the sea, sand, and gravel, transform themselves into sapphires.
Why we love beach glass, we'll leave to the psychologists.
Linda Jereb truly loves beach glass, and as a jeweler she creates beautiful objects with it. She is one of the world's most gifted beach glass artisans and this is a beachesmagazine.com Q&A with her.]
Q. What is a correct and full definition of "beach glass"?
A. Beach Glass (or sea glass) are worn pieces of broken glass that has been smoothed by the action of water and sand. Beach Glass can be from inland lakes or island beaches. Sea Glass tends to be found on the ocean beaches.
Q. How long have people been collecting it?
A. People have probably been collecting beach glass since there has been glass. I've heard of collectors in Europe who have collected ancient Roman glass from the beaches. Most people know that Native American indians use purple clam shells (wampum) as money in trading. I'm sure these beach gems have been used in the same way. Their beauty and appeal is worldwide.
Q. Where does it come from?
A. Beach glass comes from any form of glass object that has been tossed in the water. Back in the old days, people didn't recycle, they dug pits and buried or burned trash. (There is a form of beach glass called 'Camp Fire Glass'. It is glass that had become molten in a fire and then smoothed by the action of water and sand).
These trash pits on the coastlines become the source for much of the old glass that is found today. Other glass comes from people who carelessly leave their trash on the beach. Due to recycling and environmental awareness, beach glass is becoming rarer!
Q. How is it naturally created?
A. Genuine beach glass is created when broken glass is smoothed by water and sand or gravel. The action of water and sand act like a big rock tumbler. The smoothest beach glass comes from locations that have heavy surf of currents. Rougher beach glass comes from areas, inland bays and lakes, where the water action is less turbulent. I have seen beach glass from Maine and Hawaii that, although it is beautiful in color, is very rough.
Q. What are the prime colors, from commonest to rarest?
A. The common colors of beach glass are the common colors of glass in use today. Various shades of green, brown and white are abundantly available in most areas. If you look in the grocery store, you can see where these colors come from: beer bottles, mostly brown (and frequently left behind on shores); soda and water bottles, usually white. Wine and imported beer bottles give us green.
Other colors are from glass that is either no longer in use or rarely used in modern commercial glass bottles and jars. Red, blue, seafoam green, peach, lavender, aqua are among the rare colors I have seen and collected.
To me, finding an unusual piece of glass becomes a project in 'Beach Archaeology'. I like to try and figure out what it could have been and how it got there.
Q. How can one distinguish between real beach glass and ersatz manufactured beach glass?
A. Genuine beach glass (or Genuine Sea Glass TM term coined and trademarked by By The Sea Jewelry in 1986) and manufactured beach glass are easily distinguished side by side. If you look closely at the piece of genuine beach glass, you will notice pit marks in the glass frosting. Tumbled glass tends to be overall smooth with no pit marks and a very light frosting.
In my jewelry I sell both genuine sea glass and a trademarked Fanta Sea Glass TM (which is faux sea glass). I started doing this to provide rare color earrings to my customers. With blue, for instance, it can be almost impossible to match two pieces that are similar in shape size and color. When I sell Fanta Sea Glass™, I ALWAYS indicate on the retail carding that it has been manufactured in a four step process to resemble sea glass. I feel this is not only the ethical thing to do, but it has kept my reputation intact to the avid 'glassers' who purchase my work.
Genuine beach glass in rare colors can cost a lot more, and true collectors tend to want the real thing.
Tumbled glass can have the same appeal to many people though; the organic look of glass that has been frosted and is in a freeform shape, has appeal in a world of stamped out and machine made widgets.
Most tumbled glass I have seen is heavy (chunkier) or too symmetrical. If the color seems too good to be true, it probably is.
One manufacturer I know used slag glass from art glass companies. He sells it to aquarium supply companies for fish tanks. It is very beautiful but doesn't resemble any real sea glass I have ever seen.
If you see a bag of commercially sold beach glass that has rare shades like blue for instance, it is 99% likely to be tumbled.
I have seen jewelry makers who claim their glass to be genuine and in fact it it tumbled, so 'Beware If You Care!' Some of these folks are on the internet and so use your better judgment.
If you see someone selling a piece of blue, pink or purple for instance and they are only charging $10 to $20, it's probably tumbled! My rare glass colors start at $50 and go up for the Genuine stuff.
Q. Is there any artistic difference between true beach glass and the fake stuff?
A. Using genuine beach glass and tumbled glass makes no difference in the design and use in an artistic media. The translucency of light through colored glass has a hypnotic appeal to most people.
Q. Where do jewelers like yourself find beach glass now?
A. I find most of my glass myself. Living on the coast year round (Nags Head, North Carolina) gives me access to the beach when the collecting is best: in the fall to spring. Areas vary, however, and I tell people that collecting beach glass is like fishing (which I enjoy too!) and that they need to 'get to know' their area.
Watch the winds and tides and make note of when finding the glass is best, then go during those times; but just like fishing, it's not always a guarantee.
There are a couple of people who sell genuine beach glass (and many who sell the tumbled glass) around the country. Search the internet for providers.
Q. What does it cost?
A. I will pay more than $10-$30 a pound for genuine rare glass colors (seafoam and lavender, etc...) and never more than $5 a pound for common colors. It takes many hours to find a pound in most locations, so you won't see genuine beach glass at affordable prices in quantity.
Q. To what uses is beach glass put? (fyi, our editor, Lili Wright, was recently married on a Maine Beach wearing beach glass earrings.)
A. There are many uses for beach glass.
Jewelry: earrings, pins pendants bracelets and hair accessories.
Housewares: I have seen it applied to mirrors, votive, wine glasses, made into drawer pulls, night lights, chandeliers and the most prevalent, put into clear lamp bases.
My sister (who is also getting married on the beach next summer), plans to have beach glass incorporated into her wedding dress and veil/hair piece. I do lots of jewelry for entire wedding parties and always feel it is a real honor to have my jewelry included on a woman's big day.
Q. How big in size do beach glass "gems" get?
A. I have found whole bottles that have been frosted; I have heard (on the West Coast) they find fishing net floats made of glass that have been frosted by into beach glass. The largest piece I have found was the bottom of an old canning jar. It was a beautiful green blue, like the very old Ball canning jars, and probably had a radius of 20", probably an old pickle jar.
A common piece of large beach glass is called a "round", and is the bottom of a bottle, perfectly intact and frosted.
Q. Where the the primary markets for beach glass? America? Europe? South America?
A. Beach glass is a worldwide product. I have customers from all over the U.S., Puerto Rico, Trinidad/Tobago etc. I have seen pieces of beach glass jewelry designed from Israeli beach glass (featured in Lapidary Journal) that is now in Donna Karen's personal collection, and I've heard of Roman beach glass pieces. I have made jewelry form glass that came form Ireland, from a friend of mine's ancestral home place. It was rough though, and she asked me to tumble it before incorporating it into jewelry.
Q. Who are the finest artisans in beach glass as far as you know?
A. There are many talented people working with beach glass. One pair of artists I recently ran into at a show, make all sorts of household items from carved slab glass.
Most beach glass artists wire wrapped glass although some drill the glass. Wire wrapping styles vary from artist to artist. Most wraps are classical wire designs that are taught in most classes around the world. I am self-taught and I feel my designs reflect a unique art deco style and, as yet, it has not been copied by my competitors.
Q. If someone has bowls full of old beach glass, has it any value to jewelers, artisans? How ought they appraise it for value?
A. It is hard to put a value on a piece of sea glass. If it has sentimental value, it can be priceless to the finder. If it is a very rare color, it could have value to a collector like me who uses it in commercial application.
I would never pay more than $1-$2 for a good piece of glass. I would recommend trading glass for work (which I do quite a bit), when I will make a couple of pieces of jewelry in exchange for a quantity of glass of good quality (good colors - not white, brown, etc... and smooth glass, not rough glass which is less desirable in jewelry).
I would be happy to hear from any of beachesmagazine.com guests who are interested in this.
Q. What can ordinary folk make from beach glass?
A. I wouldn't necessarily recommend a jewelry project for a beginner, but if you are inclined, go to your hardware store and purchase some 24 gauge wire (copper or brass) and wrap away. Wire wrapping is an ancient art form dating back to the Egyptians and can be reasonably easy to get started in. There are many books available.
Q. Any suggestion s for do-it-yourself beach glass works?
A. The most common project is to get the clear lamp bases and fill it with your treasures. I use aquarium stones, translucent glass pebbles that come in a wide array of colors. I purchase them from a pet store, coordinating colors, blue, teal etc. to bring out the color of the less interesting glass.
Picture frames are a nice project, using epoxy on a Plexiglas frame and then framing your favorite summer photo!
You can also take a piece of driftwood and hang pieces of wire wrapped glass from it as a mobile.
Q. What are the best stories you've ever heard about beach glass?
A. Most of the fondest ones generally are when people relate beach glass with their childhood memories of collecting it on family vacations. The joy of finding these 'precious' gems when you were a child.
Once while doing a show, I had a little girl and her mother walk up to my table. The little girl picked up a large piece of green that I had on display and turned to her mother remarking:
"Oh look mommy, it's one of those 'Mermaids Emeralds' we found the other day."
Ever since then, I have been carding my jewelry to reflect the "GEM" quality of beach glass. Green is a 'Mermaid Emerald 'TM; white is a 'Dolphins Diamond 'TM ; brown is 'Atlantean Amber 'TM; blue is 'Sea Sapphire' TM; and red a 'Ripe Tide Ruby TM'.
Although the value of beach glass is in the eye of the beholder, they truly are gems to the collector. My heart still flutters in excitement when I find a special piece even though my house and studio are full of great beach glass specimens.
Q. What's the piece you've made you love most, and why?
A. Having a "favorite piece" when you collect as much glass as I do is tough. One piece I found on Christmas Day was the only color of teal green I have ever seen in genuine beach glass. It was kind of like the beach's present to me.
Other pieces that I cherish, include a large piece of campfire (or trash fire) glass that probably measures 8x4, and you can see how the fire slumped the glass. It still has charcoal embedded in it from the fire.
Another piece is the top of a large glass jug that still has the handle attached. It is a medium lavender color.
Lavender glass is from the World War I era, when the chemical used to make glass white (glass is usually a light green shade in raw manufacture, like window glass if you look close) came from Germany. When the war broke out, American glass manufactures couldn't get the chemical and the chemical they did use, when exposed over time to intense heat or sunlight, turned the glass various shades of lavender. It is one of the shades of beach glass that can be fairly closely dated and therefore one of my favorite pieces.
Q. Please describe your workshop and tools.
A. My studio is a spare bedroom I have converted in my home on the sound front in Nags Head. One area is all computer and file cabinets. I print all of my cards for my jewelry when it is sold retail and print my own catalog (so far this year I may have to go to a commercial printer due to expansion of business). I have also created my own web site and am working on the new site.
One area has a large table and 20 sheets of board that I use to sort and match glass. I have a tray for each color and some various sizes. This makes it easier to go back and forth from one color to another. The last area is my work bench (usually in a wild disarray).
Cabinets of beads, jewelry findings, tons of tools (pliers, wire cutters) are kept on shelves easily accessible from my chair at the bench. I like to have things close at hand so if an idea comes to me I can just reach and grab something and I don't have to get up.
Q. How can beachesmagazine.com guests reach you?
A. My company's full name is:
By The Sea Jewelry
Sebastian, FL 32958
(Serious inquires only; this is my studio phone not a retail shop.)
[Editor's Note: Linda is deeply concerned about sea creatures, particularly turtles, being killed by the garbage and trash of commerce. A note from her on this subject appears in firstname.lastname@example.org]