Written and photographed by Sara Caruso

When asked, most avid sea glass collectors respond that red or orange are the rarest colors of sea glass. However, there is another color, unknown to most sea glass and bottle collectors. That color and its many shades is puce.

Originating from the French word for flea as a reference to the color of blood-stained bed linens left from their droppings, puce, pronounced pyo͞os, is a range of colors named as early as the 14th century. In bottle collecting, it describes a wide variety of shades from cranberry or burgundy to peach pink or even an extremely deep purplish or reddish brown. Puce stands out from red glass with a more earthy pink tone. Considered to be the holy grail, puce colored bottles are highly sought-after with only a handful of examples found.

The majority of puce bottles were manufactured between 1840 and 1880. Most are pictorial flasks, inkwells, bitters, and medicine bottles. Some have argued that puce may not have been an intentional color and the bottle had different tones in the glass batch while being made. Unlike true red, which was created by adding gold oxide during the manufacturing process, this group of colors resulted from the use of nickel, manganese oxides, or selenium. Manganese dioxide was added as a decolorizer to offset iron impurities found in the sand used to manufacture glass. As many sea glassers know, with exposure to sunlight, glass made with manganese dioxide will turn lavender over time. Intentionally higher concentrations of manganese dioxide during glass production would have resulted in varying shades of purple glass. Many things contributed to the wide variety of shades that exist under the umbrella of puce.

To further the confusion, the antique world is full of unusual ways to describe puce. Clearly, it is not one single color, but a family of colors with many shades. When describing puce, I prefer to reference the widely familiar colors of fruits and foods. Cranberry, apricot, raspberry, deep peach, plum, prune, wine, and prune juice could all be considered as names for different shades of puce. Interestingly, many sea glass collectors may have shades of puce in their collection and not realize it.

As if finding the rarest colors of sea glass was not challenging enough, now there is a new, or rather an incredibly old, and even rarer color to seek. Puce is a mystery and the chance of finding a piece of sea glass in this super rare color is even more slim than finding orange or red. But it is possible. And in the end, it is another exciting reason to get out there and search because you never know what you may find.

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