Photography and text by Sara Caruso
When it comes to finding sea glass, most people think of walking along the ocean. These smooth colorful glass gems have made their way into the hearts of many beachcombers. However, many sea glass collectors do not realize there are other places where nice and potentially rare pieces and unique treasures can be found.
Bays are quickly becoming popular places to beachcomb because they often lack the crowds of ocean beaches. The term beach glass is often used to describe naturally worn glass not found along ocean shores. Along with beach glass, a few centuries of treasures can be found bay side due to the long history of the use of waterways for trash disposal. Though no longer the practice, many rare and vintage finds remain hidden along the bay shores, slowly being revealed by wind, water, and time.
Because bays do not have rough waves like the ocean – much of the glass found there remains sharp. However, this is not the case for every bay. A common misconception among beachcombers is that it takes ten years for sea glass to reach a collectible state, but in truth it all depends on the beach. Bay beaches with many tiny pebbles and coarse sand often produce beach glass with fully rounded edges exactly like sea glass. Although, it can take much longer to reach this point because of the weaker waves. As a result, some bay beach glass will remain sharp no matter how long the piece stays in the water. Learning about the area where you are hunting can help determine if a bay beach might produce any rare finds.
Even if pieces are sharp, the type and age of glass found at a site can help determine the history of a location. For example, lavender glass can mean things found there may date back over one hundred years or more. Clear glass produced prior to the 1930s contained manganese, which if exposed to direct sunlight over many years can give the glass a lavender tint. While more modern clear glass, made with selenium, develops a pale yellow or champagne color. Along with glass, other types of artifacts can also be found bay.
Prior to modern environmental laws, anything seen as trash could end up in the mud and sand of the bay, including old toys, ceramic figurines, coins, and bottles to name a few. These finds can also help to date a beach and determine the potential age of artifacts found there. For example, a silver spoon dating prior to 1940 was found on Sunset Beach in Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island. This spoon was possibly lost in the storm of 1944 which wiped out a portion of that part of the island. Many people who scuba dive the bays of LBI have found whole bottles that date back to the 1800s. Old lead toys and hand-poured decoy weights act as time capsules to simpler years. Such finds are a representation of the people who once lived in an area. While holding them in your hand, you can’t help feeling like an archaeologist.
Whatever form your beach finds take, collect what makes you happy. Too many beachcombers get hung up on the idea of purity or perfection when it comes to glass and other finds. Each piece found, no matter how old or weathered, holds the history of the beach. This, in the end, is the greatest treasure.