Photography and text by Sara Caruso
Finding a frosty piece of red sea glass may be the ultimate goal of any sea glass collector’s career. Red is often regarded as the second rarest color of glass after orange. However, there is a color just as rare, if not rarer, than. That color is turquoise, and it has one of the longest histories of any glass made.
Turquoise is one of the earliest semi-precious gems mined and traded. Its vivid blue coloring has captured the hearts of humanity for millennia. It came to adorn many things from Egyptian sarcophagi to the palace walls of the Middle East. Due to the mineral’s popularity, the ancients sought to replicate its magnificent color. The Egyptians perfected this with faience blue an early forerunner to glass. Egyptian faience or Egyptian paste is a porous non-clay, ceramic made with ingredients similar to glass: sand, lime, and either natron or plant ash. During the firing process, the components react to create a brightly colored glaze on the surface.
Overtime, the Egyptians perfected glassmaking, and their techniques were passed down to later civilizations, such as the Phoenicians, Greece, and Rome. This is where the turquoise glass we know today began its history.
Faience blue and its glass counterpart continued in popularity throughout the 17th century, especially in the form of jewelry and art. As stated by Antonio Neri in his 1612 book L’Arte Vetraria, “Sky Blue, or more properly turquoise, is a principal color in the art of glassmaking. I have made this color often, because it is very necessary in bead making, and is the most esteemed and prized color in the art.”
By the 1800s, new glass manufacturing techniques allowed certain colors to be more widely available. Brightly colored turquoise glass was made into dinnerware, barber bottles, insulators, costume jewelry, textured window glass, and glass fire extinguishing grenades. But perhaps the largest source for turquoise sea glass was seltzer bottles.
Seltzer became popular in the 18th century from a belief that carbonating water made it safer to drink. By the mid-1800s, new patents allowed the fizzy drink to be siphoned out of the glass bottle. eliminating corks and the loss of carbonation. The seltzer bottle with a metal spout, siphon, and dispensing lever was born. Their popularity spread across Europe and the United States with the use of commercial seltzer bottles reaching its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. Fancier turquoise glass seltzer bottles, originally made in eastern European countries such as Czechoslovakia, were exported to the United States.
The main ingredients in modern turquoise glass that give it that vibrant color are copper and iron. From the 1930s through the 1940s these raw materials became scarce as factories across Europe and the United States switched to the production of World War II military goods. Repeated bombing of European factories also shut down glass production. After World War II, most turquoise glass was relegated to decorative art pieces and figures like those made by Wheaton and Fenton.
Many times, much lighter blue sea glass is mistaken for turquoise. True turquoise sea glass should stand out on the sand more intensely compared to its softer blue counterparts. Aqua, for example, will have a greener tinge and subtle blue. Turquoise should, for lack of a better term, “punch” your eyes with its color. Your best chances to find this rare sea glass may be along bay beaches and old landfill sites, which also tend to have less foot traffic. Despite its long history, turquoise sea glass is a rare electric vibrance that only a lucky few beachcombers will ever experience.