The following column was written by Graelyn Brashear.
I was taking a walk along the beach in Surf City one morning a few years back when I spotted the smooth edge of a nearly-buried piece of dark sea glass peeking from the wave-washed sand.
It was black as a stone, and I assumed it was a deep olive shard — not at all a bad find. When I pulled it from the sand, I realized I was instead holding a true treasure: a fat, ice-cream-cone shaped, half-dollar sized wedge of beautifully worn ruby-red sea glass.
What it is:
Red sea glass is almost as rare as it gets. Only one shard in thousands might be red. Even avid searchers might look a lifetime and not find a piece in this hue, so discovering one is pretty special.
The reason it’s such a prize is that not a lot of glass products were ever made in red, because it was comparatively very costly to make.
The main ingredient in most red glass — the one that is responsible
for the color – is gold chloride.
Legend has it the method for making red glass was discovered who knows how long ago when some glassmaker of old accidentally dropped a gold coin in a vat of molten glass.
But gold isn't the cheapest metal around, and making red glass was a
tricky business besides the materials cost.
Even slight variations in the amount of the gold compound added to a batch of glass would yield dramatically different shades. Since consistency is key in making commercial products, it often just wasn’t worth it for glassmakers to churn out red.
Of course, less red glass in circulation meant less red glass in the ocean, and thus less on the beach. Modern methods use compounds of metals other than gold to get red glass – Selenium and Copper can both be used – but during the last century, when much of the sea glass we find on our beaches started its life as bottles and plates, red was rarity.
Where to find it:
We’ve about the fact that sea glass in all colors is a lot harder to come by these days for a variety of reasons, the primary one being that a lot less glass gets dumped in the ocean these days (and we can live with that).
My red LBI shard was the find of a lifetime. Others I know have picked up red pieces around here, too, but not in recent years. But if you’re set on adding the rare shade to your collection — and if you’re as much a fanatic as I am — you could consider planning your next vacation around glassing.
A combination of tides, sand and lax litter laws has made Puerto Rico a sea glass collector’s paradise. A trip I took to the beaches of Rincon, on the island’s west coast, yielded a good handful of ruby glass gems (some of my haul is visible in the photo above).
Northern California also has some great sea glassing sites where it’s not uncommon to find red. A former dump off the coast of Mendocino County has led to the creation of one of the most concentrated areas of sea glass in the world — Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach.
Going into the search armed with an understanding of where sea glass comes from makes the thrill of the hunt even more fun.
Fancy ruby-red glass dinnerware was popular for a few decades, and in
the early years of car manufacture, taillights were made of red glass
instead of today’s plastic.
Some of the red sea glass that washes up today can be traced to these sources; a patterned surface points to tableware, while low ridges can suggest the glass came from a car.
Red ship’s lanterns have also been ground into collectors’ items over the centuries.
But the likely source of my piece of red sea glass — the Surf City shard — is much less sentimental: a Schlitz beer bottle. Anchor Hocking glass company made ruby red bottles for the Milwaulkee company for a limited time in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Pieces of the beautiful bottles are still delighting sea glass lovers today.