Real Sea Glass - The Difference Between Natural and Man Made

By Mary Beth Beuke - WestCoastSeaGlass.com

Sea Glass Bottle Rims, Seaglass, Bottle Necks, Frosty Beach Glass, I purposefully do not call faux sea glass 'sea glass' any more these days. I always make a point of naming it 'frosted glass' or 'machine tumbled glass' or 'man made, frosted glass'. To term it 'sea glass' infers that it has spent time at sea. For me and for most collectors, sea glass is historic glassware and bottles that have somehow reached the sea or body of water. They have been on a journey that cannot ever be repeated. Each piece has a story and tale to tell. Above, a colorful pile of nicely frosted sea glass bottle neck and rim pieces, all from historic bottle glass.
 
The moment sea glass collecting took the spotlight, its value as a commodity to be found, bought, sold and traded increased dramatically.  And just like any collectable that has garnered sudden attention, the adoration caused a bit of a “run” for buying and selling.

Manmade, machine tumbled or chemically frosted glass often looks too perfect.

And when any true item becomes of value, a faux or artificial product is not far behind.  Man-made "frosted glass" showed up on the modern market. This mechanically created glass is not sea glass.  At right, a dusty blue triangle of machine tumbled, "faux" sea glass.

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Real sea glass is glass that has spent time and a unique journey at sea. It has stood the test of time and tide, often for decades. This is what gives genuine, beach combed sea glass its value and significance. The process of mimicking the forces of nature cannot exactly be duplicated.

Genuine, authentic sea glass is glass (a bottle, a dish, an old window pane) that was once discarded, unwanted, and tossed out to sea as refuse. It may have found its way to the shoreline after being thrown overboard from a ship. It may have been barged out for dumping by a cargo ship. Or it may have been pushed off the edge of a sea shore town's landfill bluff.

No matter how the glass reached the ocean, we are finding that years and decades later, it is turning up along our beaches as gems with smooth edges and a frosty surface.  Above left, an ocean tumbled, well frosted cobalt blue shard of bottle glass.

Since mass production of bottles began in the early 1900s, glassware became much more common in the average household and thrown out after being broken or unwanted.

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It takes many years out in a natural body of water for a piece of glass to become smoothed, softened, and frosty. That frosty pitted surface is what many sea glass hunters and collectors admire. It cannot be mimicked exactly by a mechanized process or by a chemical bath.  But there are some who have tried to create imitation sea glass.

To the purist, the historian, and the archaeologist in all of us, this has become an important issue.

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In response to so many questions and inquiries, my colleagues and I combined some of our genuine pieces from around the country and created a photo still life for educational purposes (at right).  Our pieces were arranged together on a table and then one member purchased some artificial “sea glass” and posed it next to the pieces of genuine.  The groupings were photographed and posted on the organization’s website. 

The photo shows some of my genuine, ocean tumbled sea glass in the top left triangle of the frame.  The more angular, blocky pieces in the bottom right triangle of the image are machine-made, frosted pieces of glass.  The faux sea glass has been clouded out in the photo at left.  

If you’re a sea glass enthusiast, it is highly likely that you’ve seen these photo on the Internet and throughout many random blogs.  Permission has been allowed for hundreds of members of the North American Sea Glass Association to use them for educational purposes.

Beautiful frosting and pitting on a soft blue sea glass bottle stopper top.

Some truly mature pieces can be so well rounded and without blemish that they appear more like a marble than a sharp edged shard.Sea glass and beach glass is found on beaches all over the world. Some of it can be centuries old but most of what is found is most likely 100 years old or less.

At West Coast Sea Glass, we go out of our way to remember where each piece was beachcombed and we keep track or our pieces by which body of water it was found along.  It matters to the beach lover that their piece is genuine and historic and has been sculpted by the ocean.