Sea Glass

Sea Debris Revisited

On a blustery Thursday in October, my husband surprised me by taking a day off work and whisking me off to the old fishing town of Gloucester on Cape Ann to look for sea glass. We arrived exactly at low tide and headed straight to Rocky Neck, one of America's first artist's colonies, and to its little beach.

We had the whole day ahead of us, but with the sea peeled back and its contents stranded, this was our best chance. Rain had fallen steadily for the past three days and it had been an almost constant downpour. As we sought and found the beach, I pondered that at least six tides would have washed its contents in, with few gleaners to look them over. And we were instantly rewarded. The beach was empty of people and plentiful with sea glass.

Just the week before, summer had seemed to linger, but fall had made its stamp on the land. Though we were peering about for sea glass I got distracted by the leaves that lay buried in the sand as well as the beautiful seaweed.

Leaf gleanings at the beach. Michelle Geffken, 2014,

But it was hard to ignore what we came for. This beach reminded me of the corner of my wooden bedroom floor behind the door which catches the swirling dust of the house. This small corner of the harbor had collected so much swirling debris! 

In the hour and a half before the tide overtook the best pickings and our hunger urged us elsewhere, we found over one hundred pieces of sea glass! Most were small, and clear, green, brown or pale greeny blue. But there were also some handsome larger pieces, including the intact neck and lip of an old-looking bottle.

The sea swept accumulation at Rocky Neck Beach.  Michelle Geffken, 2014,

The sea swept accumulation at Rocky Neck Beach. Michelle Geffken, 2014,

106 pieces of sea glass from Rocky Neck Beach, East Gloucester, MA. Michelle Geffken, 2014,

An interesting find.  Michelle Geffken, 2014,

An interesting find. Michelle Geffken, 2014,

We also found over twenty pieces of more recent glass, still sharp and clear enough not to be true sea glass. I read that there are several grades of sea glass including jewelry and craft grades. While I don't care too much about these distinctions, the sharp stuff is obviously not worth keeping. However, my husband insisted on bringing them home so no one would cut their feet. He's a kind soul.

I like beach brick bits, another man-made material that is malleable over time. We found six of these, and some beautiful blue pottery pieces, still brightly colored but soft edged. Not to mention a plastic play coin and a small white button.

With rumpled knees and dizzy with bending, we eased ourselves upright, put the wind to our backs and compared our finds. Over lunch my husband pondered the fact that every one of these man-made pieces had at one point left a human hand. How did they end up in the sea? 

So much to think about.

What had we really found?!

I wondered the other day if I could find out more about the bottle neck. One of the best sources of information on American-made bottles is the detailed site written by Bill Lindsay and hosted by the Society for Historical Archaeology.

1908 Illinois Glass Company catalog.  Some popular styles of bottle finishes used at that time. 

Our bottle finding appears to be from a hand blown rather than a machine made bottle, and the lip or finish is known as the prescription finish.

Enthusiast Bill Lindsay states, "the prescription finish is the most common ... on druggist, drug store, and prescription bottles made between the mid-1870s and the effective end of the mouth-blown bottle era in the early 1920s ...  The flaring mouth facilitated pouring exact quantities of the medicine, even counting the drops." He adds, "This style is also common on patent and proprietary medicinal and poison bottles, and many bitters (a type of medicine), ink, and perfume/cologne/toiletry bottles from the same era ..."

I wonder how long it had been in the harbor in Gloucester on Cape Ann?

Fitz Henry Lane, Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor, 1857, Wilmerding Collection