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When an old treasure hunter turns beachcomber

01/17/2013
It's not the Winter Carnival Medallion, it's Maine sea glass. A beer bottle bottom found in Bass Harbor

It’s not the Winter Carnival Medallion, it’s Maine sea glass. A beer bottle bottom found in Bass Harbor

I’m an old St. Paul Winter Carnival treasure hunter. I was on a team that found the prized medallion in 1993 and probably walked right over it some other years.  So I’ve been looking for a good treasure hunt outlet during the cold winter months here in Maine.

I think I found it.

Sea glass.

Sea glass is bits of broken bottles, smashed windows, old jars, plates, cups or anything else breakable that found its way into the Atlantic Ocean decades ago.

In the old days the locals used the coastal rivers and harbors as garbage dumps. Glass objects, like Coke bottles or canning jars, were thrown into the water with everyday household waste. The glass sank to the bottom where it was smashed against the ocean floor by current, waves and shifting tides. Over the decades, the ocean acts as a tumbler and the glass shards are worn down and polished into smooth, crystallized gem stones.

Historical romantics say sea glass comes from shipwrecks too.

Wherever it comes from, the sea glass washes up on the beach, in the harbors and on the river banks with low tide. Winter is an especially good season to find the stuff because the ocean is more active.

This is where old treasure hunters turn into beachcombers.

Last weekend Jen and I were in Bass Harbor, photographing the Bass Harbor Light House. We stopped in the nearby village. It was a low tide so I ventured down underneath a pier and looked around. It didn’t take long to pick up two handfuls of sea glass.

The icy ocean lapped against the shore, a couple of fishing boats rumbled through the harbor mixing the smell of sea weed with diesel and sea gulls squawked overhead in the chilly air. Looking for sea glass is a lot like looking for agate on Lake Superior, just don’t try it in bare feet.

IMG_3117Sea glass comes in all kinds of sizes and colors. Clear glass gets brushed down into a frosty ice-cube white color, there’s beer bottle browns, 7-Up greens and – the rarest shade of all – cobalt blue. Think of it: Where else do you see blue glass outside of a Noxzema jar?

Sea glass fanatics grade their finds and actively trade “stones” on the Internet. A shop in downtown Belfast featured expensive sea glass jewelry. And in Maine, they use sea glass to create art like Minnesotans use vegetable and flower seeds. We’ve all seen the crop art cows dancing the polka or Jesse Ventura portraits in split peas on display at the State Fair. In Maine, it’s sea glass lobsters on Jet Skis.

I’m not going to do anything fancy with my sea glass. I’ll just fill up a jar and put them on a shelf someplace. And when I see my finds part of me will remember what it was like to hunt for the Winter Carnival treasure.

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From → Out and about, Travel

2 Comments
  1. Chris Follett permalink

    I LOVE seaglass! I would collect it (if I saw it) on trips to Sanibel, FL as well. This just gives me another reason to come visit!!

  2. Keith permalink

    Great post, Mark. My in-laws used to collect blue glass from garage sales. From the sea is awesome.

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