On a trip to the beach last year, I picked up several pieces of glass. They were a light green color, worn smooth from tumbling in the waves.
I thought they might look nice in a plant pot or a pretty dish. I had no idea they were worth money.
My partner mentioned he’d heard of sea glass jewelry, and at the next craft fair I visited, I found a stall selling some. It was beautiful, and prices ranged from £20 ($26) for earrings to £75 ($99) for a pendant. I also found several online outlets selling pieces for over $200.
That’s when I realized I could make a profit with sea glass.
I’ve been collecting and selling on a semi-regular basis for the last few months, and I make around $65 per week. Since February, I’ve made more than $1,000.
Sea glass is glass that ended up in the ocean and acquired rounded edges and a frosted appearance from tumbling in the water. It takes decades for a piece of broken glass to become sea glass.
Most pieces originate from broken bottles, but it also comes from tableware, shipwrecks or any other glass that’s found its way into the water.
Other types of glass are often confused with sea glass, including craft glass, which has been artificially tumbled to round off the edges. Another confusing example is beach glass, which is typically used to describe glass from freshwater sources like lakes and rivers.
The stretch of northeast England coast near me is known as a good place to find collectible sea glass. A bottle factory that was open between the 1850s and 1920s dumped lots of waste glass into the sea, and pieces still wash ashore today.
Sea glass comes in several different types and grades. Value is determined by color, size and shape, age, condition and rarity.
White, green and brown are the most common sea glass colors, since they’re commonly used in the production of bottles and are still in use today. Different colors wash up on different beaches, but as a rule, you’ll find white or clear glass anywhere there is sea glass.
Dark blue sea glass comes from old medicine bottles and is very rare -- only about one in 200 pieces are this color. There’s only a limited amount to begin with, and it’s no longer in production.
Since the color usually comes from small, thin glass bottles, it’s even more rare to find a large or thick piece.
Other rare colors include pink, lavender and lime green -- shades that may have been used for perfume bottles or art glass. Multi-colored sea glass and decorative glass, or items like marbles and glass beads, are also highly sought after.
The rarest sea glass colors are red and orange. A nice piece of red sea glass is worth more than a hundred white pieces.
Shape is also important. Similarly sized pieces for earrings, triangular and heart shapes are popular. The more rounded off and frosted a piece is, the more suitable it’s likely to be for jewelry.
If it has sharp edges, chips or little frost, it’s unlikely to be worth much, but may still be useful for craft projects.
Areas that have been well-populated for a long time are good bets, as well as beaches with plenty of shingle (rocks), where glass gets “caught” in the stones.
Some collectors say a good time to search is after a storm, when the rocks and sand have been disturbed.
It's not hard work, and my 8-year-old daughter often helps. She has her own little “treasure chest” where she keeps her favorite pieces.
We walk along the water’s edge as the tide is going out. Wet glass shines, making it easier to spot. Sometimes we’ll sit and sift through the shingle with our hands or a spade.
The amount of money I make depends on the quality of the pieces I find.
I’ve sold single pieces for between $15-$30, but a bundle of 10 smaller, more common pieces might only make around $5.
My best sale so far has been a heart-shaped red stone, which sold in a Facebook auction for $47.
On average, four hours at the beach will make me around $60-$75. Including travel costs, packaging and selling time, I usually make about $15 per hour, but it’s not easy to calculate exact amounts.
Sometimes I fit “treasure hunts” into a family day at the beach, or just pop down for a couple of hours by myself if I have spare time. I could find some gorgeous patterned glass, or come home with a bundle of less valuable whites, greens and browns.
Most of my pieces sell online to U.S. bidders. I mainly sell on eBay and in a Facebook auction group. Many of my buyers make and sell sea glass jewelry and crafts, and I’ve also started making simple craft items to sell.
Finding and selling sea glass has gotten more popular over the last few years, mostly because of how easy it is to sell online on social media or craft sites like Etsy.
Sea glass is probably a diminishing resource. As it disappears from our shores, older glass especially may appreciate in value and become even more sought after.
And, hopefully, I’ll be there to collect it. Will you?
Your Turn: Have you ever found sea glass on the beach?
Tricia Lowther is a freelance writer from the U.K. She’s also a campaigner for the Let Toys Be Toys movement, which promotes gender equality for children.