Black Sea Glass, my first true love.

Oh, black sea glass.. how elusive and shrouded in mystery you are. 

Black sea glass was my first true fascination in the vast world of beach combing. From the moment I learned of its existence and subsequently, its origin, I was intrigued. Each trip to the beach became completely focused on finding as many black pieces as possible. I couldn't believe that these ancient gems had been laying there all along, masquerading as rocks along the pebbly shoreline that we frequented every day. This was also a turning point for me as a beach comber. This was when I realized the great historical value of sea glass – something more than just a smoothed, colored shard of glass.

The most notable thing about searching for black sea glass is that to the untrained eye, it is extremely hard to distinguish from black beach stones. I used to pick up and analyze each and every smooth black stone I would find. In the beginning, my husband and I even resorted to cracking open a few of them for investigative purposes. We soon discovered that most of the pieces that we mistook for sea glass were actually obsidian and other types of igneous(volcanic) rocks. It really is a matter of training your eyes to spot them – and by “training” I mean a combination of focusing, straining, squinting and opening your eyes as wide as physically possible, while making weird faces as you stoop at the shoreline, scaring every person who crosses your path. But hey, it’s better to scare them away than for them to discover that you are actually hunting for treasure, right? Anyway, getting used to what the texture of black sea glass looks like helps a lot too. The time of day is also a key factor. When there is more shadow, I find that the texture is easier to identify.

Almost all black sea glass is not truly black. I would say that 2% of the black pieces in our collection are truly black, through and through. The other 98%  are actually olive green, deep emerald green, dark amber, greenish amber and more rare – black blue and black amethyst. In order to determine the true color, you need a good flashlight (my tiny, but powerful phone flashlight has proven to be perfect for this task) and a bit of patience. Sometimes the only light that penetrates the piece is through a minuscule bubble or thinner/chipped corner. When a good amount of light does penetrate, you usually can see tons of tiny bubbles trapped in the glass, which I think is really cool. Ancient glass makers often times hand-molded glass, even in large quantities. The bubbles are a clear indication of the age of the glass and crude nature of early glass production. Later, the use of a mold would be employed in large productions.

In some big chunks of black, I often see what looks like dark gray/brown metal blended into the frosty finish. This is probably due to the addition of iron slag in the molten glass formula. This was done to add opacity and strengthen glass that was often subjected to rough conditions. If you check out our Glass Color Process page, you’ll see that most glass colors are obtained through the addition of certain metals and oxides. In many cases, this is done not only for color, but for strength as well.

The beauty of black sea glass is not only because of its dark color, it is also due to its rarity and historical significance. Black sea glass found here on the Italian Riviera is much older than it is in most other places. This is entirely due to the fact that the Italian Riviera lies along the oldest trade and shipping route in Europe. As we have discussed on the History page, in our area, glass making goes as far back as the 14th century. Often times, divers find Roman pottery and even glass on the sea floor, which in that case is even older than the 14th century. This is my main fascination with black sea glass, its very old age and origins. At one point I even started calling it "Cristoforo Colombo glass"(aka Christopher Colombus), as the Italian Riviera was his home for much of his life. I'm sure at least some of the glass we find was on one of his ships at some point, or at least I'll pretend that it was. I always imagine a scenario of a crew member setting out with his ship for the beginning of a long voyage, finishing his first bottle of grappa.. or whatever he was drinking.. and then drunkenly stumbling into a stack of crates filled with glass bottles, and all of them tumbling into the sea. But yeah, this probably didn’t happen and I am just a daydreamer. Maybe they were filled with other local Ligurian digestivi, which are typically herb-infused after-meal liquors – some sweet, some bitter(amaro). Plants such as olive, basil(my favorite!), myrtle, angelica, anise, apricot(amaretto) and lemon(everybody knows limoncello!) are commonly used to make digestivi. I know, I know, the bottles weren’t always filled with liquor. They were also used for medicines, tinctures, poisons, extracts, etc.

Of all of the colors of sea glass, black instills in me a strong feeling of being connected to ancient history and truly feeling like a treasure hunter.

Do you have a special technique for spotting black sea glass? Tell me about it!

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