The Godfather of Sea Glass

12/21/2012 11:59

Richard LaMotte, Author of Pure Sea Glass

Richard LaMotte Boosts the National Profile of Sea Glass

Few sea glass collectors DON'T recognize the name of Richard LaMotte. As the author of Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems, LaMotte is a nationally recognized authority on sea glass. His book is now in its 5th printing, and he is routinely interviewed by national media including Coastal Living magazine.

The Journal: How did you become interested in collecting sea glass?
LaMotte: I've always enjoyed beachcombing. When my wife felt that making sea glass jewelry would allow her to work at home I quickly went to work trying to find sea glass along the Chesapeake. After a slow start I found several spots that produced amazingly well-worn and rounded shards of aqua, cobalt blue and soft green. I was hooked.

The Journal: Other than bottles what are some sources of sea glass?
LaMotte: Tableware and utility glass make up a fair portion of the sea glass that is not originally from bottles. The types of glass found are often site-dependent. Tableware pieces from Pressed Glass, Depression Glass, Fiestaware and other early to mid-20th century patterns can quickly add color to one's collection.

If a collector is in an area where they only find standard brown, green and white they are likely in a bottle-heavy area, seeded in the mid- to late-1900s. Utility glass refers to lighting, insulators and several odd forms of glass used for electrical applications over the past 100 years.

The rarest colors often come from what I call vanity ware and vases — items used to display or hold special objects around the home. Art glass is also unique but very hard to date.

The Journal: How can a sea glass collector determine a shard's origin?
LaMotte: One can spend years studying glass at bottle shows, museums, antique shops or in endless books and on the Internet. Or they can take shards to local glass experts who will be patient enough to look over a collection. My book provides a variety of basic tools but an education on glass history never stops. I often use a flashlight to look for bubbles or the core color within the glass.

Many colors are unique to periods of history, especially in 50-year intervals. The important thing is each collector should know the basics of sun-colored glass, red glass and black glass. They should also be able to identify tableware pieces from bottle pieces with minimal training from books available on the subject.

The Journal: What makes sea glass valuable?
LaMotte: There are two very distinct types of value. One is of course personal value, and the other is the less-romantic commercial value. For example, the pieces featured on the cover of my book and a special red shard hold immense personal value to me. Others I find that my wife selects for jewelry hold differing levels of commercial value.

On the North America Sea Glass Association web site we set guidelines for appraising value for the annual Shard of The Year contest. It is based primarily on color rarity and form. By form I mean it should be well rounded or devitrified (frosted) showing several decades of exposure on the shore.

The Journal: How long does it take to create a weathered piece of glass?
LaMotte: The easy answer would be several decades but it is highly dependent on the make up of the shoreline and the level of wave action. Of course high pH water helps to pit the glass by extracting the soda and lime components from its surface but the tumbling action is critical to the rounding process that heals the shine from a freshly broken edge.

Ideally the surface of the glass is hydrated and dehydrated over many years to develop a good frosted patina. A really well rounded shard normally takes about 20-30 years to be created in a severe tumbling environment while glass in a more protected environment may never be adequately rounded. Ideally give it 50 years if you have the time to wait.

The Journal: When is the best time to look for sea glass?
LaMotte: Perigean Spring Tides, coming on November 13th and December 12th this year (2008) are good times to hunt. But nothing beats a nice long day of onshore winds of 20 knots or more to rearrange beach strata and expose new shards at the high tide line while also sending some ashore below the high tide line.

The Journal: Any other suggestions that might increase the chance of finding sea glass?
LaMotte: Besides a kayak and some nautical maps always ask local "seasoned" citizens where the beach activity took place around 1900 or where the old coastal dumps were located. Then flat out ask if they know where to find sea glass. Many people are led to great spots in the Caribbean by just asking the locals. I got one of my best tips from a waterman.

The Journal: What are some of your favorite sea glass destinations?
LaMotte: Obviously I enjoy the Chesapeake Bay since it's only 10 minutes from home and on a good day one can gather 100-200 pieces in less than 2 hours. Buildings Bay in Bermuda is top notch since you can pick up dozens without moving, and we had great luck on Isla de Mujeres just north of Cancun.

Glass Beach in northern California and on Kauai are certainly the top two but are just too far away. There are some great spots in Europe and the UK but I have no specific details on those beaches. Many of the Caribbean islands have great spots but Puerto Rico has Rincon and other coastal areas that produce great sea glass.

The Journal: What was your most memorable experience collecting sea glass?
LaMotte: My first really perfect piece of red sea glass, shown in the book, is one of many I have found over the years but I came within a puff of wind of not going out that day. It's a long story but let's just say my wife and I had a remotely close call on 9/11 and she was quite upset about everything. Less than a month later (10/7) I sat in my car listening to Bush start the war and thinking I should return home. A strong gust of wind rocked my car so I rigged up my windsurfer and minutes later had my first gorgeous piece of red. It was more than a year before I considered doing a book but something clicked that morning that has certainly changed our lives.

The Journal: What's next?
LaMotte: My wife produced several stationery items such as note cards, a journal and guest book based on the original book. I have looked at concepts drawing upon the many extraordinary stories I've been told by fellow collectors but I'm not rushing anything. For now, I'm just listening to what the collectors really want next since that was the driving force for the first book.

To see what Richard & Nancy LaMotte are up to these days visit