Michigan Beach Glass: What Is It and Where Does It Come From?
While visiting northern Michigan, there is one thing I find myself doing more and more…looking for beach glass.
Finding beach glass is not hard, but it takes some diligent looking and a sharp eye.
Beach glass (sometimes called sea glass) is a piece of glass that got washed up onshore and tumbled around under the water and among the rocks. The constant tumbling over a number of decades makes the sharp edges of broken glass smooth and rounded – it’s like putting stones in a rock tumbler until they’re smooth. But beach glass take a lot longer than a couple of weeks…sometimes it takes decades to become true beach glass.
So where does beach glass come from?
Mostly glass from discarded items aboard ships, like bottles or jars dumped overboard with trash. Beach glass could be pieces of bottles, dinnerware, glassware, jewelry, lamps, and vases. Baubles, trinkets, ornaments, mirrors, souvenirs...anything made from glass washes up on our Michigan beaches.
Best beaches are any rocky shorelines along any of our Great Lakes. Sandy beaches also have beach glass, mainly non-public beaches that haven't been cleaned by park officials. Sometimes the glass on these sandy beaches are smooth and rounded, unlike rocky shoreline beach glass.
I found the top of an old glass bottle this summer, nicely rounded and smooth. Could it have been a bottle of ale from an old ship from a few hundred years ago? This is very possible. Sometimes heavy glass can wedge itself into the bottom of the lakes and sit there for years until erosion wears it down, making it slowly tumble its way to shore.
One way to tell what these pieces of glass originated from is by the color.
Amber, aqua, blue, and olive green are usually from cosmetics or medicine & pop bottles.
Black, gray, lavender, lime green, pink, teal, and turquoise were likely from small dishware, trinkets, perfume bottles, and souvenirs.
The most common colors are brown, emerald green, and white coming from beer bottles, pop bottles, and preserve or kitchen jars.
Are they worth anything? Some pieces can be, if they are made from designer glass. Art jewelry and stained glass are good examples.
I found small pieces of blue, lavender, red, and white (clear) on my last trip north. Beach glass can make an ordinary household item a little more sparkly…so next time you’re at one of our Great Lakes, head to a rocky, stony, secluded beach and scour around for some bits of authentic beach glass!