Japanese glass floats on the Oregon coast are highly sought after treasures. Discovering a rare color, a different shape or one perfectly intact excites many a beachcomber or treasure hunter. Seaweed, driftwood, seashells and even agates are a dime a dozen when compared to finding a glass float.
Glass floats were used by the Norwegians as far back as 1840. They began by using fishing floats that were the size of an egg, tied to their fishing lines.
Glass was used because it was economical and could be found in abundance. The buoyancy also was an attractive draw as the use of nets became much more popular.
It was around 1910 that Japan began using and producing them, hence the most popularly-known name, Japanese Glass Floats. Along with the typical round float, the Japanese experimented with different sizes and shapes to accommodate different fishing styles.
Most all of those floats were green in color, since the glass used to make them were usually recycled wine bottles. Clear, amber, aquamarine, amethyst, and blue were also produced. The rarest color is red or a cranberry hue, The reason being that gold was used to make them, making them more expensive to produce. If you come across one of those, you'll want to hold onto it as if your life depended on it. From the 1920's thru the 30's, the colors of emerald green, cobalt blue, purple, yellow and orange also popped up.
Later in the 19th century, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Scotland began the manufacturing of glass floats, followed by England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States in the 1940's. A few other materials were tried and used, such as cork, plastic and wood, but glass remained the favorite.
One glaring problem for the fishermen is that the glass floats had a nasty habit of escaping their nets and floating out to sea, as rotting ropes or storms took them away. Bad for them, good for us. ;)
The floats initially had nets surrounding them. The ones that escaped their owners, usually lost those nets somewhere along their journeys. It's fairly normal to find the glass floats, nets intact, along the Japan coastline, but finding one in the Pacific Northwest waters with it's net still attached is a rarity.
Shapes of Japanese glass floats go from the most-common sphere, to rolling pin-shaped (the pin-shaped are crimped at the ends to make them easier to secure to the nets), binary floats (two spheres fused together), and cylinders. There are a few odd shapes mixed in there such as doughnut shaped, as well.
The typical round floats range from 2.2" to 15" in diameter (7-48" circumference). Anything outside of that size range is rare. The rolling pin floats most common size is approximately 4.5" and 5.5" in length. The rarer ones may be found up to 18" in length.
Many fisherman began placing trademarks and embossing on the floats to identity the owner or the manufacturer. About 20% of the round floats out there have these markings, while the percentage of rolling pin-shaped floats is much lower. Today, a trademarked glass float can be worth hundreds of dollars to hungry collectors.
Experts believe that 40% of the Japanese glass floats lost by fishermen are out there, drifting in the ocean waters. It takes approximately 4 years for those floats to cross the Pacific, but over the many years in existence, that leaves millions out there, somewhere in the world's ocean waters.
Most of those glass floats are said to be traveling in a particular current, known as the Koroshio Current. This current sweeps around in a figure-8 pattern, from Japan across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska and then down the West Coast from the Aleutian Islands, passing Mexico, turning east, past the islands of Hawaii and then back toward Japan.
When the weather and tide is right, the Japanese glass floats will be washed to shore. During storms, they are often found further inland on the beaches and, sometimes, they are dashed against the rocks. A sad sight to see.
In the 1950's, Japanese glass float collecting hit an all-time high in popularity. As a result of the decline in commercial fishing and the advent of plastics, this made the glass fishing floats highly sought after because of their rarity. Being an attentive beachcomber has it's advantages.
Today, you'll find glass float replicas sold in many gift shops. The real treasure, though, is finding you own authentic ones to place on display in your home or business. Keep your eyes peeled. If you feel a bit on the artsy side, you can head to Lincoln City and blow your very own glass float. It's a one-of-a-kind experience and the results are pretty sweet. Have a great time! ;)