Jean Allsopp

Whether you're a casual collector or an entrepreneur, sea glass makes the world a more colorful place.

Ever daydreamed about leaving your 9-to-5 job behind for thebeach? Charles Peden of bythebaytreasures.com foundstrolling the shore more lucrative than running the rat race.

That's because Charles discovered the growing demand for genuinesea glass. Having quit his day job last year, Charles now spendsthe bulk of his time combing the beaches south of San Francisco insearch of glass that, after decades upon decades of tumbling in thesand and surf, has developed the perfect frosty patina many nowequate with precious gems. He sells such mature sea glass throughonline auctions or on his personal Web site. As demand rises, so doprices―Charles recently sold a piece of rare orange sea glassfor $185. "Sellers on eBay such as myself are now sellingindividual pieces of sea glass at the same price that lots of 70 to250 pieces used to go for," Charles says.

Even if you're not planning on shelling out a lot of money,starting a collection can be fun and rewarding. Before you begin,you should know some basics.

When you find a genuine shard, you're finding a little piece ofthe past. The process through which sea glass becomes frosted,called hydration, takes many decades to complete. A particularpiece may have been part of an object lost or dumped into the seayears ago―in some cases more than a century ago. Maybe it wasa piece of tableware from a shipwreck or part of a medicine bottlediscarded long ago at a village's seaside dump.

Genuine sea glass is becoming increasingly rare due to the riseof plastic packaging during the '60s and '70s. In the past, glassbottles appeared in a wide variety of colors. Today, most coloredglass is the brown or green beer-bottle variety. As a result,collectors especially prize certain uncommon colors such as red,orange, turquoise, and cobalt blue.

If you happen to stumble upon a rare shade of mature sea glass,count yourself lucky. It's certainly not unheard of, but the oddsof finding a real treasure diminish every day, and people turn tothe Internet to fill out their collections.

Many reputable online vendors sell authentic sea glass; however,a number produce imitation pieces using rock tumblers and acidbaths. Some openly acknowledge that their sea glass is not the realdeal, while unscrupulous sellers pass their fakes off asgenuine.

Be wary of offers promising "great deals" on rare colors such asred and cobalt blue. Also, anytime you find sea glass of uniformshape and color sold at discount rates "by the pound," it'spossibly mass-produced. People who collect and sell authentic seaglass are usually happy to answer questions about theirproducts.

Once you assemble a collection, you'll find that there are avariety of festive uses for these unlikely gems. Consider turningyour favorite piece into a necklace or similar ones into matchingearrings. Add some coastal flair to a room by filling clearcontainers with sea glass and putting them on a widowsill or endtable. Although the supply of genuine sea glass may be dwindling,the ways to enjoy it are endless.

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