Our Changing Coastlines

Many days, beachcombing seems like a fading luxury of a hobby to me. I have watched over the last decade as one of my favorite beaches on the Chesapeake Bay has disappeared, “one acre of shoreline a year” as one coastal landowner reported to me; by kayak it feels like more.

Photo: David Harp

I keep a copy of William Cronin’s harrowing book Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake Bay at my waterfront writing cottage on one of the islands of the Chesapeake even as some days I watch as the water floods around the cottage and I wonder how long this island will remain– others will go before it. The offshore islands of Smith and Tangier are the most threatened and I am so thankful of the work photographer Chesapeake Bay photographer Jay Fleming does in documenting the way of life in this changing places. This great article “Vanished Chesapeake Islands” describes how we are losing our beautiful coast. It’s rare to see sand on the Chesapeake- it’s mostly riprap and bulkhead now as the water rises and the shoreline disappears. Some locals prefer not to think of it as the water rising- one time when  asked about how all the beaches on the island were gone, one simply said it was because the island was sinking.

Such is the state of the coastline near me. What about you? Is the beach smaller than it used to be? Is there a narrow strip of sand where a larger one used to be? I feel like whenever I see shots of beaches on tv, it appears tiny ribbons of sand are squeezed between vast oceans of sea and manmade oceans of concrete and steel.

We should appreciate every moment of time we have on a shoreline. Whether time spent in reflection or healing, or with a loved one whose presence makes our time spent equally special, we never know when something could happen to take this time at the coast away from us. One hurricane up a coast or other tragedy could destroy this fragile space. The finds we take with us and treasure become mementoes of our times spent on shorelines and deserve to be protected and treasured as well.

I have spent the pandemic creating a temporary “tiny museum space,” sorting, organizing and cataloguing the international collection of The Beachcombing Center, searching for a permanent exhibit space since our initial plans were destroyed by Covid, and writing grants so that we can secure funding for our future space. I hope you will join me in our important efforts to preserve this collection, or even consider donating one very special find.

Reach us at info@thebeachcombingcenter.org or visit the shop at whenslowtide.com where a portion of sales benefits our efforts.            

Travelling Museum of Finds

By Mary McCarthy, Executive Director

If you are like me, you marvel at the many wondrous finds of the mudlarkers on the Thames in England. From YouTube videos to books to Instagram posts, it’s so much fun to follow the thrilling moments of discovery, and their brilliantly photographed treasures. I love seeing how other beachcombers display their finds. Here in this blog space, it will be fun to feature different hunters and mudlarkers and their projects around the world.

Today I’m encouraging you to take a look at the beautiful work of Lisa Woollett. Her blog The Travelling Museum of Finds describes with beautiful photography the journey of many of her finds discovered during the time she has worked on her upcoming book Rag and Bone which I can’t wait to read. Her Instagram account also depicts her finds beautifully.

Thanks Lisa for making us feel like we are right there with you on your search for new treasure!

Cobalt Sea Glass

In a recent Museum Monday talk (also visible in this YouTube video), I discussed the topic of cobalt sea glass, a popular color to find on the beach. Created through the addition of cobalt oxide to glass to create the deep blue shade, this color has a long history dating back to ancient Egypt. Richard LaMotte’s book has a great section on cobalt glass, and for more information you can also check out this Beachcombing magazine article.

Probably the three most common sources of cobalt glass found on beaches in the U.S. are the Noxema, Vicks and Bromo-Selzer bottles. The Maryland Glass Corporation produced all three of these bottles from 1907-1980, and the “M inside a circle” on the bottom of a bottle is a trademark (c.1921) that can identify these finds. Bottles produced before 1921 will have a number or no mark, while after 1921 the M will be present.

Cobalt glass was used primarily in medical bottles to distinguish it from other types of bottles in the cabinet for safety purposes, and thus was also a common color for poison bottles. More rare ink or soda bottles were manufactured using cobalt glass, and since cobalt oxide is expensive, it is prized as a decorative tableware color. More rare is cornflower blue, a lighter shade of glass in which less cobalt oxide would have used during manufacture—it is found in earlier Milk of Magnesia bottles.

Mary McCarthy
Executive Director


Museum Mondays

Since the Covid-19 caused the cancellation of the opening of The Beachcombing Center in our temporary location, I opted to create a “tiny museum” alternative location to showcase and broadcast our collection online from right in my own backyard during the quarantine, and until we can identify a permanent home for the collection. I transformed a writing studio (once used as a doghouse by previous owners!) into a space where I could display small exhibits, using a bay windowsill for changing exhibits and short talks on different collections.

The first Museum Monday was a tour of some donations we have received and items in my own collection (the vast majority of my personal collection is being donated to The Beachcombing Center except for a small private collection) that represent different geographical areas. Museum Mondays take place live on our Facebook page but also remain under the “videos” tab on the page. So far we have covered the new collection from the Nellie Myrtle Pridgen collection from the Outer Banks Beachcomber museum, bottle stoppers, beach-found marbles, and cobalt sea glass. We would love to hear from you about what topics you’d like to see covered in future Museum Mondays!

Please write to us at info@thebeachcombingcenter.org and let us know what beachcombing topics interest you!

Mary McCarthy
Executive Director