Glass Balls – The Dream of Every Beachcomber

Glass Balls – The Dream of Every Beachcomber

Various sizes - photo BeachComberBum

In my years on the lights there was always talk of finding a glass ball. The inside lights such as my first one at Pulteney Point did not have too much chance of stopping a floating glass ball because of the strong tides.

My first outside light [not sheltered by land] was Quatsino but with only one beach at the back of the island and all the rest rocky it was nigh on impossible. Pachena  wasn’t much better and we weren’t there long enough to hit the beaches around the area. Green Island was like Pulteney but we did find one or two there sitting in the pools. 

So a real outside light was needed, and one was waiting! 

Our 14 ft. Zodiac with stowable sail - photo John Coldwell

We moved to McInnes Island  in 1977 and in the next couple of years we outfitted a fourteen (14) foot (4.27 m) Zodiac with a 25 HP Evinrude outboard with which we could go beachcombing. The children were still young then (see photo left) so a lot of the beachcombing was done alone with not much luck. Oh, I found a couple but nothing big. Then a friend came up and he found a larger one – about 12 inches (30.5 cms) in diameter along with a couple of small ones. 


And then came Ted Beard as my assistant with his smaller Zodiac and it then became a competition to see who could find the most

Some glass balls I found - John Coldwell

In the spring of one of the years after Ted arrived on station, March 1981 or ’82, we hit a bonanza! The spring weather was absolutely calm and the glass balls started arriving out of that nest in the sea. They came by the hundreds! Really! We went out beachcombing and you could see them in the kelp before we even got to the beaches. We had to invest in a long-handled net to scoop them out as the kelp and debris fouled the outboard motor and slowed us down. 

We found them floating, we found them sitting on the rocks and we found them drifting. 

Rolling pin shape - photo BeachComberBum

 Ted used to get up for morning shift (02:30) and after the weather sit and watch the foaming tidal stream flowing into Catala Passage around the front of the lighthouse. He used binoculars to search for the glass balls in the foam and many’s a morning I heard the diesel winch fire up early as Ted had sighted another large one. I got to see the results of his searches later in the morning.


Different colours - photo BeachComberBum

When heading for the beaches and bays on Price Island we always followed the tide lines (small trails of foam floating along with the current) and usually picked up one or two balls or floats. 

We got large ones (some 18″+ in diameter – 45.7+ cms), small ones (some so small you could hold three or four in your hand), rolling pins, barbells (two balls attached side by side). Some came with net, a lot without and some in plastic covers (orange or black) with a glass ball inside, and many were abraded by the sand, leaving net marks or scrapes.

Here is a good video of how we did it. This person went by truck – we went by boat – same result!

ID mark - photo BeachComberBum


And all colours of the rainbow – mostly greenish, but others were clear, blue, brown. There were seamed (moulded), unseamed (blown) and one or two even had seals stamped in a glob of glass1 on the side. (see photo at left) 


Ted even found a large one attached to a light. This was a light similar to what the BC fishermen used to light the end of their gillnets at night, but this one was home-made.

It had the lamp at top, a hollow tube frame carrying the wires bellied out in the middle to enclose a large glass ball in a net which was tied into the belly space. At the bottom was a motorcycle battery enclosed in a waterproof case which supplied the power. The battery and case also acted as ballast to keep it upright. Real homemade but quite effective and fairly soild as the whole system was thrown back up in the Salal bushes by the waves and required two of us to get it out. Water had got into the electricals but the glass ball was intact. 

Plastic floats and other debris

The influx of glass balls and Asian debris2 only lasted a month, but when we added them up when hunting tapered off, we had over 400 glass balls between the two families! Not forgetting to mention all the other stuff that came along with the balls – exotic woods, stainless fishing gear complete with lures attached, glass bottles of every shape, sort and size, and plastic floats! So many plastic floats we were shipping them out on the helicopter for the guys in Prince Rupert  to use on their crab traps. 


Origin of the photos – I was Googling for some glass ball images on the Internet when a bunch of great photos came up. They were made by BeachComberBum for his eBay pages. I wrote to him and received permission to use his photos to help illustrate these pages.

All glass balls!

Once I had downloaded the photos and looked at them in my browser I just had to share with you the view of so many glass balls all on one page!. (please click the photo on the left to see them all – click on each individual ball to see a larger photo)

Paul Umlauf (akak BeachComberBum) also has some very nice photos of beachcombing in Alaska on his Alaska Glass Floats pages. Check out one of his videos below.

 For more information on the source(s) of glass balls check out this Wikipedia article, or this Beachcomber’s Alert site or the Beachcomber’s Alert Blog. They make interesting reading.



1 A pontil, or punty, is a solid metal rod that is usually tipped with a wad of hot glass, then applied to the base of a vessel to hold it during manufacture. It often leaves an irregular or ring-shaped scar on the base when removed. This is called the pontil mark – from The Store Finder.

However, in the case of the Asian floats, after being blown, the floats were removed from the blowpipe and sealed with a button of melted glass. This sealing button is sometimes mistakenly identified as a pontil mark, however, no pontil (or punty) was used in the process of blowing the glass fishing floats.

While floats were still hot and soft, identification (ID) marks were often embossed on or near the sealing button to identify the float for the owner. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass_float 

2 Asian debris – see my next article Is the Tsunami Debris From Japan reaching BC?

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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