Japanese Glass Floats

by : Tony Thomas

One of the most sought treasures along the west coast beaches are glass floats. 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. The use of these floats soon swept across Europe and many fisherman began placing their trademarks on them 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 avid collectors.

It was around 1910 that Japan began using and producing them, hence the most popularly-known name, Japanese Glass Floats. Along 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, blue were also produced. The rarest color is red or a cranberry hue, since gold was used, making them more expensive to produce. If you come across one of those, you'll want to hold onto that 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.

The one bad thing 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 the fishermen, usually lost those nets somewhere along their journeys. It's fairly normally to find the glass floats, nets intact, along the Japan coastline. Finding one in the Pacific Northwest waters with the net is a rarity.

Shapes of glass floats go from the most-common round, 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), to cylinders. There are a few odd shapes mixed in there such as donut 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.

Experts believe that 40% of the 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 leave 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.

Sometime 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, thoughFree Reprint Articles, is finding you own authentic ones to place on display in your home or business. Keep your eyes peeled.