Sunday, April 11, 2010
In an email my good friend and glassfloat collector extraordinare Olaf, asked the most profound question concerning why we collect floats. Those of us who do collect these odd jems of the sea often hear:
"What are those?"
"What ever made you collect something like that?"
"I never knew they even existed."
Ahh, that second quote, that is the one that can be hard to explain. Walt Pich in his often terse yet comical way, was the first responder to Olaf's question. The question was sent to all of the people that I know who collect these wonderful pieces of historical glass. Here is Walt's response:
"ONLY A FOOL QUESTIONS A PASSION."
Perfect! Why does anyone question passion, when the only important thing to do with passion is embrace it, go with the flow, hold on and enjoy the ride wherever it takes you. And for Walt, this passion has in many ways shaped his life, led him into a great friendship with Woody Woodward, extraordinary adventures, disappointments and tremendous success.
Many of us are not content to just follow the passion, and do enjoy introspection. In the words of Kahlil Gibran:
Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?
Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix, rise above its own ashes.
The beauty of Gibran's writing in THE PROPHET, has always touched me deeply, and since my introduction to his writing during my college days, that book has been one of my favorite.
The second response came from Bruce Gidol:
Why I collect floats?
One of the many reasons is because they are old. They are original, the glass being much older than the plastic they use now. The color ones, to me, are among the most beautiful things ever made. I collect them because they are becoming nearly impossible to find anymore like they once where when they were so plentiful.
I collect them because they were once used all over the world, and one never knows when he or she might find one that is collectable.
I collect them because there seem to be so many that we collectors feel are the one of a kind floats.
I collect them because when I do find one that really is up my alley, it is so exciting.
I collect them because of the many wonderfful people who come into my life, my so called fellow collectors like yourself. Some become lifelong friends.
I collect them because most people don't.
I collect them because of the challange the hobby presents.
I suppose the final reason I collect them is when alone in my float room, looking at different ones, with thoughts of where and when they were obtained running through my mind, memiories going back over 20 years are recalled. Memories of many different shops all over the world, different people from all over the world, and some that I have never met when trades were done by phone. I have had a few hobbys in my life, but none compare to the joy of collecting glass fishing floats.
A wonderful succession of responses continued to come into my inbox throughout the following week. In their order of response, here they are for all of us to enjoy and relate to.
From Paul Scott:
Many people asked me, "Why do you collect floats and spend that much money on pieces of glass?"
I collect floats like other things that come from the oceans of the world. My dad was in the Merchant Marines and I was in the Coast Guard. I love the water and never have been afraid of it. I started swimming when I was about three years old....my dad threw me in a pool.....I'm still here.
When I started collecting glass floats just a few years ago I had no idea at all. The first floats I purchased were really nice looking ones...had no idea they were fake ones. Well, those few fake ones are now history. Like I said, before I had no idea at all of glass floats. After reading Amos Wood's and Walt Pich's books, and talking to other float collectors, I think I now know something about floats.
I learned a lot from this year's trip out to the Beachcombers Fair in Ocean Shores, Washington. Deborah Hillman talked me into comming out to the fair. I met many great and knowledgeable float collectors. Not just online or on the phone, but actually meeting and talking to them face to face. I had a fantastic time.
So if anyone asks me why I collect floats....I will tell them ...It is not just the floats...but my new friends. Not only in the USA, but from other countries too. People who have the same interests I have. I will also say that I wish I did this years ago.
From Roger and Maria:
What a great idea for the blog. It will be very interesting to read!
First of all, glass is very beautiful, but yes why glass fishing floats and not glass toilet floats, target balls, bottles or shot glasses!?
For me as for many others, it is the mystical thing from the sea. My father does not have the same feeling about them. He can tell that when he was a kid, the floats came floating to the shore in huge numbers, and that they had fun throwing stones at them.
When I was a kid they were not very common to find. I remember my grandfather had a big box in the boathouse with floats, mostly plastic and metal but also some glass floats as well. I was always admiring those glass floats in the box. We sometimes found glass floats when we were on boat trips to some islands, and it was like finding a treasure among wood and garbage-e.g. cans and different plastic remains. But it was very rare to find a glass float ashore.
One summer, about 3 years ago, Maria and I went up to the north of Norway to visit my grand parents, and we found some glass floats at a local second hand store. We bought some of them, and sold all but one on ebay. There was one we decided to keep as a memory and decoration - a PCF float. Not long after this trip we started to collect floats, and now have about 200 floats from Europe, America and a few from Asia.
We wish you good luck with the blog and a lovely Happy Easter for you and your family!
Maria and Roger
From Stu Farnsworth:
"Why Do I Collect Floats"
I would have to say it is like an Indiana Jones Treasure hunt.
The thrill of being on the Beach with 60mph sustained winds and a heavy downpour at 1am in the morning, with a strong high sealed beam light in hand, is what gets my blood flowing with excitement.
The running up into the Sand Dunes with 17ft waves chasing you, and the roar of the heavy surf and the crashing of the driftwood into each other sounding over the pounding surf. This is what it is all about.
Then to have your light sparkle off a Glass Ball that has just arrived from probably a 10,000 mile adventure at Sea, and the wonderment of where it came from and how old it might be, are what drives us crazies insane.
To park the car and to be the only one in the parking lot, and then to have that burst of Salty fresh clean air hit you is overwhelming. To hike the 3/4 of a mile thru the sand in the pitch dark, and finally hit that last Dune that sets you on the Beach is more than one can share of how a feeling might be.
The best way to describe it is being 8 yrs old and opening your eyes on main street in Disneyland, and saying to yourself, "I am actually here!"
To get onto the Beach, and not see one other light there, is more than one can explain as to what is going thru your thoughts. Maybe, just maybe, a float Lost many years ago is sitting on this Beach. This night for me to enjoy and treasure.
This is what makes it all so very much fun in my life. The thought of being on a Beach all by myself leaves all my troubles far behind as I embark into my own little world where all my troubles are gone and my adventure can begin.
From Alan Rammer:
Why do I collect glass fishing floats? Fascinating question with a unique outcome for me. Join me please, on a journey of discovery.
From the time of my first memories, I have been drawn to the sea. My father took his sons camping in the mountains, fossil hunting in the desert, fresh and saltwater fishing, looking for bugs in meadows and down to the beach. I always felt a special connection where the land met the sea --- at a place called the beach ----whether it be sandy, rocky, muddy or a combo of some sort. I was intrigued with the large wonders and the small hidden ones-tucked away-that escaped most people's eye.
Wandering the tideline always had a special attraction to me, and I wondered where each and every item came from both natural and man-made. For the man-made items what country was it from, what was its use, how did it get here, why did it end up here? I knew when I was in 4th grade I was going to be a marine biologist and most likely a teacher. I retired in 2009 after 32 years of doing just that! I wanted others to discover, to see, to understand, and to know the wonders that so many of them passed over when at the beach.
Our family collected sea shells in our travels around the world, but when I was 16 or 17 we were in a shell shop in Morro Bay, California. Sitting in a corner, was a basketball-size Japanese glass fishing float with markings on it. I asked about it, and all I was told was that it was for fishing and floated to the coast from Japan. I asked my parents if I could buy it to decorate my room. It came home with us ---- I still have it 40+ years later!
Several years later, our family went to Hawaii for Christmas. The 747 airliners had just come out, and it was a really big deal to be able to fly from California to Hawaii on one. When we arrived on the island of Kauai, we asked the Polynesian lady at the welcoming desk where we should look for shells. She told us we should look for "glass bubbles" instead, because they were more mysterious, magical, enchanting, intriguing, and came from far away. She told us a storm was coming and where we should look once the storm passed. I thought about my glass float sitting at home and maybe it might get some buddies, that I would find myself.
The storm came and passed. We hit the beach doing just as the lady had said. Lo and behold! We found glass floats in orange and grapefruit sizes on the beach the next day. I was so excited having found my own, and now more intigued than ever about where they came from.
We showed them to the lady in the hotel. She was as pleased as we were to see that we had taken her advice and were successful. She then asked if we were going to be back on the island of Hawaii before heading home. She told us to go to the Ala Moana shopping center, to a specific bookstore to buy a book called "Beachcombing For Japanese Glass Fishing Floats" by Amos Wood from Mercer Island, Washington. It would tell me all about glass floats and their use. I bought the book and was hooked. Sea shells now took a back seat to glass floats.
A year later, I was accepted to the University of Washington, and asked my roommate where Mercer Island was. I had to meet this author named Amos Wood.
In less than a month after arriving in Washington, I had met Amos Wood. We became very close friends for 18 years (he died of cancer in 1989). Before he died he gave me all his contacts, and asked me to stay in touch with his friends from around the world. In 1979, he also introduced me to my very best friend, Stuart Farnsworth, at the Seaside, Oregon Beachcomber's Festival.
Who would have ever thought that glass fishing floats would lead me to a life long best friend who loves the beach as much as I do? We are as close as brothers, and even if glass floats disappeared tomorrow, that bond could never be broken.
Once I learned about Japanese glass fishing floats, I wanted to learn about the even earlier makers from the European countries of Scandanavia. My circle of friends has grown even more in the last ten years.
Stuart and I have published two price guides based on our collective knowledge and interviews with fellow collectors from around the world. We've met many wonderful folks. My first found glass floats from Kauai in 1970, still sit in a special basket in my study. I carried them home (as well as the book) with me on that 747 way back when, and shared them with everyone on the plane. No one knew a thing about them at that point. That first autographed book by Amos Wood, purchased in Hawaii, also sits in a prominent place in my float room.
They continue to intrigue, because each one has a unique story to share of its journey on the high seas, drifting by international shores and in many cases, having wandered for many years. If only they could talk to us and tell us what they have seen on there long and difficult trek around their respective gyres.
They are magic to those of us who love the sea. They represent an intrigue of the open sea, both natural and man-made, and all its attributes, that cannot be explained. But there is a connection that those who do not collect them will never understand.
That's my take on why I collect!
From Per Gunnerson:
You asked about why we were collecting glass floats. Interesting.
I love old antiques and history. Some floats are very beautiful. Different kind of blow tecniques, shapes, made from, where made, when made, why made, use distribution, sale, export, import, age, markings-all these things.
The research and travelling, digging for info and floats, is kind of a treasure hunt.
And of course, when I am selling, trading or giving floats for free as goodwill to collectors worldwide, I get a smile back and maybe a few thank you words about their happiness to be the owner of a beautiful and rare original glass float..That's great!
But I hate those super high shipping costs..Uuughh!
Important and at last:
I wish I could have keept all my collected floats-at least one sample-and only give away, trade or sell those I had several copies of, but when you need cash for further research, float treasure hunt, a decent meal, etc. selling is the only solution if you're not a millionaire!
Take good care Tom
From Rich Carlson:
Why collect glass floats? Why it’s to pump up Ebay’s bottom line of course.
Seriously, I love turning on my case lights, and looking at a collection of things made for a very utilitarian purpose yet beautifully made, from all over the world, in multiple countries by dozens of craftsmen glassblowers in every color.
I like meeting people around the world who share this strange habit: a conversation with Norway; another with Australia; a third with New Jersey or a fourth at the Bobcat cafe.
A float crosses the ocean going east, another flies west in trade. Most of all, I like to collect floats because they always remind me of some of the best times. I would never have gotten into floats if it were not for my very good friend Bob and his invitation to help him with his Caribbean handy man special.
Joined on a hunt with good friends Bob, Jim or Evan, it is so exciting to pull out even a lowly 115 / 5 when you have only a litre of water and many hot miles back to civilization. To dig a float out, when all you can see is a half dollar curve of green or clear or purple is a eureka moment. To end up back at the truck as the tropical dark falls, and a cold Corona is waiting. The washing of your found floats in Bob's ridiculously small turquoise sink-these are great memories.
Every float ends up with it’s own story. That’s what does it for me.
From Olaf Raab:
Why collecting floats? I can explain partly why, but need more time to think. Starting to collect was one thing. Now, having the good contact with you - and I have to add - other collectors too, has changed the whole thing.
I am wondering if collectors in general are nice people? The sharing is important.
It's like having a job - 50 % of the job is to like the people you work with - isn't it ?
So, the answer is, the beauty of the item - color, glass and for me the marking, and then sharing something special with other collectors who "understand".
To use your word : "GEES!" - I have already answered the question, and I didn't mean to.
From David Lee:
As you know, I'm not an avid typer or e-mailer. This however made me rise to the challenge. A great idea!
Why do I collect Glass Floats?
I think first of all, why do I collect anything, even idle thoughts? I do it for the simple rewards of it being fun and challenging. More challenging as it becomes more advanced.
Part of the fun is the treasure hunt, the adrenaline rush of finding a rare collectable you have desired. Also there is both exclusivesness and inclusiveness.
Exclusiveness-"I have such a great collection that many would slobber if they saw it."
Inclusiveness-" I have a collection of things that many similarily-minded individuals also collect."
It then becomes a social network, and can create life-long friendships as well as good acquaintances. (Unless you are a ruthless collector who cares more about having the best or biggest collection then any social collections.)
I can be classified as an accumulator, as I have more than three types of collections going at all times. I am not in the hoarder class though-ha! I chose to sell some of my collectibles more than four years ago, to help ease into retirement. I did however keep a number or core examples of these collectibles, and have slowly resumed rebuilding-but without the same fervor as when I first started collecting floats some 27 years ago.
Now, why glass floats?
That's harder. How do you explain something that is only beautiful in the eye of the beholder? Sure some floats have marvelous symmetry, color, swirls, etc., real works of art. The Japanese glassblowers often remelted imperfect floats even though they were inexpensive. However, some of the ugliest, most distorted (to the eyes of the unintiated heathen masses) can be the rarest, most sought after, most expensive to purchase (unless you have one of those "be still my heart," rare lucky finds that the dealer didn't have a clue of value when then priced it; or you were blessed to find it beachcombing.)
To us these are BEAUTIFUL! Trying to explain this to non-collecting friends or relatives is pretty much a waste of time and energy in my experience. If someone says, "Oh you have a lot of those!" I repond with a smug, self-assured, "Yea," and leave it there. Yet when another avid float collector sees your collection and oohs and aahs, it causes a swelling of pride (not unlike showing pictures of your progeny.) But why do I collect glass fishing floats? Well, I guess you'd just have to be a fellow float collector to truly understand.
:) Dave Lee
From Bob Buffington:
I'll try to keep this brief. My obssession with glass floats began in 1998 when I found my first float (a small 3" clear #9) on the beach. I was told that they were done, that no one found Euros anymore. They had all been picked up, or broken by children trying to make marbles out of the blob underneath the seal buttons, or that they were hurled against the rocks-simply to hear the sound they made when they exploded on impact. It took two years before I found another (a green 4" 115/5).
Why do I enjoy collecting floats? Its pretty simple, I enjoy finding something that most think is impossible to find, and fancy myself as something of a float archeologist.
It has created hours of fun, and a strong bond between my sons Evan, Clint and of course my wife. All are hardy souls with a profound thirst for adventure.
Our techniques for finding them continue to be modified, and the beauty of it is that we are still finding floats after 12 years of hunting. Something like 90% of the floats in my collection are persoanl finds, the remaining 10% represents my inability to stay away from E-Bay.
The big plus is the great people I have met along the way that are fellow float collectors. I see float collecting as a very young hobby that is going through constant growing pains.
Finding intact examples of old floats is truly exciting, and adds a whole new demension to the hunt. Finally, its the glass. Where did they come from? Who made them and for what purpose? How old are they?
Yourself, Stu and Al, Roger and Marie, Bruce, Bill, Vebjorn, Olaf, Per, David and of course Charles Abernathy (my personal hero) have all given so much to the understandings of origin and production of floats that the sport of collecting would be nowhere without them. My hat off to them all. Keep hunting.
From Todd the "Norsknailpounder":
I found ebay in 2007, and Tin Toy Boats was one of my first buys. "Hornby Meccano Windups," were made in England in the early 1930's. Later, I bought a few more. On some related site was a float from Norway. I'm part Norwegian, and found them interesting. So, I bought one, then two, then 500.
I have a Glass rock fireplace, (Obsidian) mostly black, but some red obsidian too. Its very beautiful. I figure that it hypnotized me into buying more glass.
Really, I plead the fifth! I can't explain why I collect floats, and really, it is still a mystery. I figure that it is an addiction, and soon someone in my family will turn me in and we'll all end up on Dr. Drews show sometime.
Till then I'm looking for my next fix, then another and more and more...
Somebody hep me ! ") Todd.
Hi, Tom…..Got your note re: “why I collect floats”. I have never really ever articulated it before. It has been an interesting exercise. Here goes……….
I collect working glass fishing floats for the intrinsic character of the floats themselves, for what the floats represent historically and for the excitement of the hunt itself.
There is so much appealing character and elements brought together in each individual float, whether it be it’s particular shape, colour, bubbles, evidence of varying manufacturing techniques, patterns & swirls & inclusions, sea & beach wear, exotic trademarks, marine life encrustation etc.
Floats for me are also small capsules of history that stimulate the imagination and provide a small measure of personal contact with that history, e.g. evidence of former ways of life and fishing under rugged and fascinating conditions, the sea and use conditions that the float itself has endured in it’s journeys, its possible unique touch with historical events (beachcombed from a Vietnam beach during the Vietnam war, possibly used on a WWI submarine net, plucked from the Indian Ocean by an around-the-world sailor) etc.
Then there is the excitement of the hunt itself: searching and not knowing what is yet to be found; and responding to each situation when encountered; together with the very rewarding opportunities to share experiences with individuals who have similar interests and fascinating insights across the globe.
Taken all together, probably the top (fantasy) float collecting experience for me would be to find a heavy, crude, irregular, trademarked Euro float bearing extensive mold carving marks, dark blue-green in colour, bubbled and heavily encrusted with barnacles that I would personally find in a gear pile in Newfoundland or one of the other Canadian Maritime provinces!
Why I Love Glass Floats
I found my first glass float as a child, and it is a moment in my life that I will never forget.
I grew up consumed by the ocean. This is still one of my favorite memories from childhood.
I was 9 or 10 years old at the time when my mother took my sister and I on vacation to Hawaii. We have a family friend that is native Hawaiian, and she agreed to take a few days off to show us around the islands.
As we were driving down a coastal road, she happened to mention that "every now and then glass fishing floats wash up on the beach."
At this station in my life, I had no idea what a glass fishing float was. Just as she was describing what they were, I looked out of the window and saw one on the beach...!!!
I screamed at the top of my lungs to stop the car. Then sprinted 100 yards back down the beach to retrieve it.
I don't believe much in coincidence so, I will remember this moment forever.
Now, I have to answer my own question.
After reading all of the wonderful replies, it struck me how easy it is to feel kinship with the thoughts, desires and experiences of each writer/collector. If you care to, you can read how I first came to find glass floats by copying and pasting the link: http://www.theglassmuseum.com/fishingfloats.htm, into your search engine. There, you will find an article I wrote three years ago, which contains the story of how I got started finding floats.
I have shared the excitement that Stu writes about many times. Together with my wife, and two children, we lived in a cabin overlooking the last stretch of Washington State's Copalis River before it flowed into the Pacific Ocean. The memory of my handheld spotlight exploding off the body of a big foam encased Longline float, at 4:00 in the morning, while stiff onshore storm winds pushed salt spray into my face, waves crashed and I walked alone on the sands of my favorite beach, is alive within my memories.
Now, I am somewhat content to beachcomb Ebay's shores. While I no longer am able to look forward to the Pacific storms and their big onshore winds for the chance to put my rain coat and boots on, and work my way up the beach day or night, float excitement continues to come to me. I like to call it float magic.
For me, real magic starts with the gift of my life. I am blessed with love that surrounds me, and appreciate all life. I'm peaceful in heart and spirit, and have been fortunate to have learned to truly enjoy my predilection for delving into the human condition. At all points of my life there have been signposts directing me forward. Just like an authentic glassfloat, along the way, I've been bumped, bruised, battered and scarred, but am intact.
Many years ago, I came into my belief of what magic truly is. There are signs of it everywhere at all times. You can start with the monumental such as holding your newborn baby in your arms for the first time. You can see it when suddenly you've been trapped by the eyes of a beautiful girl. With a smile at you, she speaks to you with honesty and promise. You hear it when that special someone says, "I love you." Can any of us ever forget that moment when you and your loved one said it to eachother for the first time, or made love for the first time-when the sparks truly flew through the air? I see magic as a chance in time. A beautiful hawk flies across the road in front of me, a fox, or someother exotic animal presents itself to me for an instant. Magical moments that were there for me.
Magic is here, and surrounds us at every waking moment. Since the first time that I came in contact with the knowledge of glass fishing floats, my life has been enriched by their magic over and over again. It's not simply collecting to me. Floats are part of my life. In many ways they are my life-they help to define me.
Each day starts with excitement. The excitement can be found in emails, or on the web searching. Float excitement is even encountered in my dreams. I never know what awaits me as the day passes, or what will happen to me-floatwise.
Out of the blue, a great float will appear on the web. Out of the blue, an email arrives to greet me from someone new. Maybe that person is a collector, maybe someone in need of advice, sometimes someone with a story to tell. Through the emails, I have gotten to know many people around the world who also collect these, as Ken Busse calls them, "Jems of the Ocean".
My life is constantly enriched and made happy by farflung friends, and also friends who live on the East Coast, like Bruce Gidol and his lovely wife Lupe, Paul Scott, and Greg Robins. Some live inland, Caicos Bob, Richard Carlson, or my crabbing buddy Wino Jim. Other such as Ken, Stu, Alan, Walt, Deborah, Todd or David live on the West Coast. Across the ocean are Olaf & Elisabeth from Norway, Olaf & Isabella from Germany, Per & Tone, Jurgen, Peter, Vebjorn, David, Roger & Maria. From Canada, Bill Jessop. From England, John Joseph. From Japan, Woody Woodward. Each and every one of these fine people excite me, surprise me, delight me. If it had not been for a magical moment in time on a quiet intersection among the woods of the Neah Bay Indian Reservation, would any of these people have happened to me?
Since I was a young boy, loving to fish on the surf, I've wanted to write. After earning my Batchelor's Degree in English Literature, I was ready to begin writing fishing stories for outdoor magazines, but Vietnam and the military had other ideas for my time. Years passed. The desire to write, did not pass, but I could not find my niche to write in. I did write, but only for myself, and to read to my wife and children.
After finding Ebay, and beginning to spend bucks for balls, I figured that I was investing for retirement, and would one day sell them. That idea didn't last long! I found myself getting very involved in collecting Euros and Americans, when few others were. Slowly, those others became contacts then friends, and suddenly, I was consummed with the idea to start researching the makers and the users of the floats.
Thanks to my daughter introducing me to and setting me up in the world of blogging, I've finally begun to write. Writing about floats, and their history thrills me. After all of those years of desire, I've finally found my niche to write in.
I've written about the "Path With a Heart," earlier. Glassfloats, Research, Writing, Friendship and Adventure accompany me on my path. Without floats, I would not be as happy as I am today, and have been since finding my first one in 1977. They appeal to the Water Sign in me. They are an integral part of who I am. They bring me happiness. They are one of my strongest passions. And there just is no denying, that this man "likes round things."
Thank you to each one of the writers who contributed themselves and their passion for floats to this post.