The first country to produce the glass floats was Norway in 1840. Christopher Faye, a Norwegian merchant from Bergen, is credited with the invention.
Originally, fisherman used the glass floats on gill nets in the great cod fisheries in Lofoten. By the 1940’s, glass had replaced wood or cork throughout much of Europe, Russia, North America, and Japan. Japan started using glass floats as early as 1910.
Fisherman used these glass floats to keep their fishing nets, as well as longlines or droplines afloat. Large groups of fishnets strung together, sometimes 50 miles long, were set adrift in the ocean. These lines were supported near the surface by the glass floats or hollow glass balls to give them buoyancy.
To accommodate different fishing styles and nets, the Japanese experimented with many different sizes and shapes of floats. The sizes ranged from 2 to 20 inches in diameter, but some were cylindrical or “rolling pin” shaped.
Most floats are shades of green because that is the color of glass recycled from sake bottles. However, clear, amber, aquamarine, amethyst, blue, and other colors were also produced. The most priced and rare color is the red or cranberry hue. These were expensive to make because gold was used to produce the color. Other brilliant tones such as purple, emerald green, cobalt blue, yellow, and orange were primarily made in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The majority of the colored floats available for sale today are replicas.
Today, most of the remaining glass floats originated in Japan because it had a large deep-sea fishing industry which made extensive use of the floats.
Glass floats have since been placed by aluminum, plastic or Styrofoam floats.
Beach Comber Find of the Century!
One of the locals on Taravai had an old, beat up glass float in their yard as part of their “décor.” I had admired it for well over a year. However, the last time I visited the grounds the glass float was gone! Poof. It was the first glass float that I had seen in person and I loved it. Fast forward 4 or 5 months later…
Matt and I went exploring an uninhabited motu called Tepapuri. We had never been on this most northern motu and were excited to see what we would find. I anticipated finding some great sea shells or sea glass but had not hopes or inclination of finding a glass fishing float.
Matt was checking out a smaller motu and Eve was sticking to the sandy beach. That left me to crawl across the large, dead coral along the windward side of the motu. I spied a green, shiny object in front of me when I was about 1/8 of a mile into my adventure. Hmmm, I wonder what that is. It could not possibly be a glass float! No, WAY! Is it a glass float! Holy Cow, it is a glass float!
I quickly, or as quickly as one can climb over sharp, uneven coral and rock, made my way to the float. After picking it up, I hugged it like a treasured baby that it was! I was so excited I wanted to scream and yet there was nobody around to share in my glory.
Walking back to the dinghy was closer than going all the way around the motu carrying this large float! I showed off my new treasure to Eve as I bounced around the beach!
What to do with our float?
Matt was super excited to see our new boat accessory (not). Yes, it weighs about 10lbs and is a bit big, but it will look so marvelous in our yard – whenever we move back to land life!
Is it a giant looking glass? A super sized paper weight? An empty snow globe? Who knows what it will become in the future. I just know it belongs in my life and maybe my future garden.
Events from this blog post occurred during early March. Our blog posts run 8 weeks behind our adventures.