May 11, 2015, 07:15AM

The Naming of Sea Glass Colors

Meg Carter took matters into her own artistic hands.

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There aren’t just seven colors in a rainbow, there are hundreds. Maybe thousands. Every child would prefer the 120-color box of crayons to the eight-color box. Until now sea glass collectors and artists have relied on Richard Lamotte’s popular beachcombing bible Pure Sea Glass (2004) to identify found glass shards by color, but the limited number of identified hues left enthusiasts wondering what to call the remaining colors.

Meg Carter is a full-time jeweler who works with sea glass, and graduated from Coastal Carolina University with an Art degree. After making jewelry since 2008, and having difficulty creating custom pieces for clients who’d ask for “turquoise or aqua” that could mean a number of different shades, Carter decided to create a project for sea glass collectors that would allow them to sort their collections by color names and a rarity scale showing how often these colors are found on beaches. This month she introduced the “Carter Sea Glass Color and Rarity Guide.” Here is an interview with Carter:

Splice Today: What inspired you to make the sea glass color chart?

Meg Carter: After years of collecting and being a professional sea glass jeweler, I found the sea glass community was in a big discrepancy about what to call colors. Even in my own home, my husband Jon and I would debate about what the name of a color should be. I would call it “aqua” and he’d call it “turquoise” and then I’d hold up a piece of glass that I would call “turquoise” and say to him “Then what would you call this color?” I’d get a puzzled look from him, kind of saying. “Well, I guess you have a point.”

ST: How did you set about sorting the glass and naming the colors? 

MC: For years I’ve beachcombed and purchased sea glass from collectors all over the world. Jon would tease me and ask, “Why are you saving all your best and most rare pieces? Why don’t you put them in jewelry?” I’m sure glad I did not listen to that advice when I took the next step in creating this guide. I went to my stash of tens of thousands of pieces of sea glass to select one piece of each individual color. With my first selection of colors I had over 100 shades. I went through each color comparing and eliminating shades that were too close. I walked away for a few days and looked at the pieces again with a fresh eye and then came back to eliminate more. I asked my Mom, also an experienced sea glass collector, her advice on colors that were too close or colors that were missing. She added a few and took out a few. I was very particular in the colors I wanted to include. I wanted users of the guide to be able to distinguish without a doubt one color from another, none of them could be too close to each other.

ST: Did you use other sea glass reference guides in compiling the collection?

MC: Yes, I did not directly specify which ones, just in case they don't want to be identified or associated with my guide. I used "accepted" color names that seem to exist throughout the sea glass community. They’re identified in books, but have kind of become a "norm" if you will or are just obvious like "white" or "black."

ST: How many colors are there? How did you choose the names? 

MC: Who hasn’t joked about having the job of the person who names paint colors or lipsticks? Well we found it’s really fun but that naming colors can also can be challenging because I set guidelines for naming conventions. First, I started with a few existing names that seem to already have been accepted as official names by the sea glass community. Existing names covered only about 15-20 of the 81 pieces I had ultimately selected for my color guide. For the remaining pieces I had a few rules I wanted to follow. I wanted each name to be a universal known color. For example, instead of naming a color something that is non-descriptive and open to interpretation like “harbor town,” I used the name “steel blue.” I wanted a collector to be able to imagine the color without seeing the guide itself. If I were to name a color “harbor town,” the interpretation of that color could be very different from person to person. Naming a color “steel blue” gives the collector a better idea of the actual color because it is more descriptive. Another rule I wanted to follow was not to use words like dark, light, pale, electric or deep. I wanted to avoid these words because to be consistent and using tone descriptive words for some color families and not others would be inconsistent.

ST: What part of the world do you hunt for sea glass? Is all the glass from the chart from one beach or many beaches?

MC: Most of my personal collection is from the Chesapeake Bay and Puerto Rico. I mix all of my glass together so I don't keep track of where each piece was found, however some are such rare finds you remember the location. You can barely find a piece of sea glass here in Myrtle Beach, so I have to go on trips to find my sea glass. It’s been a while because it is more difficult with two children under the age of three in the house, but we used to go up to the Chesapeake often and hunt. When I started my business, my parents got hooked and made many trips to look for glass as well. My collection also includes genuine glass that I’ve purchased from collectors all over the world.

ST: Do you think different beaches around the world have different rarity scales/ratings? Are your ratings based solely on your collection?

MC: Yes. From location to location, depending on the history in that area, the rarity of a particular color may be completely different. I created my rarity ratings based on personal experience in collecting and what I’ve seen others from around the world collect.

ST: What do you love about beachcombing?

MC: The thrill of the hunt... you never know what you are going to find. Just wanting to take one more step to see what it might reveal is so exciting. 

—Read more sea glass articles by Mary McCarthy or see her beachcombing finds on Instagram.


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