[ezcol_1third] Finding a bundle of vintage Japanese fishing floats for The Spring Shop felt like finding treasure. I mean, aren't they just lovely? The ones I've put aside for 'personal use' are doing double duty as Christmas baubles at The Spring Cottage now; I've used them to decorate a couple of small flowering trees around the verandah and they'll be dangling from the Christmas tree as soon as it arrives. I love their glint in the sunshine!
We've all seen colourful glass baubles like these (and much bigger ones) hanging from trees in front of beachside cafes and in decor magazines, and I'd always wondered about the story behind them. Are they manufactured 'objet trouve' or are they beautiful things with real history and an authentic purpose?
Here's what my research says: Around 1910, Japan (and a few other far eastern countries) began producing and using glass fishing floats. The Japanese experimented with different shapes and colours of floats to suit different fishing styles, which is why its possible to find old floats as small as 2 inches in diameter and as big as 20. Most fishing floats were made in shades of green (like these ones) because the glass was recycled from old sake bottles. Some clear, amber, aquamarine, amethyst, blue, and other coloured floats were also manufactured. For serious collectors, the most prized glass floats are cranberry red; they were the most expensive to make because gold was used to get the colour just right so they are incredibly rare. Other jewel toned floats in emerald green, cobalt blue, purple, yellow, and orange were made in the 1920s - 1930, although the majority of these vibrant baubles for sale today are replicas.
Cork and aluminum floats appeared in the 1920s and soon began to replace glass floats. These new materials were more durable and could be made with holes that made attaching them to fishing nets simpler and more reliable. Plastic soon became the most popular for the same reason, and eventually glass floats stopped being produced altogether. Still, millions of the glass floats that came loose from fisherman's nets are out there, bobbing around the world's oceans and washing up on shorelines waiting for lucky beachcombers to find them. Apparently Alaska, Washington, and Oregon are the best places to look, so if you ever find yourself walking along a beach there, keep your eyes to the sand!