Many years ago we developed a wonderful friendship with a couple who actually met because of their mutual love for sea glass. And now they are happily married! We were honored when they asked us to make jewelry (with their sea glass, of course) for their minister and wedding attendants.
The couple have been collecting and selling beautiful, genuine sea glass for years. They sell their sea glass to sea glass jewelry artisans all over the country, including my husband and myself. We love them, trust them and we are fortunate that they offer us beautiful and rare sea glass gems to supplement what we find in our own travels.
Some of our favorite sea glass treasures from these friends are beautiful rounded, aqua chunks from their secret beach (Sssh! We have never asked them about it, and if we did they wouldn’t tell us anyway.) These beautiful pieces are from old electrical insulators and we have had fun making and selling some stunning sea glass jewelry creations with these antique sea glass gems.
Eventually I became curious to discover a bit more about these old electrical insulators, the source of the large, thick and rounded sea glass we use in some of our sea glass jewelry creations. Here is a brief overview of why and when these thick, heavy pieces of glass were used.
It all started with the invention of electricity and the advent of the telegraph and telephone systems for communication in the early 20th century. During the expansion of rural electrification, telegraph and telephone poles were erected all over the country to carry the wires needed for communication. The railroad system also expanded and poles were erected to handle the electricity for the needed signaling safety devices.
Electrical insulators were used to attach the wires to the cross arms at the top of the poles. There is an indentation area all around the top of the insulator where the wires were attached and the entire insulator, also called a “glass bell” would sit on the top of a wooden or metal peg, called a pin. The pins sat on the cross arm (like a “T”) on the top of the pole. The electrical insulators were made of glass or porcelain because both are non conducting materials. Not only did the glass bell serve as the attachment point for the electrical wires it also acted as an insulator to prevent passage or leakage of electric current during transmissions.
At the time, glass was widely used for this purpose mostly because it was less expensive to produce than porcelain. The production of glass electrical insulators flourished beginning in the early 1920s. Hundreds of glass factories all over the country produced these insulators, alongside their normal glass products. One of the most well-known and prolific glass electrical insulator companies was the Hemingray Company with plants in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. The electrical insulator shown in my photograph is one of the most common, the Hemingray 42, called the Double Petticoat, 24 0z. It was used on telegraph poles and is a threaded design that was developed for a more secure fit.
Many styles and shapes of electrical insulators were developed including petticoats, drip points, shirt styles and wire grooves. Also many colors were produced including amber, cobalt blue, olive green and royal purple. These are now highly prized finds on ebay and other marketplaces. There is a serious collecting community interested in glass electrical insulators in rare colors and styles.
My aqua electrical insulator is not a collector piece because it is one of the most common colors, other than clear. According to Collectors Weekly “…clear and aqua shades are considered generic because they result from natural iron content present in most glass making materials (aka sand).”
It seems ironic now that, aqua, one of the most sought after colors in the sea glass world, was considered ordinary when the glass insulator was in its original form. I have read that the aqua glass electrical insulators were manufactured using inexpensive, glass cullet (basically cheap, broken bottle glass, made with ordinary sand containing lots of iron). It is the iron that contributes to the aqua coloration.
It’s always interesting to know how something once so common has become so exceptional. What I believe, today, is that my sea glass insulator gems, found by my friends on their secret (shhh!) beach are beautiful, scarce and priceless. As any sea glass appreciator knows, the beauty and value of sea glass today is not in what the glass was originally worth. The value is what it is worth now, after surviving 50, 60 or more years tumbling in the ocean with rocks, pebbles and sand, becoming conditioned by dehydration and time. Then there’s the erratic chance that a piece of sea glass this beautiful ends up on a beach to be found by the person who is meant to find it. Now that’s a miracle of fate. And romantic!
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