vintage japanese glass fishing floats

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basketball-size fishing float in antique urn at front door

(This post could also be entitled "it's a small world," but I'll get to that story later in this post!)

Japanese glass fishing floats were once used by fishermen in many parts of the world to keep their nets afloat. Large groups of fishnets strung together, sometimes 50 miles (80 km) long, were set adrift in the ocean and supported near the surface by hollow glass balls or cylinders containing air to give them buoyancy.  These glass floats are no longer being used by fishermen, but many of them are still afloat in the world's oceans, primarily the Pacific.
The earliest floats, including most Japanese glass fishing floats, were hand made by a glassblower. Recycled glass, especially old sake bottles, was typically used and air bubbles in the glass are a result of the rapid recycling process. After being blown, floats were removed from the blowpipe and sealed with a 'button' of melted glass before being placed in a cooling oven. (This sealing button is sometimes mistakenly identified as a pontil mark. However, no pontil (or punty) was used in the process of blowing glass floats.) While floats were still hot and soft, marks were often embossed on or near the sealing button to identify the float for trademark. These marks sometimes included kanji symbols. Today most of the glass floats remaining in the ocean are stuck in a circular pattern of ocean currents in the North Pacific.   Once a float lands on a beach, it may roll in the surf and become "etched" by sand. Many glass floats show distinctive wear patters from the corrosive forces of sand, sun, and salt water. When old netting breaks off of a float, its pattern often remains on the surface of the glass where the glass was protected under the netting. Other floats have small amounts of water trapped inside of them. This water apparently enters the floats through microscopic imperfections in the glass while the floats are suspended in Arctic ice or held under water by netting.  Most floats are shades of green because that is the color of glass from recycled sake bottles (especially after long exposure to sunlight). However, clear, amber, aquamarine, amethyst, blue and other colors were also produced.
They have become a popular collectors’ item for beachcombers and decorators. Replicas are also being manufactured.
(The above excerpt is from Wikipedia and the full article can be read here.)

Fishing floats on the dining room table.  I love them all, but my very favorites have the rope etching.
photo for the love of a house

A collection of baseball-size floats still in their nets.
Vintage Biltmore Hotel Silver tray.
photo for the love of a house

Close-up of the "marking" on the float.
photo for the love of a house

More of the collection in the basement!  This jardiniere is huge, so the size of the floats is a little misleading..... the largest in this photo are basketball-size and the smallest is grapefruit-size!
photo for the love of a house

My own personal exposure to fishing floats came at a very young age...  as I've mentioned before, my mother grew up in Hawaii (the story of her childhood lamp that now resides in my kitchen is here) and she would find floats on the beach that had washed ashore.   When she married my father and moved to the mainland she brought those floats with her and I grew up in San Antonio with the floats scattered in the yard amidst the flowers and shrubs.  After meeting Dan and moving to the Pacific Northwest we began antiquing to furnish our then apartment.  I started spying the small floats at shops, back then for very little money- usually around $1-$3 each!!  The floats captured my heart for three reasons:  I have a fondness for the orb shape (as can be seen throughout the house); they reminded me of home; and being poor newlyweds,  at $1 it was sometimes the only thing I could afford to buy on a shopping trip!   
Thus, a collection began!!

Fast forward several years and many floats - small baseball-size floats, grapefruit-size and large basketball-size floats have now been added to our collection!  We lived in Dallas at this point, and my much;) older sister, Susan, and beloved brother-in-law, Doug, admired our collection and started collecting floats themselves.
We had many wonderful antiquing sources in the Northwest, so for my antiques business in Dallas Dan and I would fly back regularly to shop.  On one such trip we took Susan and Doug with us, and went to the Tacoma Dome Antiques Show.  At the show, we separated to shop and when we met back up with Susan and Doug they were in a booth that had floats for sale talking to a man who was introduced to us as "Frank Forster."  Frank evidently had a vast collection of floats and the next thing I know we are driving to Frank's house in Tacoma to see his collection!  And vast it was- Frank was a serious collector and a whole room had been dedicated to fishing floats!   We also met his lovely wife Kim.  My sister corresponded with Frank and Kim for several years, until Frank's death.

So..... imagine my surprise when several months ago while blog-hopping I stumble on a blog called
and on her site find photos and a mention of Frank and Kim's collection!! 
It is definitely a small world, yes?!
Rich Richardson and Frank Forster
photo Glass Float Junkie

Kamichia used to live in Alaska (she now lives on the Oregon coast) and would take plane trips to remote
beaches and find the likes of this....
photo by Glass Float Junkie

I squealed out loud when I first saw this photo!  The mother load of fishing floats right on the beach!!  Like an Easter egg hunt, only better!!!!  Can you imagine?! 
For a fascinating pictorial be sure to click on all of Kamichia's photo-links on her sidebar here showing her beach combing trips and the individual photos of different types of floats!

Since floats are now considered "collectibles", there are a lot of fakes out there too.  Kamichia talks about how to tell what is real from what is fake here.

Several of you have asked me where you might find fishing floats for sale; Kamichia also sells fishing floats on etsy,  (you can also look on ebay), but-  be forewarned.....
fishing floats can quickly become an obsession!!!:)

Here are a few other photos of how I use the vintage fishing floats around the house...
placed in the center of the iron dining table on the back porch a copper tub filled with fishing floats and copper floats on the back porch

... in an old wire basket on the upstairs master bedroom porch.  I love the pop of color of the one amethyst float!