Our Treasures: Glass fishing floats can be an unfamiliar sight

The mark is known as the pie crust seal. The floats have logos or letters engraved on them, which is not the case, indicating that they were made by a small producer rather than a large company. The attached photo

I’m currently looking for a screen that will be pinned to the main gallery next week.

I look at our group from a pre-plastic perspective, in appreciation of those who participated in Plastic Free July.

You may be familiar with the bright orange, yellow, pink or white plastic buoys sitting on our oceans and marking a netting, but this glass fishing buoy may be unfamiliar because it is an earlier version of pre-plastic.

Leo Hendrik Baekeland invented the first synthetic plastic in 1907 and its use quickly spread; However, we are now looking to significantly reduce our use of plastic due to the harmful impact of plastic on our planet.

We must develop a sustainable circular economy where we cannot continue with the current usage/abuse patterns.

This glass, turquoise fishing float has a circumference of 950mm, making it larger than a basketball. We know that the float is manually inflated due to visible air bubbles on its surface. The orb has two lumpy features that set it apart.

One is the “button” that closes the orb after being cut from the blowpipe. The second mark is known as the pie crust seal. Floats often have logos or letters engraved on them to identify their maker; However, this is not the case, indicating that it was made by a small producer rather than a large company.

This glass, turquoise fishing float has a circumference of 950mm, making it larger than a basketball.  The attached photo
This glass, turquoise fishing float has a circumference of 950mm, making it larger than a basketball. The attached photo

The color and size of this buoyancy indicate its purpose and origin. The floats range in size from a small golf ball up to 1.3m in circumference. Large floats were used in commercial deep sea fisheries to support their long lines.

This industry was the largest in Japan, so it is likely that this float was made there. Experts note that the majority of hand-blown glass floats are of Japanese origin, due to the scale of their production.

The turquoise color indicates that this float is made from recycled glass – in Japan, sake bottles were used. The carbon stains also indicate that it is made from recycled glass. These inclusions were common as they were made at the cheapest price and as quickly as possible.

Millions of fishing floats were made in the early 20th century. Flat glass industry began in Japan in 1910 but only lasted 30 years, before other materials became preferred, including plastic.

Detached glass buoys are still in the ocean, stuck in the currents that circulate in the North Pacific.

After severe storms, floats escape the currents and wash onto beaches. Many are found along the shores of the West Coast of America, but also here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Beach-goers continue to seek out and cherish those deserters from industry.

These days, glass fishing floats are largely a collector’s item, and are often used for interior decorating, lending a nautical feel to many bats or waterfront properties.

Floats are still made to this day but as decorations and not as fishing equipment. Modern glass floats will not withstand heavy use because their glass thickness is thinner than their predecessors. The Thomas family donated this fishing cart in 1985. It is not known how they came to own this rare and large Japanese fishing float.

Ashley MacLaren is Curator at the Whangarei Museum

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