Rarest Glass Fishing Float

by Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer

To catch cod off northern Norway’s Lofoten Islands, in 1844 Christopher Faye of Bergen introduced glass fishing floats. Glass blowers stamped the dark, 5 to 6-inch diameter balls with Roman numerals IV or VI. At a Norwegian fishery exposition in 1865, Faye won a gold medal for his invention.

Inevitably, storms tore loose many floats, scattering them along Norway’s rugged northern coast and the Northeast Passage, a series of interconnected seas along the Siberian Arctic joining the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. When they washed ashore, often with fish netting still attached, other fishermen picked up Faye’s idea. By 1870 glass balls were reported in the Kara Sea, on Novaya Zemlya and points east.

By 1910, at the downstream end of the Northeast Passage, Japanese fishermen began copying them. By the 1930s Aleut folklore spoke of them, and anthropologist, Bill Laughlin, found 300 along a 3-mile stretch of Bering Island not far east of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Along the Washington coast on Long Beach Peninsula, Marie and Ralph McGough picked up 3,000 floats in four years.

By the 1960s, more than 10,000,000 glass shells floated the North Pacific (see Beachcombing for Japanese Glass
by Amos L. Wood). Amongst the millions scattered about Pacific beaches, a few of the 19th century Norwegian balls may still await discovery. Beachcombers finding them along Arctic shores, or whose forefathers found one in the Pacific prior to 1900, could make history by reporting one of Faye’s floats.