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Antique Glass Floats Go On Sale at Lincoln City Museum, Rarely-Found Oregon Coast History

Published 5/15/24 at 5:55 p.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Lincoln City, Oregon) – That cute little town that's a third of the way down the state's coastline is known – indeed famed – for its glass floats. These days, it's hand-blown, artisan-made glass floats that are placed on Lincoln City's sands, but it used to be more utilitarian fishing floats in shades of green glass that made it onto the entire Oregon coast for decades. For much of the 20th century, the Japanese-made curiosities that were lost over there became treasures here. (Photos courtesy Explore Lincoln City)

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To find some real ones now is fairly rare, but you'll soon you have a chance to snag a few of these all your own.

Not long ago, the North Lincoln County Historical Museum (NLCHM) in Lincoln City acquired the Japanese glass float collection from resident James L. Watson (1944-2002) after his passing. He was one of the world's leading collectors of Japanese glass fishing floats, pulling together an extensive collection in his lifetime.

Some of the whopping 350 glass floats at the museum will be on sale as part of a fundraiser on Friday, May 31, and Saturday, June 1, 2024, at the museum located in Lincoln City's Historic Taft District. It's a rare opportunity, as the real ones that inspired Lincoln City's current tradition don't become available often.

North Lincoln County Historical Museum. (541) 996-6614
4907 Oregon Coast Hwy, Lincoln City, Oregon. Sale Hours: 11AM - 4PM

The James L. Watson Glass Fishing Float Collection was part of an agreement that some of the collection would go on sale eventually for just this kind of fundraiser.

“His dream was to one day have his collection displayed in a museum, sharing the beauty and history of these unique objects with the world,” said the museum in a press release. “This dream became a reality in 2023, when Mrs. Diana Watson generously donated the most significant pieces from Watson’s collection to NLCHM, ensuring that her husband’s legacy would live on.”

All proceeds will go toward continuing Jim Watson’s legacy at the museum by supporting operational expenses, and continuing NLCHM’s mission of providing the public with an educational resource dedicated to the preservation of north Lincoln County's rich history.

These kinds of antique finds are coveted in modern times. Enough so that a lot of people who find them on beaches don't talk about it or post online for fear of drawing others to look again.

There is a growing movement of creating special antique glass float drops on the Washington coast, however. Another comes up at Westport on Saturday, June 29.

The rare floats at the museum in Lincoln City showcase the artistry and experimentation of the glassmakers at that time, said Christopher Melton, Executive Director of the museum. They pushed the boundaries of form and function of these indispensable fishing tools, creating objects of timeless beauty.

"We are honored to be the permanent home for the James L. Watson Glass Fishing Float Collection and are excited to offer this rare opportunity for collectors and enthusiasts to own a piece of history," said Melton. "The extensive collection features rolling pins, balls, sausages, and float variations of all sizes. There will be a wide range of values available to give all levels of collectors a chance to purchase a glass float from the esteemed Watson Collection. All items will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis."

When Watson started this collecting endeavor, his first float was found near his home in Hawaii. It was a large lavender float the size of a basketball. Watson was mesmerized – his life changed. From there on out, it became his calling: to seek out the rarest glass fishing floats he could find, and share their beauty and history with the world.

He later moved to Neskowin, a bit of a hotspot on the Oregon coast for finding these. Throughout his life, Watson traveled extensively to Japan where he befriended locals, fishermen, glass makers, and collectors. He also gave talks and presentations, teaching people about the history of these unique objects, which functioned as both important tools and exquisite pieces of art. His collection represents the widely different styles and methods that makers experimented with to create floats indispensable to historic fishing industries.

The rich history of glass floats goes all the way back to 1844 and to Norway, where they were invented by Christopher Faye, a moment which revolutionized the fishing industry around the world. From there, Japanese glassmakers began creating their own unique styles around 1900, and due to ocean currents, the oldest and rarest floats often washed ashore on the beaches of Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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