When you think of treasure hunters, it's typically Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones that come to mind. But modern-day treasure hunters do exist. In the coastal town of Lincoln City, Oregon, beachcombers flock to the sand in hopes of finding one very specific treasure: glass fishing floats.
Marbles of the Sea
Commercial fishermen fish with large-scale nets, sometimes strung together for many miles in the open ocean. To keep the nets from sinking, they attach floats, hollow globes and cylinders of varying sizes that provide buoyancy. While today's floats are made of plastic, aluminum, or styrofoam, that wasn't always the case. From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, floats were made of colorful blown glass that looked more like oversized marbles than fishing equipment.
Glass floats were invented in Norway in 1842, when a merchant named Christopher Faye and a local glass company teamed up to find a replacement for the wooden and cork floats that had a tendency to get waterlogged. Glass, on the other hand, was lightweight and durable in marine environments, making it a perfect substitute. Southeast Asian countries such as Japan soon caught wind of this new invention and began mass-producing glass floats for their bustling commercial fishing industry. Over the decades, many floats from the Southeast were lost at sea. Today, they're trapped in a circular pattern of Pacific Ocean currents, coming loose during strong storms and washing ashore on beaches of the Pacific Northwest. Beachcombers flock to these areas in search of glass floats, but finding them is a rarity. That is, except in the artist town of Lincoln City, Oregon.
Every year from October through May, Lincoln City holds an event they call Finders Keepers. Residents who call themselves "Float Fairies" secretly hit the 7 miles of beach to hide more than 3,000 blown-glass floats for others to find. To keep things authentic, even the city doesn't know where they're hidden. The floats are handcrafted by Lincoln City's resident artists as a gift to modern treasure hunters and as an ode to the past, and a designated number of them are numbered and registered by the artist as collectibles. On special occasions, the Fairies also hide extra pieces of glass art such as sand dollars, sea stars, shells, and coins. Although it was initially intended as a one-time event, this nostalgic project has lasted for two decades, attracting tourism and support for the town's thriving art community.