Monday, April 18, 2011

vintage japanese glass fishing floats

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




...in 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!





74 comments:

  1. LOVE the photo of the floats with snow on them. Beautiful!

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  2. Enjoyed this post and I love your blog. I recently posted about my Glass Float and how I suspended it in an old globe stand... Here is a link if you want to take a peek at the photos.

    http://antiquechase.blogspot.com/2011/02/vintage-glass-floats.html

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  3. They are beautiful! I love the colors! Who knew that you could use them in so many ways!
    xoxo
    Lila Ferraro

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  4. Thanks for sharing such a fascinating story. I love the fishing floats and the wonderful story they tell. I can't imagine how exciting it would be to be walking on the beach and finding such a treasure. It is fun to know that finds like this still exist. This is so timely for me as I have been on the hunt for a few smaller vintage floats to use in a metal urn in my bedroom. I recently added a lamp with blue glass and wanted to bring in just one more touch of blue and these would be absolutely perfect. Of course I will have to have the real thing which may take a little bit longer to find.

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  5. wonderful feature, joan. these are beautiful and thanks for calling our attention to the ones with rope eching. never noticed those before. love the float in the urn. I adore your style. geez. how many times have I said that to you....?

    donna

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  6. I really like this post, what a story!
    I am a new follower!! I can't believe i just found your blog!!

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  7. I'm clapping my hands like a little girl. I'm in LOVE... the floats are fabulous. Adding to the beauty is the history behind the floats and knowing that they bobbed in the salt water and sun waiting to come home.

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  8. My husband is the medical officer on a fishing processor in the Bering Sea. He has brought back for me two floats he's found - one with some VERY brittle roping still on it. Love them!!

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  9. New follower from Boston, MA - just thought I would say hi while I'm here...we love NH as well, we have a little condo up in N.Woodstock, we go as much as we can...love, love, love your house as well - looking forward to coming back to see more of it. Have a great day, Kristen

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  10. We used to find them when beach walking as a child. The photo of the 'mother-load' made my heart beat faster! Beautiful

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  11. These are so beautiful. I love the information on them too.
    The last photo with the lone amethyst float is amazing.
    xo
    Ashlyn

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  12. So I'm the 'much older sister' and Doug is 'the beloved' brother-in-law??? Geeeeze! How fabulous that you found Frank!! How many years has that trip been? Was when Princess Diana died, right? That was such a fun trip. Doug and I were the two members of The Copy Cat Club!

    I found a float when I was nine on a beach in Hawaii with Mother and Patti wayyyy before you were born. I always had it out in my bedroom when I was growing up. I still have that float sitting with my many others.

    Didn't I give you those two tiny frosted floats that I do believe I see in the dough bowl on the dining room table.

    Love you

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  13. Lovely informative post! I do love the fishing floats... picked up a few the other day! Now, where to display...??? Thanks for the inspiration, Joan. :)

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  14. Susan-
    well, yes! as a matter of fact you are the "much older" sister and Doug the beloved b-i-l!!:)
    No, the year Princess Diana died was the year Patti and Bob went with us too. How could I forget about the Copy Cat Collector's Club?!! That could be a post too;)
    Yes, you did give me those two little ones I do believe! Thank you again for them!xx

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  15. Oh, I'm so glad you did a post on these! After seeing your scattered pictures showing some of your collection I have become obsessed! I had seen them before, but didn't know a thing about them. Now, I'm on the hunt for some with that lovely rope etching.

    I, too, squealed when I saw that photo of ALL THOSE FLOATS on the beach! Unbelievable!

    Thanks again for introducing me to these gorgeous orbs!

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  16. What an amazing and beautiful collection. My jaw dropped when I saw the photo of Kamichia's shore find. Such an interesting story too. Thanks for sharing.

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  17. I love these !! And, have fallen in love with them on your blog. The ones on your dining room table add such a beautiful pop of color, and the snow capped ones on your porch are beautiful. Don't be surprised if you see these popping up in homes all over blogland (including mine ... *blush*)! Thanks for the inspiration and the wonderful stories behind them! *Becca*

    www.adventuresindecorating1.blogspot.com

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  18. Love them! You have an amazing collection! I have two that my dad gave me but they're red and cobalt so they may not be the real thing.

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  19. So pretty and so much fun to learn about. Thank you. I have to agree with Ms.Bright; after seeing them in your home and reading about them, I may very well become obsessed. The colors are so gorgeous. Living in Vermont I doubt I will see any around, but will definitely start looking!

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  20. Oh how I love your collection!
    I've only recently begun collecting and am absolutely smitten with them. They are one of the treasures that when I find them... I just swoon with delight! Thank you for sharing your story about how you came to have such an exquisite collection.
    I've been waiting for this post!
    xo

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  21. My mom has some of these floats. (I must try to find them...I forgot about them, until I saw this post!) Thanks for reminding me! I love how you used them throughout your decorating.

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  22. hi joan,

    i adore the color of these floats. they are like water themselves. i think this would be the perfect 3rd color in my home. what a gorgeous collection you have.

    xo
    janet

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  23. I love collecting items with history, the stories they could tell if they could talk...huh?
    Amazing, the colors are so subtle and even though most are green in color, there seems to be various shades from the erosion. What are the odds of finding the other colors you mentioned? Are they considered rare if found in another color?

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  24. ...how incredibly fascinating...

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  25. What a wonderful story! These are truly gorgeous. I must admit...I never knew what these were. Thanks for educating me! I love the color and shape as well. BEAUTIFUL!

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  26. Oh that beach picture is magnificent!!!! Can you imagine coming across that treasure while walking the shore? I would simply die! :)

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  27. I'm in awe of the photo of the floats on the beach...to see them in their "natural habitat" is unbelievable...well, I suppose seeing them floating in the ocean would be just as spectacular, but the fact that they weren't broken on the beach is amazing, they must be pretty durable to have been such work horses and to have survived for so long...such a special, historical item to collect, especially with all that has happened to the Japanese fishing villages, I think they have even more meaning now even if some aren't truly from Japan.
    Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful collection...I loved learning about them!
    xo J~

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  28. fishing floats covered in snow... so pretty, joan. thank you for the story...each time i see a fishing float i will now see things so differently! enjoy your evening. -xok.

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  29. Hi Joan-

    I love these floats and can't get enough of them either. I found Kamichia back in June and bought one from her then. My hubby gave me more for Christmas that he purchased from her too. I find her and her site fascinating.

    Your collection looks wonderful. One of my good friends lives in Hawaii - she is the coach for a paddling club and when out on the water she is always on the look out for them and has her team looking too. :) Recently her son found a rolling pin one on the beach. She emailed me right away as she knew I would be as excited as she was.

    My best- Diane

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  30. My son and daughter in law were in Japan for 2 weeks in December. I wish I had thought to tell them to bring back glass floats for me :)
    I really love them and the way you have them in the wooden bowl is wonderful!

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  31. Love, love the floats...better than a root beer float! Anything nautical gets my vote. Can you post where you got and the brand of your chaise/wicker chairs on your upper porch? Thanks! Mary in Ct.

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  32. valleyfive- I found them at a little shop in Keene, NH. I don't know the name of the shop right off, but if you are interested email me and I will research it for you (address is on the sidebar).
    yes, they are really comfortable with the addition of the cushion!

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  33. I love this story of the fishing floats...so much history and meaning attached. i also read the post about your mother's childhood lamp. So touching and how nice to have the soft glow in your kitchen.

    All of these photos are beautiful, but that very first one in the urn! Stunning!

    I love your house and your blog!

    xo annie

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  34. I am going to be honest here, when I first saw the fishing floats on your post about your dining room...I thought they were glass Christmas balls! Well, now that I am an expert after reading your post, I feel like an idiot for thinking that lol You might of started a lot more people collecting those now, your post was so informative and enlightening.

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  35. Those are beautiful...I would have never known that's what they were if I saw them in a store! I just found your blog and soooo glad I did...you have a beautiful home. I know I will enjoy following along and getting lots of great inspiration!

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  36. Absolutely gorgeous blog! I just discovered you today and can't wait to see all your posts. I just started a blog in February to share my interior design portfolio with others. I posted a link to your blog just now. Take a look!
    http://www.debrapaesslerdesigns.com/

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  37. Thanks for the great post. I had just recently discovered the Glass Float Junkie site...I can't even imagine how exciting it would be to discover a cache of floats like she often did on the beach. I have three that were my mom's--one is blue, one is lavender, and one is red. She always loved them, and now I do. I don't know where she got them, living in the middle of South Dakota, but I assume she found them in an antique shop. Thanks for sharing the story about yours!

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  38. I love how you've used them throughout your home. I especially love the ones with the net still wrapped around them. :) I'd love to put a net-wrapped float in one of my new dining room cubbies. I've lately been finding myself looking in little nooks and crannies for things to add to them. :)

    ♥ sécia
    please take a moment to check out my modest giveaway:
    www.petiteinsanities.blogspot.com

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  39. Ahhh. It was that almost zen like image of the snow dusted floats that grabbed me. I have some scattered in the garden and in the house, too. BUT nothing like your collection!

    Thanks for the education!

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  40. Hi Joan! Popped over here from Funky Junk Donna's blog - and wow! Am I ever glad I did! I loved loved loved looking at your barn/house project! What a completely dreamy home you're creating! I'm your newest follower and am looking forward to more inspiring photos and ideas from you! :)

    xoxo laurie

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  41. a friend of mine collects these and gave me a HUGE one that i have in our dining room. it totally makes the room!

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  42. Hi Joan, Dan, and Ella: Beautiful pictures, great information. Thank you! I just checked my floats for markings; I have four baseball sized ones, and one larger one; I need to collect more of these. Cindy

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  43. How beautiful. I've never seen floats in that soft shade of blue/green before. I have 3 but don't know if they are 'real' or not. One is grass green, one bright blue and one small orange size is amethyst. The blue and green ones had roping on them but I cut it off so I could put them in the garden. They are about a canteloupe size. You have an wonderful collection and I hope to look at that blog about them later.

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  44. LOVE this post, Joan. Do you remember Russell O'Neil in Dallas? He had a shop called In Good Company on Henderson. He had a large old colander filled with old floats, all priced together. I used to visit it in his shop. I loved it but was too cheap to buy it for the longest time. Fortunately I finally did buy it and have never been sorry. I have filled the colander with other things, put the floats in other containers, and put it all back together again. Still love all the pieces after about twenty years.

    The photo of the floats on the beach is incredible! Love the story and can't wait to visit the glass float junkie blog!!

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  45. Gorgeous! I love these. I would love to have a bowl full, they are so cool!

    Beautiful pictures you found!

    Megan

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  46. I have admired them for years and years but have never seen them anywhere for any reasonable price. The ones I have come across have been SO expensive. I love your collection!!!

    I will check out these links for sure:)

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  47. I too have a love affair with Japanese glass fishing floats. I discovered them while living on Kwajalein about 20 years ago. I traded with native Marshallese fishermen for @ 75 of them. My prize is a 12" cobalt blue one with the japanese character seal. I didn't ever know what I would do with them I just loved them. I display them now all over my California home (along with all my shells and corals) and I just noticed many replicas in the newest Pottery Barn catalog!
    I discovered your blog from Miss Mustard Seed and now I'm hooked! Love your blog and your style.
    Thanks,
    Sarah

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  48. Love the farmhouse,and your collection of "floats",I really enjoyed the story,that is amazing how you can just walk along the beach(west coast) and find these amazing treasures,Happy Hunting.
    ~Jo
    LazyonLoblolly

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  49. What a fascinating story - and what a treasure trove!
    Living on Lake Ontario in Toronto, Canada, I don't suppose I can ever hope to find one of these beauties "floating" past my door! ;)
    You have done an incredible job of displaying your finds.

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  50. I can't even BEGIN to tell you the effect your site has had on me - my hearts is pounding with excitement, and I want to immediately start on my house (and apologize to it for not doing more!)
    Your listing of all the paint colours you used is invaluable; I am heading out right now to the paint store to look them all up, getting ready to paint my living/dining room.
    Thank you thank you thank you. I will be reading you daily.

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  51. I love your collection of fishing floats. Whenever I'm at an antique shop or flea market and find one, it always comes home with me. You have a very lovely home. This is my first time visiting ~ love your blog.

    ~Donna

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  52. Thanks for doing a post on the floats. I had noticed them in your photos of your house, but I didn't realize you had such a collection. The only thing I've found on the beach was a shark's tooth when we lived on the Isle of Palms in SC. Well, I did find an antique bottle on an island in the Caribbean. We're having a giveaway on our blog this week. Stop by to visit.
    Jane

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  53. Hi Joan...I'm visiting from Penney's blog! I really enjoyed looking at some of your decorating ideas! I am now a follower!:)

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  54. Hi Joan,
    I posted about my wonderful Maple Syrup today, and borrowed one of your pictures to link to you....

    We are really enjoying that syrup!
    Hugs,
    Penny

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  55. Love the one you incorporated in the table!!! You have so many gorgeous floats!! Learned from Heidithat you had a post on floats here!! Just published one on my blog..., well I've shown many decor ideas, plus featured Kamichia of Glass Float Junkie, she's a dear sponsor and I just love her passion for collecting these beauties.

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  56. You have a lot of fishing floats and I had no idea they came in so many sizes. It would be fun to find a stash on a beach, looks great right on the beach. Rain, sleet, and snow for tomorrow.....ugh, I thought we were out of it! Happy Spring Joan, Dan and Ella!

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  57. I would have squealed too if I were to happen upon that picture. Now, if it happened in real life, I'd probably faint.
    Camille

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  58. What an interesting post! I love your blog and 'style', by the way! Beautiful home.
    -Trish

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  59. So happy to have found your blog through Penny. I am the other Penny. The story of the Japanese fishing floats was fascinating. We will be visiting the Oregon coast this summer and you know I will be on the lookout for these beautiful orbs. Your home is breathtaking.

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  60. If I had happened upon that "scene" on the beach in Alaska, you would have heard me squeal on the mainland!! Oh MY.

    And just drooled over your dining room post. Gorgeous. Thanks for sharing the paint color, too. It's the perfect backdrop, really.

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  61. Just stopped by from over at Penny's and I must say you have a beyond beautiful home! Can't wait to see the barn room completed!

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  62. MOTH had a few big netted glass fishing floats haning around in the garage for years. I 'suggested' they be sold along with all his old diving paraphenalia at our Moving House Yard Sale 5 yrs ago. A very keen buyer snapped them up for the 5 bucks MOTH wanted for them. The following week we saw them as the centrepiece in our local Antiques store with a price tag of $200 each. They disappeared in a day & I was in deep do-do with my boy. Don't sell your beauties - EVER!!
    Millie x

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  63. Well..I added your blog to my blogroll and finally I have stopped to post a comment I had to when I saw the Glass Float post. I too am a collector...I lived on Kaua'i for 10 years...and I never found one...then My boyfriend {now husband} found one the year we lived together that year over there. His father is a fisherman from Calif{now living in Alabama and has a HUGE collection!! My parents had an orange float that was actually a sea lamp that floated on the water, it was given to my husband's father and I don't know where it is now...but I have a lot of memories.

    Oh...and I love the color Gray Owl you choose...we are moving into a very humble 1300 sq. foot cottage next week and I want to paint our family room that color....any suggestions..
    Love your blog!

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  64. I had no idea! I love these. I'm going to start looking for them. I'm still working on my courtyard and porch plans, but I've made some decisions and started gather things...the colors are going to be 'float' blues, whites, grays, and blacks...so some floats are going to be a must have!

    www.ajbarnesonline.blogspot.com

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  65. These are exquisite images; the balls and their rope are pure art and nothing less.

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  66. Good Easter Morning Joan: This post on Glass Fishing Floats is FAB! Wow, I have never seen so many gathered together. Can you even imagine walking along the beach and finding all of those floats 'hanging' on the shore line in all of their glory!!! Better than winning the lottery (well, not exactly because then I could go to that beach myself!!!) I also love your collection in the old dough bowl.

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  67. I have become a recent follower of yours and love your latest posts so much.

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  68. Just discovered your blog and I love your home. I am now searching for some fishing floats for my home!

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  69. Thank you Joan for a wonderful post and your kind words to me...I am waiting with bated breath for my new floates to arrive to add to my collection. Now I want to travel the world in search of beaches where I may find a chance float or two

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  70. I was wondering if you have a basketball size aqua floats you might be willing to sell. I am also a collector and I inspired by the float in you urn. I loved the added spanish moss. If not, do you have any other sources which may have one. I am not having any luck on ebay.
    Thank you,
    Janelle

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  71. hi Janelle!
    Well, I just might! Right now I can't even get to the floats in the basement (things are stacked in there floor to ceiling for the barn reno;), but send me your email (fortheloveofahouse@comcast.net) and when I can get to them I will look with that in mind and email you back.

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  72. I grew up in San Antonio as well! I moved up to Oregon from there almost 2 years ago. I have never seen these floats before and absolutely love them! I antique all the time and don't recall seeing them anywhere!

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