Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shells, Shards and Hidden Treasures - Cape Cod

As I walk the sandy beaches and wooded pathways of Cape Cod, I'm on the hunt for interesting finds. I never go home empty handed, there's always something that peaks my curiosity.

 I found this little beauty dating from the late 18th or early 19th century and probably from a dinner plate, on one of the bay side beaches over 20 years ago.  On that summer day, I walked a little further across the open tidal flats of Brewster and with each step I took, inspiration for my novel began to weave itself into my thoughts.  Since then, this little pottery shard with its smooth, chalk-like surface and dainty flowers has taken me and my imagination along a journey of reading, researching and writing the legend of Sam Bellamy, Maria Hallett and other myths of Cape Cod. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it.

Over the last five years of my 24 on this sandy spit, my collection of shells, shards and treasures has grown so much that I'm forced to become more particular in what I bring home. Beach glass, too numerous to count, fills a small four-drawer dresser in my closet; plastic baggies separate them into hues of blue, red, brown, turquoise, lavender and white. It takes from 50 -100 years or longer in the ocean for sea glass to cure or obtain that milky glaze and smooth surface. These transparent treasures must be 'well-done' to become part of my collection. I always step over the shiny beach glass, saving them for future beachcombers.

Decorative or colorful patterned shards are my most prized. It's such a treat to find them with handles, ornamentation or words on the pieces. I have several with 'England' on them.  The scallop edge was a popular style on dishes in 1700 England and continued through the early 1800s. By the 1850s, this pattern developed into a painted symmetrical shell edge, then progressed even further into impressed lines that replicated the painted scallop edge. The piece top left has an impressed shell edge on it.

The large shard above shows a painted scallop edge. The green circular marks are from small clams or oysters that were living on its surface when I found it wedged in between two rocks at low tide. The green floral patterned shard was discovered the same day.  The clay pipe stems, based on the size of the hole in the stem, are circa 1700-1800. They were found by Tim in Provincetown Harbor - a real find!

A few years ago on a day excursion with Anna and Michael, we visited and searched Plymouth Harbor at low tide. The items shown are in their natural state. It only took us about an hour to find our treasures.

Anna did well. She found a pair of glasses from 1900.

This clam with its barnacles and seaweed make an artistic statement - perfect for a still life painting.

It's been over a year since my son, Scotty, married his beautiful Carly at our home. At their wedding reception, they invited their guests to write a one year anniversary message on a card, whereupon the cards would be kept unopened for one year. A week ago they opened them. Scott called to tell us that the messages were heartwarming, funny and all wished the wedded couple more happiness for the coming years. He added that one card was intriguing, its sender wrote that he had left the happy couple something under the rock wall behind our house on the Cape.  Scott then sent me on a mission. "Mom, would you go and look? He said it was under the third rock from the porch door."
 I went outside with phone in hand.
 I could hear Scott over the phone telling me, "I'll skype you when Carly gets home, mom. Don't touch anything till then. " 

Of course, I checked to see if it was a joke or if something was really there and it was... and under rock number three! I replaced the rock and waited for Scott's return call.

Within minutes, he called back. Our youngest son, Michael, offered his IPhone to skype. As the anniversary couple watched us unearth the mysterious message via Wi-Fi, anticipation filled the air both on Cape Cod and in California.
Due to a small hole in the plastic baggie, the card was wet and half eaten but the secret message from his friend was clear. It read, "Happy Anniversary!"

Like I always say, mystery and history surround us in our daily lives, but only if we look for it.


  1. Very fascinating Blog. Do you think that most of your treasures were from shipwrecks . .or were used in homes on land and found their way to the beaches from landfills or erosion?
    When you have nothing else to do . .ha-ha . .you might check out in their china department. Perhaps one of those patterns might show up and you could get a sense of when it was made. But maybe you've already done that. That kind of research is very intriguing, I think. Carol Michels

  2. Thanks! More than likely the pottery shards were from commercial dumping and household trash. In fact the best places to scour are in the harbors of old villages on the coast, that's where taverns and people in general would dump their garbage. Also rocky inlets are prime locations for the remains of these items, they get stuck in between the rocks.