Sea Coal

Sea Coal

PostBy: Ashcat On: Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:19 pm

Visiting the South Jersey beach this summer, my son and I came across an occasional piece of coal in the sand. In all, we saw about 10-15 pieces. It looked like normal nut-sized anthracite except it lacked the usual very sharp edges, presumably from having spent some time eroding in the ocean—but not so much time that it was smooth or flat like a river rock or small beach stone. We were curious about the source of this coal, and I saved a few pieces to burn this fall. I figured it was probably bituminous but, upon burning, it behaved exactly like anthracite—except that it burned with a green flame. (I suppose this is from having absorbed salt from the ocean.) I have a few pounds of bituminous lying around and, for comparison, burned a small piece of bit at the same time. The beach coal burned nothing like it, with the bit almost immediately igniting with a tall, yellow, sooty flame, and the beach coal igniting more slowly with a smaller and gentler flame typical of anthracite.

I’ve been researching “sea coal” in recent days and thought I’d pass on what I found. Although the ancient Romans mined coal in the British Isles from about 50-400 A.D., coal mining there stopped for nearly 1000 years thereafter. But naturally-occurring coal was plentiful on the beaches and was used in the Dark and Middle Ages in the British Isles. Charcoal, made from wood, was used in metallurgy but with deforestation there, people turned to coal for metallurgy and heating. The term ‘sea-coal’ (or ‘secol’ or ‘sacolle’) was used to differentiate real coal from charcoal, as being that coal which comes from the sea. Sea coal was collected on the beaches in the northern Isles and transported by ship to coastal cities in the South. In fact, sea coal was brought to an area in London still known as Seacoal Lane.

Here is a YouTube documentary of the “last” sea coal collector in England, filmed in 2006:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02AzWORkMBM

This coal is almost certainly bituminous (or even lower rank), judging by the ease with which it was burned in fireplaces, and judging from the dark smoke emanating from the chimney of this collector’s mobile home stove (apparently no laws there against having a coal stove in a mobile home!).

Here are some fine reminiscences of an old Scotsman collecting and burning sea coal as a teen:

http://home.bendbroadband.com/scottishheritage/seacoal.html
This link is broken, either the page no longer exists or there is some other issue like a typo.


Here is a picture of seacoal being loaded into a fireplace:
http://www.google.com/imgres?q=sea-coal&um=1&hl=en&safe=off&rlz=1R2TSHA_enUS335&biw=1280&bih=603&tbm=isch&tbnid=ntaIOQvulTmJOM:&imgrefurl=http://withinthewalledgarden.blogspot.com/2010/11/sea-coalfree-coal.html&docid=ezQwMcm3nOkfWM&imgurl=http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_NY-izSdO12U/TM8UgY22HVI/AAAAAAAABQo/MGjRZWXBW-U/s1600/001.JPG&w=1594&h=1600&ei=GryoTteHNajf0QHfuYyJDg&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=1009&vpy=258&dur=141&hovh=225&hovw=224&tx=130&ty=149&sig=103233334001376400297&page=2&tbnh=114&tbnw=125&start=18&ndsp=19&ved=1t:429,r:5,s:18 .

The YouTube collector’s source of coal appears to be refuse from a local mine that was disposed of in the ocean, but clearly there are natural sources of sea coal having nothing to do with human activity: sea coal was plentiful in England before mining resumed, and was also plentiful on some Long Island, NY beaches, in the 1600’s, well before any mining occurred in North America. There are known exposed coal seams undersea, and at least near some land masses these are/were mined undersea, such as in Nova Scotia (
http://www.ccgs.ednet.ns.ca/cumb/joggins.htm
This link is broken, either the page no longer exists or there is some other issue like a typo.
) and the British Isles (http://www.maden.org.tr/resimler/ekler/2b15c75c0c389b4_ek.pdf ). These exposed undersea seams are likely the source of traditional sea coal, but I don’t think that exposed coal seams are the source of my Jersey “sea coal”, for several reasons:

1) Unlike other areas with a lot of sea coal, like Great Britain, where there are also visible coal seams in cliffs along the sea and it would thus be easy to imagine similar veins extending out into the ocean, New Jersey land has no significant coal deposits.
2) There was far too little erosion of my beach coal to have a natural ocean origin, given the large ocean distances these pieces of coal must have traversed to get to South Jersey.

The same observed lack of much erosion would also seem to rule out two other sources: accidental natural (or as a result of mining activities) coal transport down anthracite region rivers/canals (Schuykill, Lehigh) into the Delaware River and then into the Bay. If my coal had spent any significant amount of time in the water, I’d expect that it would have had more erosion/smoothing. Similarly, if that coal had gone overboard from a ship many decades ago, I’d likewise expect more erosion/smoothing of the surface over the years.

With the stories/rumors of the Chinese importing large quantities of Pennsylvania anthracite, I suppose it’s possible that there is a recent ocean shipping source of my beach coal.

However, despite my long and interesting detour into the history of sea coal, I think the likeliest explanation is that the source is ash disposal—perhaps from a local cache of ash from hard coal burning, maybe many decades old, that ultimately washed into the ocean from a recent storm. Much less dramatic than real sea coal, but nonetheless interesting to ponder the origin of my beach coal.
Last edited by Ashcat on Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ashcat
 
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Hitzer 983
Coal Size/Type: Nut/Blaschak

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: SMITTY On: Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:22 pm

How cool is that?!? Just like beach glass. 8-)




A far cry from PETA's ........ " Sea Kittens "... :rofl: :funny: toothy
SMITTY
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: Patriot Coal - custom built by Jim Dorsey
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Harman Mark III (not currently in use)
Coal Size/Type: Rice / Blaschak anthracite
Other Heating: Oil fired Burnham boiler

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: Ashcat On: Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:37 pm

SMITTY wrote:How cool is that?!? Just like beach glass. 8-)

Yes, it's pretty neat that you can get fire from the ocean (a driftwood fire somehow isn't quite as intersting). I'd never known about sea coal until looking it up recently.
Ashcat
 
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Hitzer 983
Coal Size/Type: Nut/Blaschak


Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: wsherrick On: Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:41 pm

Sea Coal is there if you ever read Dickens. That was very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
wsherrick
 
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Glenwood Base Heater, Crawford Base Heater
Baseburners & Antiques: Crawford Base Heater, Glenwood, Stanley Argand
Coal Size/Type: Chestnut, Stove Size

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: Richard S. On: Thu Oct 27, 2011 5:52 am

There is some place in Alaska that has a coal seam offshore and it washes up all the time, there is topic here on it:

Beach Coal
Richard S.
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: Van Wert VA1200
Coal Size/Type: Buckwheat/Anthracite

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: Ashcat On: Thu Oct 27, 2011 6:10 am

Yes I'd seen that Richard but forgot to include the link in my post--thanks for reminding.
Ashcat
 
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Hitzer 983
Coal Size/Type: Nut/Blaschak

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: CapeCoaler On: Thu Oct 27, 2011 8:55 am

Coal barges bringing coal north are the source...
Many went down in storms or accidents...
CapeCoaler
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: want AA130
Hand Fed Coal Stove: DS Machine BS#4, Harman MKII, Hitzer 503,...
Coal Size/Type: Pea/Nut/Stove

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: ScubaSteve On: Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:56 pm

I posted a thread about this too a while ago! I found enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket on an Atlantic city beach! lol, Must be a Jersey thing! :D
ScubaSteve
 
Stove/Furnace Make: Vermont Castings Vigilant II
Stove/Furnace Model: model 2310

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: ScubaSteve On: Thu Oct 27, 2011 10:00 pm

ScubaSteve
 
Stove/Furnace Make: Vermont Castings Vigilant II
Stove/Furnace Model: model 2310

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: Ashcat On: Thu Oct 27, 2011 11:07 pm

Nice thread there, ScubaSteve! I hadn't seen it. So yours was anthracite, too. I would guess bit would be more likely.
Ashcat
 
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Hitzer 983
Coal Size/Type: Nut/Blaschak

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: tsb On: Thu Oct 27, 2011 11:16 pm

We were in Margate Sunday for a day walking the beach.
Found fist sized chunks. They burn like bit coal. Very yellow flame.
tsb
 
Stoker Coal Boiler: Binford 2000
Hot Air Coal Stoker Stove: LL Pioneer top vent
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Saey Hanover II


Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: Poconoeagle On: Fri Oct 28, 2011 7:14 am

When I was down on Ft. Jefferson in the dry tourtougas, the remails of the coal docks were there and history says it was a re-fueling station for the WW I dreadnaughts which burned coal at the time. in fact there is an out cropping called Iowa Key which is where the battleship Iowa ran aground once thus that coal had to get there down the coast somehow....

I would thinks a few chunks fell off here and there :lol:
Last edited by Richard S. on Tue Nov 26, 2013 11:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: <removed dead link>
Poconoeagle
 
Stove/Furnace Make: Buckwalter & Co. , EFM520
Stove/Furnace Model: No. 28 Glenwood 1880, Alaska

Re: Sea Coal

PostBy: Ashcat On: Fri Oct 28, 2011 8:56 am

Port Richmond (in Philadelphia) was built by the Reading Railroad:
"During the 1800s, with the advent of the steam engine aboard ships, Port Richmond was a major terminus for colliers who received coal from the Reading Railroad facility at the port, and transported it to steam ships at other locations. Colliers, as well as other merchant and military ships, continued to visit Port Richmond for coal until after World War I when coal-burning steam engines on ships were replaced by more modern oil and diesel engines." (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Richm ... nnsylvania)

And Windy Point [demolished in 2007 or earlier], built by the Pennsylvania RR, served a similar purpose:
"Coal Export Pier, No. 124, c.1920
Iron Ore Import Pier, No. 122, c.1950
Windy Point, Delaware River, Philadelphia PA

Windy Point has been an important wharf site for the Pennsylvania Railroad and its successors since the mid-1800s. ... ...Conrail modernized the coal pier in the late 1970s, enabling it to handle 2,500 tons of coal per hour and to deliver coal to vessels with drafts up to a 40 feet. The coal pier includes a thawing shed (for winter operations) and is capable of mixing coal grades during the loading of vessels. Two parallel, rotary car-dumpers that can handle 77- and 100-ton railroad cars, dump the coal onto a conveyor belt that loads the coal on the ships. Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal is exported from the pier to European, Korean, and East Coast markets for use by utility companies and residential heating." (Source: http://www.workshopoftheworld.com/south ... piers.html )


So, there was a heckuva lot of coal flowing out of the Delaware Bay, for close to 100 years. Not surprising that some of it must have ended up overboard.
Ashcat
 
Hand Fed Coal Stove: Hitzer 983
Coal Size/Type: Nut/Blaschak