Most people collect something or other: stamps, butterflies, beetles, moths, dried and pressed wild flowers, old snuff-boxes, china dogs and so forth. A few eccentrics even collect disused bus tickets! But collectors of pebbles are rare. Let us hasten to add that we mean discriminating collectors. Before the authorities responsible for the preservation of our coasts awoke to the seriousness of coastal erosion, collection in its worst and widest sense went on. Hundreds of thousands of tons of shingle were removed from the beaches annually in cartloads for building and other purposes, thus depriving the cliffs of their defence against the attacks of the waves. The disastrous flooding of the East Coast in January 1953 has ensured still keener vigilance in the maintenance of natural defensive barriers. The discriminating pebble-collector does not strive to become a pack-animal. He contents himself in the course of his annual seaside holiday with at most a dozen pebbles, chosen on account of their rarity, complexity of structure, beauty of colouring or vein-ing, crystalline lustre, fossilized contents or of other qualities which you may learn to look for in their quest for stones that are worthy of a place in the cabinet.
It is astonishing how few there are who roam the many lovely beaches of this island in search of such pebbles. Yet there must be untold thousands who spend their holiday hours on the beach looking at, handling, and often throwing, pebbles. Of this multitude there are doubtless many who would like to know how the pebbles came to be there, how to name them and how to account for their differences in shape, texture, composition and colour. If they seek for guidance, they find none. The scientific jargon of the geological textbook repels them and it either makes no reference to pebbles at all or does so in the most incidental fashion.
In the early and middle years of last century there was a cult of pebble-collecting in vogue among people of means and leisure who stayed at the then rising and fashionable resorts such as Brighton and Scarborough. It so happened that these places possessed beaches of unusually good pebbles, including some that could be classed as semi-precious stones. It was probably cupidity rather than any marked interest in geology that actuated their exploration of the beds of shingle. They combed the beaches with painstaking zeal, employed local lapidaries to cut and polish their finds and compiled glittering collections. It may be that they were too zealous, as they have left little, especially at Brighton, for later generations of enthusiasts. The practice con*inues, however, but with much less intensity, on several English beaches.
Pebble-hunting is a pleasant and health-giving hobby, whether pursued on the beach, the lake-side or the river-bank, and all but those who are nearing the last stages of decrepitude can enjoy it. With understanding will come still greater enjoyment. To all who engage in this fascinating quest the author wishes good hunting, an insatiable curiosity and an ever-widening knowledge.