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    You are in: Home / Community Forums / Canning, Preserving and Dehydrating / TOTM ~ Collecting American Canning Jars
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    TOTM ~ Collecting American Canning Jars

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    Fri Feb 25, 2011 6:11 pm
    Forum Host

    If you can your own fruits and vegetables, you might be surprised to find that the value of old canning jars is often significant. If you are using the ones your grandmother left you, that jar of spiced peaches might be worth more than you think. Collecting canning jars got its start in the 1960s with a renewed interest in canning and other domestic arts and has become a major American hobby.

    Canning jars were an important part of the kitchen for well over a hundred years. The humble Mason jar revolutionized the way people canned everything from pickles and relishes to sauces and fruits for the family to eat during the winter months. The empty jars also were popular as pencil and candle holders, vases, glassware, and to store everything from bacon grease to extracted gallstones. Since the jars were glass, they were completely reusable and often handed down from generation to generation.

    For collectors, dating a jar can be difficult. Age is an important factor in the evaluation of canning jars, especially since they are made of glass and breakable. Generally the older the jar the more it is worth. Here are some tips to help you figure the age of your jar:
    •Pontil marks and indented rings found in the bottom of the jar : It means that it was hand finished by a glass blower. These marks will usually be found on jars made before 1858, although a few were made after that time.
    •Seams also help determine the age of your jar: Seams that go all the way up the jar indicate it was machine made, probably after 1915.
    •Purple jars (the color is the result of sun exposure to the manganese dioxide in the glass) were made prior to World War I because during the war manganese dioxide, which was scarce, was replaced by selenium.

    There are twelve important factors that determine the value of any antique bottle. Any one of these factors is frequently not sufficient in and of itself to make a bottle valuable. It is the combination of these factors that determine value.
    • supply and demand
    • age
    • rarity
    • condition
    • color
    • esthetic appeal
    • embossing and design
    • category
    • size
    • individuality
    • historic significance
    • locale

    How the jar is shaped can make a difference in the value. Square jars, for example, were made by many manufacturers as early as the 1890s. Although they took up less space in the pantry they were never as popular as the regular canning jars and so are a little rare making them a little higher in value.

    Of course the better the condition of the jar, the more it will be worth. Chips and cracks will diminish the value of old canning jars significantly while a jar in good condition with its original lid will be worth as much as 50% more than a similar jar without the lid.

    Like age, rarity alone is not sufficient to make a bottle valuable but it is a major factor especially when a bottle has several other important value factors. There are thousands of very rare bottles that are not worth more than a few dollars. Rarity only matters when there is demand.

    The colors of antique canning jars, like antique bottles, contribute a lot to their value. The jars were manufactured in a variety of colors, some more rare than others. Early Mason jars naturally had an aquamarine tint because of iron impurities in the glass. An old urban legend credits housewives with first requesting clear glass Mason jars. After all, their prized peach preserves sure didn't look as peachy at the county fair in a greenish jar.

    In order to counteract the aquamarine effect, manufacturers added a pink mineral, manganese dioxide, to the mix. They had no idea that exposure to sunlight would cause the jars to turn a dark, pinkish-purple color.

    These "Sun-Colored Amethyst" jars, which were only made between 1900 and 1920, are now some of the most prized among Mason jar collectors.

    Clear and aqua jars are considered colorless; they are the most numerous of the canning jars. Amber is also easy to find, so it is not as expensive as some rarer colors. Canning jar colors are:
    •Aqua (should not be confused with blue)
    •Cobalt and a variety of true blue colors from cornflower to sky
    •Citron (yellowish green, almost like Vaseline glass)
    •Milk Glass
    While most sell for just a few dollars, the rarest ones (including versions in amber, dark green, cobalt blue and black) have sold for very much more and a cathedral-style pickle jar once sold at auction for more than $42,000.

    Values of Antique Canning Jars
    These recent internet values should not be considered true values but will give you an idea of the worth of canning jars:
    •Teal blue half-gallon 1858 - $5,000
    •Quart sized Cadiz jar - $1,000
    •Vacu-Top canning jar - $5
    •Ball Ideal Aqua - $24
    •Western Stoneware - $34.99
    •Atlas Olive green - $8.99

    Types of jars:
    Primitive Canning
    Robert Arthur introduced a wax seal on a metal jar for the preservation of food in 1855. These jars or cans, however, could not be reused, were expensive and bulky, and they left food with a metallic taste. Thus, they never caught on, although these Arthur cans are rare and highly collectible today.

    Another concurrent method of sealing also included wax poured over a glass jar by the home canner. The wax was melted and poured into a channel around the lip of the jar. A lid was put in place and as the wax cooled a seal was created. The difficulty came when it was time to open the jar because the wax had to be melted so that the lid could be taken off. Regardless of this inconvenience, wax sealers were popular well into the early part of the 20th century.

    Thumb Screw Clamp
    During the Civil War and later some manufacturers used a clamp and glass lid design. The jar has a cast metal wire that clamps down on a glass lid and holds it tightly in the neck of the jar. These were used with round gaskets to create the seal.


    Kline Stopper
    The Kline Stopper was patented in 1863 and used a gasket to seal a glass stopper into the mouth of the jar. When the jar was heated the gasket and stopper were put on. A vacuum was created as the jar cooled and pulled the stopper into place and held it there. Consumers complained that it was difficult to remove the stopper from the jar.

    Mason Jars
    In 1858, an inventor and tin smith from New York City, John L. Mason, invented the mason jar. He invented a machine that could cut threads into lids, which made it practical to manufacture a jar with a reusable, screw-on, lid. This was the difference between his design and predecessors, the sealing mechanism: a glass container with a thread molded into its top and a zinc lid with a rubber ring. The rubber created the seal, and the threaded lid maintained it. The jar included his patent: "Mason’s Patent November 30th. 1858."

    The ease of use and affordability of Mason jars helped home canning spread across the nation, not only among farmers, homesteaders and settlers, but also urban families, who began family traditions of canning sauces, pickles, relishes, fruit and tomatoes. Sadly, Mason sold off his rights to the jar to several different people and died a relatively poor man around 1900.


    Clamped Glass-Lid Jars (Lightning Jars)
    In 1882, Henry William Putnam of Bennington, Vermont, invented a fruit jar that used a glass lid and a metal clamp to hold the lid in place. These "Lightning jars" became popular because no metal (which could rust, breaking the seal or contaminating the food) contacted the food and the metal clamps made the lids themselves easier to seal and remove (hence the "Lightning" name) . There were many similar glass lid and wire-clamp jars produced for home canning all the way into the 1960s. Many can still be seen in garage sales, flea markets and on specialty food jars today.

    Atlas Jars
    The Atlas E-Z Seal is a type the Lightning jar. The difference is a raised lip to help keep the jar from cracking. This was called the "Strong Shoulder" and was similar to the mason jar. The cracking was a common problem with shoulder seal jars. Hazel-Atlas Glass Company were in business from the late 1800s until 1964.

    Ball Jars
    The roots of the Ball Glass Manufacturing Company go back to 1880, when Frank and Edmund Ball of Buffalo, New York, purchased the Wooden Jacket Can Company. Originally the brothers manufactured wood-jacketed tin cans for the storage of oil, lard and paints, but when John L. Mason's 1858 patent for a fruit-canning jar expired, the brothers prepared to move into glass. In 1883, the Ball's changed from tin to glass containers and then, in 1886, to glass fruit jars. They moved their operations to Muncie, Indiana, after a fire at their Buffalo factory. Muncie (where a supply of natural gas had been discovered) was chosen because the city was offering free gas and land to rebuild the factory.

    Since the first Ball jar was produced in Buffalo 125 years ago, the company has made many variations of the glass jar including the Mason’s Patent 1858, the Perfect Mason, the Mason Improved, the Sure Seal, the Ideal, the Eclipse, the Standard, and of course, the Special.

    There are round jars and rounded square jars. Some of those jars close with a shoulder seal smooth lip, while others have a lightning half-round dimple, and still others feature the improved straddle top smooth lip. They come in Ball blue, aqua, amber, clear, and various other colors.

    Then there are the logos–the BBGMC of the jars made in Buffalo, the block print of “The Ball,” the horizontal script “Ball” with an underline, the slanted script “Ball”–with and without an underline– and more.

    There’s even the 3-L logo that’s not really a third “L” but a loop and an underline. In other words, there have been a lot of jars made with the Ball name on them. The company experimented, adapted, and listened to its customers in the quest to produce the perfect fruit jar.

    For a long time, the ubiquity of Ball jars prevented them from being particularly desirable in the eyes of collectors. However, in recent years Ball jars have gained popularity, due in large part to the lack of intact jars. Some collectors try to accumulate as many jars as they can, from pints to quarts to half-gallons, in colors that range from standard clear, aquamarine, and green to less-common amber.

    Others try to acquire jars with various types of logos on their fronts. For example, when the first machine-made Ball jars were produced in 1896, the distinctive script on the front boasted "Ball IMPROVED MASON," with an extra loop after the last "l" in Ball that almost looks like a fifth letter. From 1900 to 1914, the script was shortened to "Ball MASON," while from 1910 to 1914, some Ball jars bore the words "BALL PERFECT MASON" in big, block letters.

    The Balls began acquiring smaller companies, and mass producing and distributing jars across the country. They quickly became the leaders in the industry.

    The Ball Corporation owned and operated many other plants located in other cities including El Monte, California, Mundelein, Illinois, Asheville, North Carolina. Ball Corporation no longer sells home canning products. Ball spun off that part of their business in 1993 as Alltrista Corporation (which is now Jarden Corp.). Since 1993, the Alltrista Corporation has been manufacturing the Ball glass canning jars. They also make Kerr, Bernardin and Golden Harvest canning jars. Alltrista's home canning product and more information on Ball jars, can be found on their website at


    Kerr Jars
    In 1903, Alexander H. Kerr opened the Hermetic Fruit Jar Company, producing some of the first wide-mouth jars, which were easy to fill and empty.

    Among the first commercial; products were the Economy and Self Sealing jars. The Economy jars were among the first wide-mouth jars, and thus, were easy to fill. They also incorporated aspects from two 1903 patents held by another inventor, Julius Landsberger: a metal lid with a permanently attached gasket. This made the lids easy to use and inexpensive.

    In 1915, Mr. Kerr invented a smaller, flat metal disk with the same permanent composition gasket. The lid sealed on the top of a mason jar; a threaded metal ring held the lid down during the hot water processing. This allowed re-use of old canning jars together with inexpensive and easy to use disposable lids. The jar we know today was born! This two-part lid system transformed home canning safety and is still in use today.

    Kerr also made the first wide-mouth jars, which Ball was quick to duplicate.


    Collecting Old Canning and Fruit Jars
    Collecting antique canning jars is a rewarding hobby. Just remember that as with almost any collectible, there are fakes and reproductions in abundance. Get a good price guide to help you identify and evaluate the jars you find.

    For inquiries specifically related to old or antique Ball jars, contact:
    Minnetrista Museum
    1200 North Minnetrista Pkwy.
    Muncie, IN 47303-2925

    They may be able to address questions you may have about old home canning jars (but not home canning). Minnetrista’s web site has some information about the Ball family there. They've begun to put their collection on-line and currently have about 1,000 records concerning the Ball family and Ball products on this page.

    Typing and Identifying Food Bottles and Fruit Canning Jars (link)

    There are clubs all across the country:
    Antique Bottle Collector's Haven
    Ball Jar Collectors
    Midwest Antique Fruit Jar & Bottle Club
    Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors
    Little Rhody Bottle Club
    Findlay Antique Bottle Club

    You can find additional information about jar collecting here:

    Alice M. Creswick. The Fruit Jar Works. Volumes I and II. D.M. Leybourne, publisher. Reprint of 1987 original edition. Not a price guide. Write to: P.O. Box 5417, North Muskegon, MI 49445.

    D.M. Leybourne. The Collector's Guide to Old Fruit Jars. Copyright 1993. A 300-page price guide. Write to: P.O. Box 5417, North Muskegon, MI 49445.

    Bill Schroeder. This book has become a standard in the collecting field, staying in print for more than 20 years. Drawings of actual fruit jar emblems are included in this handy pocket reference.

    Kovels’ Bottles Price List, 13th edition, is a newly revised edition of the most reliable guide available for anyone who buys, sells, or collects bottles. Written by Ralph and Terry Kovel, America’s foremost authorities on antiques and collectibles.

    Pick Your Own
    Minnetrista Museum
    Ball Jars

    Last edited by Molly53 on Wed Mar 30, 2011 10:29 am, edited 1 time in total
    Fri Feb 25, 2011 7:45 pm
    Forum Host
    GREAT article!!! Thanks for sharing!
    Fri Feb 25, 2011 8:44 pm Groupie
    Molly what great information! Thank you for sharing this. Now I need to check those jars I have in the barn.

    I have been MIA due to the flu so am trying to catch up on my reading and hope to get some of those jellies done next week. I do not have the stamina yet to do this weekend.
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 10:39 am
    Forum Host
    Oh my, this was a geat read here. As I do not collect old canning jars. I had no idea of the value of some of them. I love to do a lot of garage sales and often see old jars. I just might take a closer look at them now. I do have the pretty blue ones. I really enjoyed this post! Thanks so much!
    Wicked Creations
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 11:24 am
    Semi-Experienced "Sous Chef" Poster
    Great article!! I even own a couple of these antiques and wow, I even scored bigger! Thanks for sharing!!
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 11:44 am
    Forum Host
    Wicked Creations wrote:
    Great article!! I even own a couple of these antiques and wow, I even scored bigger! Thanks for sharing!!
    Which ones do you own?
    Wicked Creations
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 12:08 pm
    Semi-Experienced "Sous Chef" Poster
    I have a large aqua ball jar but no lid (I am sure value is not as great if I had lid and in all and I have one that is extremely oversized one, Mason's Patented November 30th, 1858 with an eagle, a star and some embossing on the bottom with lid and handle(rare find)that stands at just under 22inches!! It holds most of my antique cookie cutters (very large collection).
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 1:08 pm
    Forum Host
    It sounds way cool!

    Sat Feb 26, 2011 1:10 pm
    Forum Host
    Chef1MOM~Connie wrote:
    Molly what great information! Thank you for sharing this. Now I need to check those jars I have in the barn.
    You should let us know what you find, Connie. It would be too wonderful for words if you discovered a fortune in the barn! icon_lol.gif
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 4:28 pm Groupie
    Hi Molly wave.gif

    How cool is that!

    Of course I'm sick now LOL! Back in 1985 when my Granddad died we had to clean out his house. Down in the basement we found at least 60 "canned" goods from who knows when just sitting on the shelf under tons of dust. I know my parents didn't think about the jars being valuable and just chucked them all. icon_rolleyes.gif They could have thrown away a fortune in canning jars.

    Oh well C'est la vie icon_eek.gif
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 6:57 pm Groupie
    What an interesting article Molly! I really enjoyed reading about the jars. I'd love to have a purple jar. The one in the photo is the color of my birthstone.

    As with many posters here, I also had a couple boxes of old jars from my MIL. She had blue, green and amber ones, some with the zinc lids, and also the ones with the wire (lightening jars). As the years went by they just disappeared. We moved several times, remodeled, etc.

    Today I only have three jars left. Two are Ball and one is a KNOX jar. It's clear glass and says KNOX; then under that a shield with a large K in it, and under that it says MASON. There's hundreds of tiny bubbles in the glass. It's pretty cool. I never appreciated all those details until after reading Molly's article.

    I'll snap a picture of the Knox jar tomorrow morning. And post it for anyone who's interested.
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 9:58 pm Groupie
    Thanks for the great article Molly. I have a few old jars & some old bottles as well. Most are out at the cabin, so I can't even go and check them out. I do have a couple of Nabob coffee jars, I am not sure how old they are, but they are clear glass and say Nabob on them. I will try to take a picture tomorrow and get it posted.
    Maryland Jim
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 10:02 pm Groupie
    Wow Great article. I'll have to check some the jars I have....suspect some may be older than I first thought..
    Montana Heart Song
    Sat Feb 26, 2011 11:15 pm Groupie
    I have many old canning jars. After reading these articles that Molly researched and prepared I am going to stop using a few of them in each batch I can. Yes, I still use the old dark blue green ones, they are heavier and I like to use them to can apples. I guess I had better stop. Interesting articles. I had a beautiful 1858 star Texas jar which I put dried flower arrangements in, near a window. The window was open and a high wind came, blew down a tall screen and it crashed into the jar. Oh well, it was enjoyed. I also have quite a few of the IDEAL ones. I love to can! I have a pantry and a canning room in our daylight basement. It is in the rear and cool and dark. I usually can 100 to 150 jars a year. I rotate vegies every other year and do them by 100 lbs. I have cut back this year, no one home.
    But, when they do come home for visits or school break, they return back, loaded with home canned food. I can't seem to break the tradition of canning, and besides it such a feeling of satisfaction! I know all of you will
    agree with me. icon_smile.gif
    Mon Feb 28, 2011 7:38 am Groupie
    Here's a photo of the KNOX jar. It's hard to get the clear embossed glass name/logo to show up on a clear glass jar. I must have taken 25 shots before I came up with this one where you can actually see the embossing. It's as good as I could get it. - and it was fun.

    I Googled it and it's not really old; 1930 - 1950's.
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