The recession has definitely fueled a new interest in home canning and DIY projects.
If you spend any time at all on Pinterest, you will know that all you need to have a perfect home is burlap, chevron, and Mason jars. I can’t tell you how many posts I have seen that list 101 Uses for Mason Jars…of course, most of them don’t actually involve canning. Apparently you can use Mason jars to make centerpieces and glassware at your wedding, layered salads, lighting fixtures, air fresheners, flower vases, soap dispensers…
They are even making a new version of vintage blue canning jars…
While canning jars have been around for a long time, it wasn’t until 1858 that the screw-on lid was created. Prior to that time, flat tin lids were attached to the jars with wax rings. John Mason was a tinsmith in New York and perfected a machine that would cut threads into the lids, creating a jar with a reusable, screw-on lid. This process was easier and more reliable than the tin lid and wax method. Although other companies began creating the jars, Mason held the patent, and so the style of jar became known as a Mason jar.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Antique Mason jars are sought by collectors, and are bought and sold not only through antique stores, but also on auction sites such as eBay. The value of a jar is related to its color, embossing, closure, age, rarity, design, size and condition.
Most antique jars that are not colorless are a shade of aqua known as “Ball Blue,” named for the prevalent jar maker. Colored jars were considered better for canning use, as they block some light from reaching the food, which helps to retain flavor and nutritional value longer. Later versions (after around 1936) were made in clear glass, and some (usually from the 1950s) in brown amber. More rarely, jars will turn up in darker shades of green. Rarer still are cobalt blues, blacks, and milk glass jars.
Thousands of canning jars were embossed with the Mason patent date, November 30, 1858. Jars actually were embossed with this for over 50 years so the embossing in itself should not be the sole criteria for determining date and value.
An embossed design that is unusual or unique will fetch more than the 1858 embossing on a jar. Sometimes you can find a jar that has a word misspelled and mishaps like this make the jar rarer and add to the value.
There are a variety of closures for canning jars from the tin lids to the modern screw on lids. When a jar is found with its original closure, it will be more valuable than when it isn’t. Companies experimented with numerous types of closures, most of which were very detailed, unusual, and impractical. Unique closures might not have been favored by yesteryears homemaker but they are a hot commodity among today’s collector. It is always good to find a jar with an zinc lid!
Check for mold seams. Early jars may show a seam below the lip. The absence of a mold seam on the lip indicates the jar was finished by hand. Workers would have hand-tooled the lip into shape after the lower part of the jar was blown into the mold. Jars made after about 1915 were completely machine-made and show mold seams across the top and down the sides.
If you have a Ball jar, you can date most of them just by looking at the logo. Every few years, the Ball Manufacturing Co changed the logo and if you compare yours to a reliable chart, you know how old it is. All you need is a chart like the one below.
Most of the earlier versions were round (cylindrical) in shape, and some of the later types are square (with rounded corners) in design. Some variants have vertical “ribs” or “grips” along the sides, probably added to assist in handling the jars while they are wet.
Here is some of my collection.
These are my favorites. I keep them on my kitchen counter, with coffee, Splenda, and sugar in them. They are Ball Blue 1/2 gallon Perfect Masons. These are from the 1920’s, and have original zinc lids.
The Hazel-Atlas company was in business from 1902 to 1964. During 1940s and ’50s, the company was one of the largest producers of canning jars along with competitors Ball and Kerr. Only a few types of Atlas jars are collectible: the Atlas E-Z Seal, Atlas H over A Mason, and the Atlas Strong Shoulder Mason. The E-Z Seal is a lightning jar, a design which has a distinctive glass bubble lid or stopper clamped to the jar with a wire bail. The wire is permanently affixed to the neck of the jar and the bail swings up “quick as lightening” to hold the lid, hence the name. Here is a Hazel Atlas 1/2 gallon lightning jar, stamped on the bottom, from the 1930’s…
These are four quart size Hazel Atlas Strong Shoulder Masons from the 1920’s…these are a little harder to find, especially the blue one! The Atlas Strong Shoulder Mason has heavier glass below the jar neck to prevent it from cracking easily.
When you are buying canning jars, be careful. I never pay more than a couple of bucks for mine. When in doubt, check eBay for comps. Of course, blue ones and larger ones are more expensive. I am always looking for extra zinc lids to go with the ones I have bought sans lid. Now, go hit the flea market and find some canning jars!!