History of the Home Canning Jar and Collecting Mason, Ball and Kerr Jars
This month's notes: April 2014: Spring is just around the corner. Strawberries are here in Florida, Texas and California, next in late March and April for much of the South, then in May for most of the country and June in cooler northern areas. See how easy it is to make strawberry jam or strawberry-rhubarb jam!
A Brief History of Common Home Canning Jars
What are Ball Jars, Kerr Jars, Mason Jars?
Napolean is often credited with the invention of modern canning: in 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method to preserve food. Nicolas Appert suggested canning and the process was first proven in 1806. Until 1858, canning jars used a glass jar, a tin flat lid, and sealing wax, which was not reusable and messy!
But 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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, in Buffalo, NY, William Charles Ball and his brothers (Lucius, Lorenzo, Frank C., Edmund Burke, and George Alexander) were in the business of manufacturing wood-jacketed tin cans for the storage of oil, lard and paints. 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.
The Balls began acquiring smaller companies, and mass producing and distributing jars across the country. They quickly became the leaders in the industry.
Alexander H. Kerr founded the Hermetic Fruit Jar Company in 1903 and 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.
Mr. Kerr later (1915) 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.
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 homecanning.com.
And for easy, step-by-step illustrated canning directions, from applesauce to pickles to jams, click here!
Collecting Old Canning and Fruit Jars
For inquiries specifically related to old or antique Ball jars, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to:
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.
You can find additional information about jar collecting from these sources:
- 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. Also called Redbook #9. Copyright 1993. A 300-page price
guide. Write to: P.O. Box 5417, North Muskegon, MI 49445.
- Schroeder: One Thousand Fruit Jars (1752)
- Julian Harrison Toulouse: Fruit Jars: A
Collectors' Manual [Paperback] First published in 1969,
reprinted in 2005, it is available for a new generation of bottle
collectors. Fruit Jars details the types of containers used for canning
fruit, lists jars alphabetically with markings found on the jars and denotes
embossing, color, shape, closure and base markings. It also includes a
listing of fruit jar manufacturers as well as a chronological listing of
dated jars, line drawings, and makers' marks.
- Michael Polak: Warman's Bottles Field Guide:
Values and Identification (Warman's Field Guides Bottles: Values &
- 1,000 listings with prices for well over 100 years of collectible bottles
- 300 brilliant color photos
- Convenient portable size
Does Ball still make rubber seals for the older zinc caps? No. Ball doesn't, but some others now do. However, home canning experts do not recommend that you use them. The modern flat lid and metal ring is superior in reliability and safety. If you insist in using the rubber ring system, do not use old rubber rings: they have aged and will probably not seal effectively, especially on an older jar. You can get new rubber canning rings quite inexpensively here:
Jar Collecting Websites
Home Canning Jar Collection
Richard Cole is curator of the home canning jar collection at the Minnetrista Cultural Center, 1200 North Minnetrista Pkwy, Muncie, IN 47303-2925, (765) 282-4848, Ext. 117.
Kovel's On-Line Price Guide to Antiques and Collectibles
Antique jars are highly collectible. Use Kovel's on-line searchable database to find antique jars in the "bottle" category, "fruit jar" sub-category.
- Identifying jars - Loads of photos. A website created and managed by Bill Lindsey, Bureau of Land Management (retired) - Klamath Falls, Oregon
Valuing Antique and Collectable Canning Jars
Age - Generally the older the jar is, the greater is
value. Look for signs of older age, such as:
Pontil marks (a lump of glass - see photo at right, where the glass blower attached to the molten glass) and indented rings found in the bottom of the jar. These are usually be found on jars made before 1858.
Seams along the entire side , from bottom to top, mean the jar was made by a machine, probably after 1915.
Condition - Chips and cracks reduce the value significantly. A jar in pristine confition that still has its original lid will be worth much more.
Embossing - Many canning jars were embossed with the Mason patent date, November 30, 1858. Unusuall embossing designs and misspellings add to the value.
Closures - The common ring and lid used today wasn't always the standard. Rubber rings and wire clamps were once common. If the original closure ispresent, it will add to the value. Some other types of closures are: Putnam's Trademark Lightening; Peerless; A. & D.H. Chambers Pittsburgh, Pa; Stark lid and jar.
Color - Clear is most common, but other colors, which
usually add value are: Aqua, Amber, Dark Amber, Emerald, Milk Glass,
Cobalt, Black. See the
Hoosier Jar Color Page. This can help you identify the jar you have more
Size - Most are quart or smaller, but larger canning jars can fetch higher prices at auctions and can be used in making light fixtures and art pieces.
Designs /shapes - Square jars are less common.
The value of antique Ball, Mason and Kerr canning jars varies greatly. Typical prics range from $8 to $25 a jar.
Look at the books listed above on this page for more details about how to value a jar.
How to Sell Your Jars
Ebay is one of the most common ways to sell jars for their value. Of
course many people look at yard sales, garage sales, "car boot sales", flea
markets and the like to find good values on cllectable jars, but those are
poor places to sell your jars for their potential value. It will take
patience and work to sell the jars for their best value; this is a niche
[General picking tips and a guide to each fruit and vegetable] [How much do I need to pick? (Yields - how much raw makes how much cooked or frozen)] [Selecting the right varieties to pick] [All about apple varieties - which to pick and why!] [Picking tips for Vegetables] [ Strawberry picking tips] [ Blueberries picking tips]
Illustrated Canning, Freezing, Jam Instructions and Recipes
[ All About Home Canning, Freezing and Making Jams, Pickles, Sauces, etc. ] [FAQs - Answers to common questions and problems] [Recommended books about home canning, jam making, drying and preserving!] [Free canning publications to download and print]