A Collector's Guide to Ball Jars

By John Peterson

Ball jars are part of a group of glass containers used for canning foods. They are distinguished from one another by their closures, or how they are sealed. Because of their wide mouths, they were among the first bottles, in the 1890s, to be machine made. In general, the older the jar is, the greater its value. However, bottles with unique closures, embossed labels or manufacturing technology are also valuable.

Ball Corporation

The most successful canning jar company is the Ball Corporation. In 1880, the Ball brothers began their tin container and glass fruit jar business as the Wooden Jacket Can Company, Buffalo, New York. They were incorporated as Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company in 1884 and moved their company to Muncie, Indiana in 1887. The company was very successful acquiring many other glass companies throughout their history. They also made several perfections to the famous 1858 Mason jar patent.

Collecting Ball Jars

Ball jar collectors look for closure types, embossing script styles and patent types to date and find the most valuable collectibles. Highly collectible Ball jars include the pre-1886 "Buffalo" jars made in Buffalo, Mason jars with the 1858 patent embossed on them, and the pre-1910 jars with "Ball Improved Mason" or "Ball Standard" embossed on them. The script used to emboss the jars is highly datable as it changed over time.

Wax-Sealed Closures

The earliest canning jars had wax-sealed lids. It was a simple metal cap sealed into a groove in the bottle rim with wax. This type of canning jar typically dates from circa 1850 to 1890, except machine-made "Ball Standard" jars with wax-sealed closures were made from 1896 to 1912.

Mason Jars

John Mason patented his famous screw-thread closure in 1858, and jars with screw threaded rims are referred to as Mason jars. Mason jars are still made today, and collectors need to research patent dates and manufacturers embossed on their jars to date them. One very collectible jar is the "Ball Perfect Mason" made from 1909 to 1950.

Lightning Closures

Jars with lightning closure use a metal bail that seats into a groove on the glass lid to seal the jar. These were common from the 1870s into the 20th Century. "Lightning" jars were not as popular as Mason jars, but the "Ball Ideal" used this type of closure.

Other Closures

Manufacturers, like Ball, experimented with other types of closures that did not achieve widespread popularity. These included cam lever lids, thumbscrew stopper lids, and cap-and-spring lids. One rare example is the "Ball PatApdFor" from 1899.

About the Author

John Peterson published his first article in 1992. Having written extensively on North American archaeology and material culture, he has contributed to various archaeological journals and publications. Peterson has a Bachelor of Arts from Eastern New Mexico University and a Master of Arts from the University of Nebraska, both in anthropology, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in history from Columbia College.