Edmund, Frank, George, William and Lucius Ball first began their business in 1880 as the Wooden Jacket Can Company in Buffalo, New York. In 1884 they made their first glass fruit jars, and by 1886 they incorporated the business into the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company. More than 41 million gross (5 billion 904 million) canning jars were produced by the Ball Glass Company between 1894 and 1961. As one of the most common fruit jars, they are readily available. The value of an antique Ball jar may be of a more sentimental nature as most jars are not worth a significant amount.
Ball jars are a readily available commodity to come by for collectors. Categorizing and dating can be challenging though, with the extensive range of styles and colors produced. The better known styles include: Perfect Mason, Ideal, Sure Seal, Improved and Special. The earliest Ball jars were known as wax sealers because wax was used to seal the jar. By 1885 zinc caps were made, and in 1898 the first aluminum lids were produced.
Antique Ball jars were fruit jars used primarily for canning. During World War II, home canning became vital in the effort to reduce the consumption of tin and steel. Americans were encouraged to grow and can their own food during this time. By 1941 glass lids temporarily replaced the aluminum and zinc lids. The size of the jar mouth was later reduced and a smaller lid was made to further conserve metal and allow homemakers to reuse the jars.
Identification and Dating
Although antique Ball jars are fairly easy to identify with the "Ball" name scrawled across the jars, dating an antique Ball jar can be a little trickier. The first jars made in Buffalo, New York from 1885-1886 were known as "Buffalo" jars and had the initials BBGMCo (Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company) embossed on the jars. About 1893 was when the familiar script-style "Ball" name began to appear on the jars. Ball jar collector Bob Clay has a site, that offers pictorial examples of the different Ball logos and the years they were used. On Balljars.net there is a progression chart dating different jar styles from 1885 to the present.
As with any antique collectible, condition plays a major role in the value of an antique Ball jar. Cracks, chips and stains will lower the value. Clear Ball jars which are the most readily available can range from $1 to $20; jars with original lids may be valued in the $15-$20 range. Buffalo jars, jars with unusual closures and colored jars of which very few were made are in demand by collectors and can be valued as high as $100.
Some people are introducing irradiated (exposed to radiation) jars to the market which have been artificially colored in dark browns or purples. Some collectors have been fooled into paying large amounts of money for these altered jars. If you have doubts about the authenticity of the jar, seek the advice of an experienced collector.