In 1885, the Ball brothers of Buffalo, New York began manufacturing a kind of glass canning jar that had been patented by John Mason in 1858. These became very popular and were known from the 1880s to the present as Ball Mason jars. For many years, they were not considered a valuable collector's item because they were mass-produced and a common sight in kitchens. However, in recent years, the Ball Mason jar has become a collector's item. To assess the value of a vintage Ball Mason jar, you must consult antique glassware books and Internet forums devoted to the study of Ball Masons. Then, assess the color, markings and characteristics, such as type of lid, as well as the condition of the jar.
The most common Ball Mason jar is the colorless or clear glass jar. Many jars were colored or "highlighted," though, in order to cut down on sunlight penetrating to the foods inside the jar, thus preserving the food longer. The shades of aquamarine glass known as "Ball blue" derived their characteristic coloring from the Lake Michigan sand used in creating the glass. Ball blue glass was only made until 1937. The deeper blue, dark green and amber shades of Ball Mason jars are among the rarer colors and thus are valued more highly.
The earliest Ball Mason jars are marked with the intertwined initials "BBGMCo," which stands for Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company. These jars were made in 1885 to 1886, when the company was still in Buffalo, New York, and thus are known as "Buffalo jars." They are valuable because of their age and the short period of time in which they were made. Another rare jar is marked "Ball Mason's N. Patent Nov. 30th 1858" and was made by Hahne and Co. in Newark, New Jersey; apparently there are only five or six of these in existence. Jars made in the later 1880s until about 1893 are marked with embossed black lettering; script markings were made after 1893.
An early form of lid, or a rare feature such as a porcelain lining, will add value to the Ball Mason jar. The earliest Ball Mason jars were called "wax sealers" because they had a tin lid, under which was poured a layer of sealing wax to preserve the food inside. Slightly later jars featured glass lids and zinc bands; some of these jars with glass lids are quite rare. A few Ball Masons were lined with porcelain, which also is a rare characteristic.
Evaluating the Jar
You can estimate the Ball Mason jar's value by considering four main criteria: age, color, rarity and condition. A Buffalo jar from 1885, for example, will be worth more than a mass-produced jar from the 1940s. A rare "Christmas Mason" marked jar from the 1890s or an unusual dark green jar will be worth more than a clear, modern jar. And if the jar has cracks, chips or missing lid or other parts, it will be less valuable than a similar jar in mint condition.