The Garden Spotter

Collecting Canning Jars

canning jars bonnbonn photo

BonnBonn on Etsy

Canning jars are useful in so many different ways, and not just for preserving foods or making jams. They are great for storing herbs or rice in the kitchen or cotton balls or Q-tips in the bathroom. They make wonderful impromptu vases when you’ve come back with a bouquet of foraged wildflowers and need something pretty to put them in. They’re also a great thing to collect.

It All Started with Napoleon

French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with the development of the first canning jars. During the Napoleonic wars he offered 12 thousand francs to anyone who could come up with a way to preserve food for soldiers during winter.

In 1810, Nicholas Appert answered the call. He used a glass container with wire and wax to heat-seal the food inside, preserving it. But the system proved messy, eventually leading to the invention of the mason jar by John Landis Mason of New York. Mason created a machine that could make threads in glass, which made screw on lids possible.

A friend in the kitchen; or, What to cook and how to cook it .. (1899) Mason’s jars, patented in 1858, also used a rubber seal and were used heavily during the Civil War and up through the turn of the century. Atlantic Glassworks of Crowleytown, New Jersey manufactured the first mason jars, which were stamped with, “Mason’s Patent Nov. 30th 1858.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of companies produced canning jars, each with their own take. In 1882, Henry William Putnum of Vermont invented the “Lightning” jar that used a glass lid and wire clamp. In 1884, the Ball Brothers of Buffalo, New York started producing their “Ball” fruit jars and devised a way to make jar production uniform, thus expanding the manufacturing of food preservation jars exponentially. Other jar makers emerged, including Kerr, which produced a wide mouth jar, and Atlas, which made the “E-Z,” which was like Putnum’s metal clamped Lightning Jar only with a raised lip.

Canning and food preservation remained very popular until after World War II, when packaged and instant food came into vogue. Canning food comes and goes in popularity, but it has never seen the popularity it did from the late 1800s through the Great Depression and World Wars. Collecting canning jars, however, remains very popular today.

Canning Jars USDA photo

USDA photo

Mason Jars NewMexico from National Archives

National Archives photo

A Word on Value

As with so many other collectibles, value of canning jars depends on such things as age, scarcity, color and condition. An early Lightning Jar in a light amethyst color with a missing lid and small chip in the rim recently sold for more than $450 on eBay, while a light amber early Mason jar went for $1,400. Generally speaking, older jars that are amber, cobalt, green or milk glass fetch higher prices.

Dating old canning jars can be a bit of a trick. Some informational websites, such as Glass Bottle Marks, are very helpful on some brands. Also, online sales sites such as eBay or Etsy, can help you establish a baseline for value.
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