You don't need to practice home canning to appreciate glass fruit jars. Many people use them around their homes to hold kitchen utensils, as decorative elements on counters and windowsills, and even as soap dispensers (for a description on how to make your own check out slide number three in this CountryLiving.com slideshow ).
Also referred to as a Mason jar, Ball jar, or just plain "canning jar," the modern fruit jar is one of the evolutionary results of mankind's millennia-long search for ways of preserving food for transport or for periods of want.
The earliest jars, sealed with a flat lid and wax, were messy and often unreliable. The first major improvement in design came in 1858 when John Mason of New York City patented a machine for the manufacture of threaded lids. A rubber ring, instead of wax, provided the seal.
Others soon began marketing their own designs. Many proved to be commercially short-lived, while others enjoyed substantial commercial success. One successful design was for the Lightning jar, invented by Henry Putnam of Bennington, Vermont, in 1882. This consisted of an all-glass lid that was clamped to the jar by means of a wire bail. The Atlas E-Z Seal was a popular brand of this type of jar.
Another enduring design was the Kerr jar based on a 1915 patent for a two-part lid system - a flat piece with a permanently attached seal and a threaded piece used to hold it firmly in place on the jar. This is, in fact, the same system in use today.
Though it is unknown exactly how many glass canning jars have been manufactured over the last 150 years, it's probably safe to say they number in the millions, so it is not surprising that many have survived to this day. Most specimens you see are of the common clear-glass or aqua-blue varieties and are worth no more than $1 to $5 or $6 each, but serious collectors have been quite willing to pay up to $500 for some jars, and several thousands for the rarest.
In general, a vintage or antique jar may be more valuable if it
- is an odd shape or size, i.e. square rather than round, or a half-pint rather than the ubiquitous quart;
- is from an obscure manufacturer;
- was originally available in limited numbers for a very short time;
- was a "first";
- exhibits a unique design or odd spelling molded into the glass;
- is an unusual color like amber or olive green. Purple is often an indicator of age since glass manufactured prior to World War I contained manganese dioxide that would cause clear glass to change to purple when exposed to sunlight over an extended period of time. But beware of especially dark or brilliant colors as these are often indicative of reproductions or fakes.
Of course, condition is always a factor when discussing values, but all is not lost if you've found an old jar at a yard or estate sale and the glass is cracked or broken. Believe it or not, but the lid itself could be worth a considerable amount to a collector searching for a replacement.
Would you like to learn more about this popular collectible? Check out the resources listed below, and
1000 Fruit Jars
Bottle Makers and Their Marks
Fruit Jars: A Collectors' Manual
Hazel-Atlas Glass Identification & Value Guide Second Ed
"Red Book No. 10: The Collector's Guide to Old Fruit Jars," by Douglas M. Leybourne, Jr. - link to website
A Brief History of the Home Canning Jar - link to website - Page at PickYourOwn.org also has links to home canning kits and supplies if you'd like to give it a try.
Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC) - link to website - Not just for fruit jar collectors! Articles, shows, links, more. And check out this article, A Primer on Fruit Jars by Dave Hinson, from their magazine, Bottles & Extras.
Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website - link to website - Society for Historical Archaeology site offers bottle Dating, Glossary, Glass Colors, Links, more, including a section on Canning Jars.
Greg Spurgeon Antique Fruit Jars - link to website - Home of "Jar Talk" Forum and the North American Glass auction site also offers archived sales listings, color guide, more!
How to Date Ball Fruit Jars - link to website - Article by Bob Clay includes dating chart.
Lehman's: In-Depth Canning Guide - link to website - Step-by-step guide takes you through the canning process.
Midwest Antique Fruit Jar & Bottle Club - link to website - Membership includes subscription to Glass Chatter (some articles available online). And check out the Photographic Reference Guide to Ball Fruit Jars.