Collecting Antique Ball Jars

June 26th, 2008

In this article, collector Bruce Wayne Schank talks about collecting antique Ball jars (fruit jars), and the history of the Ball jar. Based in Pompton Plains, NJ, Bruce can be reached via his website, Balljars.net.

One of the most common fruit jars ever produced is the lowly Ball jar. Historical figures show that from between Sept 1, 1894 until Dec 31, 1961, 41,256,856 Gross jars were produced by the Ball Glass Mfg Co. A staggering number, what this suggests is that Ball jars should be a readily available commodity and very easy to find, making collecting Ball Jars a somewhat easier venture since more of these jars exist then probably any of the other manufacturers combined. Yet with all that glass out there to be found, it has become a colossal challenge to categorize, date and fully understand the minutia of variants produced by the Ball Glass Mfg Co. Plus, there is a sub-minutia of variances in the entire differing genre of Ball jars, to make matters even more convoluted.

perfect mason ball jar green

Perfect Mason ball jar

Now, who hasn’t at one time or another, whether at a garage sale, antique store, grandma’s basement or in some hole-in-the-wall come across a Ball jar, whether a PERFECT MASON, IDEAL, SURE SEAL, IMPROVED, SPECIAL or one of the myriad of other varieties of jars produced over the last century plus by the Ball Glass Mfg Co. Incredibly, though, many people have failed to recognize the true importance these jars played in our nation’s history. And believe me when I tell you, Ball jars are a quintessential part of American history and as much so as apple pie or ice cream.

Imagine this: the Ball jar was at one time reviled by the vast majority of the collecting world as worthless and a complete waste of time, money, and energy. Yet a small group of collectors just happened to see the beauty, value, and future in collecting Ball jar, so much so that yes, amazingly, despite all the odds and over many years, Ball jars have now blossomed into one of the most highly sought after collectibles among jar hobbiests today.

Perfect Mason ball jar

Why is this so? Why the drastic change? Well, coming from a 30-year perspective in the hobby, I can say simply a few things; 1) there are many more collectors now than ever before vying for the few good jars known to exist or being discovered. 2) Most of the highly sought after truly historical jars are out of reach financially for the vast majority of collectors. 3) Most of the few prized historical jars are already in someone else’s collection. 4) The few historical jars still left intact are not readily available for the average collector to even consider purchasing. 5) With the advent of eBay the playing field has leveled somewhat but the ultimate overall cost still is a huge factor for the average collector because overall, eBay is not a bargain.

On the other hand, as we have already previously established, Ball jars are a readily available commodity. Plus, the wonderful character of the glass, the beautiful breathtaking colors and hues, the varying closure types, the myriad embossing styles, and the re-worked and modified moulds make Ball jars a viable alternative to other much more expensive collectible jars. And yes, out of all those millions of jars produced, there are many one-of-a-kind Ball jars, rare as well as scarce, and worth considerable amounts of money. Yet I personally consider some of the $1 jars out there to be just as pleasing and desirable as the expensive ones. The passion that truly drives a Ball jar collector on is that around any corner is the possibility of a new discovery, a totally different and unknown variation, a possible piece of the puzzle solved, or a really crude masterpiece.

improved ball jar

Improved ball jar

I truly consider myself a very fortunate and lucky person that I just happened to be one of those few collectors who recognized long ago the intrinsic value, beauty, and history of Ball jars when they were objects of disdain or simply overlooked by so many others. I’m so grateful I had the foresight to collect Ball jars because despite the fact many of the good ones in my early years were financially and geographically out of reach, I still managed to acquire a very small but desirable collection through knowledge, insight, persistence, patience, and hard work.

But, what I have truly gained over the years besides the wonderful jars in my collection is something far more intrinsically valuable, namely the many great people who befriended me, taught me, reasoned, bantered with me, traded with me, sold jars to me, and shared their lives. For that I am truly grateful. I can honestly say that collecting Ball jars has been one of the most satisfying adventures in my life and something I will never regret doing as long as I live.

Do you have an article you’d like us to publish as a guest column in The Collectors Weekly? Let us know.

87 comments so far

  1. Tiffany Says:

    Hello, I was just cleaning out my husbands g-ma’s old canning room in her basement. We had came across hundreds of canning jars. Well we had found several old QT aqua or light blue Ball jars. One found has black specks and bubbles all through out the glass. Another jar 1896-1910 the signature BALL(3L’s) is barely embossed u cant see it at a distance unlike the others and most of its smooth but you can still tell what it is. Also on another Ive never seen on BALL(3L’s) the B Is all connected cursive( the bottom of the B connects with the top and through) and real fancy like and a period on the other side after 1858. Could these possibly be Collector jars? I dont know whether to save or sell. Thanks.

  2. eddie Says:

    i have a very large jar about 4 gallon in size embosed eagle holding olive branch and arrows with 7 stars around eagle other side has masons then an embosed star patatend november 30 1858 crakled finish embosed on bottom i beleve it to be made in 1976 my question is what would such a large jar be used for and can you tell me where to find a correct screw on lid for it and did it have a carrying handle around the neck if so i need that too i beleve it to have a value between 40 and 80 dollars please correct me if that is wrong any help would be apprieciated

  3. Kelly Says:

    I am a collector of Ball jars and I “think” that I have some rare ones from my curb shopping, garage sales, etc… How do I find out more about them. I really dont want to part with them but I want to know the worth of them. I have searched on line and have not been successful. Please help !

  4. Corey Galvin Says:

    I have purchased a house recently and after cleaning out the basement I have found about 30 different canning jars. Also a few boxes with jar rubbers and lids. Mostly Ball, some Kerr, Atlas and a McDonald. Most are glass lids with wire fastners. I also have 4 of the same 1/2 gallon Ball jugs that the person (post 25) has. Just curious if I can send some pics to determine value and/or if someone is interested in buying them?

  5. libbie boyd Says:

    how do i know my #13 ball jars are authentic?

  6. Rebecca Myers Says:

    I have come across some Ball perfect mason jars which all have numbers on the bottom of the jar,as a collector of old jars could you tell me what the value of them are? Thank you

  7. mel Says:

    i have a mason jar with a picture of a skleton key on it . with red print over the key . and below it says mason. i am trying to find out what year it was made in .

  8. Elana Dalley Says:

    I have come across several jars that have the metal bale on them and are listed as the “Ball Ideal”….if you could give me some information as to the value of these jars. Thank you, Elana Dalley

  9. Patrick Reeves Says:

    I have about 3 dozen old jars including Ball, Mason,and other brands, all are wire closing with glass lids . However I don’t have the rubber gaskets. Some are blue in color most are clear. Can someone help me locate gaskets I would also like to find the value these.

  10. Cliff Meredith Says:

    My uncle died a few years ago and while going through his attic I came upon a box of blue Ball Perfect Mason jars. All but a few of them had the old medal
    tops and there are two sizes, the small has a 15 on the bottom, which looks to be a quart size, and the larger one has a 6, which may be two quarts, I’m not sure. My question is, on the larger one, perfect is spelled “PERFFCT”. Was this common for jars to have misspelled words and how can I find out how old they are? Thanks.

  11. Katherine Jolliffe Says:

    Hi, I have a mason jar pint size kind of a light greenish blue, it has a zinc lid and small bubbles and the only thing it says is THE Mason and the loop from the M goes around the word THE. It has a thin seam down 2 sides and small circles and a 1 or a small line in the center of the bottom. The zinc lid does say Ball at the top so not sure if it’s an original lid or not. Does anyone have an idea on the age or value and what is the best book to buy to determine value.

    Thanks in advance for any help:))

  12. linda sanchez Says:

    I enjoyed your column very much and am pleased to find someone else who likes Ball canning jars as much as I do. My grandmother gave me an agua jar with “Ball Mason” on one side, number “2” on the bottom, more than 50 years ago. That was the start of my collection. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’ve never canned a single piece of fruit and my grandmother would be mortified! Will you be giving more details about your collection in future columns?

  13. Scott Gibbons Says:

    Folks, some of the best resources out there to answer fruit jar related questions are as follows below.

    Great Book: Red Book of Fruit Jars, most libraries do have one edition or another and this book is currently in it’s 10th edition of printing: http://www.redbookjars.com/

    Great Website: The Antique Bottle Forum has a robust section on Fruit Jars: http://www.antique-bottles.net/forum/Jars-General-discussion/forumid-11/tt.htm
    Also using the search function/option in the fruit jar specific discussions on terms such as “13” or other information can answer a number of the posted questions; I suggest using this search function prior to posting a question.

  14. Annette Bell Says:

    We came across two ball mason jars 1/2 gallon size with a glass seal marked with a J in a square and Mason underneath. One has 64A/A10 on the bottom and the other has a 1 underneath the Ball Perfect Mason on the side of the jar. Can you tell us the date of manufacture and value

  15. jennifer fenwick Says:

    I have about 300 green ball mason jars some are quart half gallons, pints, half pints, and some even smaller.I have ben told that some are called moonshine jars
    I would like to sell but I don’t know what they are worth can you help me?

  16. sherin moline Says:

    I’ve been searching ever website I can find to see if anyone else may have a jar like I have. It’s not a Mason Ball jar, but its shape is similar to a fruit canning jar. It’s dark purple, has a wire clasp which only allows the lid to open..not come off. On the front of the jar it says “TEA” and on the top and below the word TEA it has a decorative design like a vine type approx. 3 inch design. Thebottom of the jar says MADE in ITALY…and 1/2L. Ben, from Collectors Weekly has been trying to help me find a picture of it somwhere in different areas, but so far no luck. He’s been wonderful trying to help. I looked at TheBest Of Show (Hall of Fame) and only found one that at least is the same color. The lid is totally different though being wire. At least I’ve been able to find the closest in color. Is there any way I could contact jar collectors on GOOGLE or YAHOO, to see if anyone might have a clue. The local library is ordering a book for me which I hope may be of some help. Thanks for any comments or suggestions. I could sure use any information you may have. Thanks so much. !!

  17. Juanita Morris Says:

    I have an old mason jar (MASON’S PATENT NOV. 30TH 1858) with bubbles and a little lop-sided. I know it is an older jar but I find it a little odd because it has rainbow colors in it. Was this jar made like this or has it been altered? If it was made like this does it make it a valuable jar? Thanks!

  18. pat foster Says:

    I found a jar at a yard sale here in Tennessee. When I returned home and began cleaning it I noticed it had a picture of a black gentleman, mouth open wide, eating what I later found out to be an oyster. It has the words “Nigger Head Brand” on one side and Ball Ideal on the other. It has a glass lid held on by a metal band. Perfect condition. I contacted the Biloxi Historical Society who referred me to the Maritime and Seafood Museum in Biloxi. I can’t seem to find information on this jar only the cans. I do know they changed the name in 1954 or 55 to Negro Head Brand. Can you help me? Thank you so much!!

  19. Alison Says:

    I found this site to be helpful.
    http://home.earthlink.net/~raclay/DatingBalljars.HTML

  20. Dave Says:

    I have a Ball jar, with an eagle and am looking for the gasket…inside diameter is 4″ Any suggestions? Or perhaps I can make one?

  21. Michael Tabor Says:

    Over the years my church has cleaned out cellars and obtained may of the ball and mason canning jars with the glass lid and wire bail. I am in search of repair kits for the metal bails. Is there anyone out thers who knows where I can find these parts?

  22. sherry henry Says:

    I have a ball perfect mason – blue and the number 4 , when you look at it from the bottom, it’s backwards. is that normal.? Thanks.

  23. Tracey connell Says:

    I recently acquired a couple of old 2quart mason jars. The older looking of the two just says ball (in old script) then mason underneath. Nowhere does it say “perfect”. Is it old or fake or what exactly?

  24. Hailey englund Says:

    Hey there I was at antique store and I found one of the jars I was wounding how it’s worth it’s one of your blue jar with the number 7 with a line under it and the has 10 or a 1 either which way you look at it

  25. renee duprey Says:

    I recently recieved alot of older jars , they have hook wires ,ones that hook into shallow holes on the neck of the jar.Anyway is there anywhere I can get new wires like this to use the jars? Thank you

  26. Christian Says:

    I have a friend who collects jars! She has a jar with an African American male on it eating an oyster bellow this picture it says N*gger head brand. The other side of the jar says Atlas e-z seal. Any info would be greatful.

  27. Lin Jones Says:

    I have a Ball Ideal Jar Pat’d 1908 with a glass lid and wire bail. On the jar neck the words “Bail Here” are embossed. The uniqueness is that the word “Bail” has the letter “B” embossed backward. Anybody ever see this on a jar?

  28. Scott Says:

    I have found a pink decorated vase type thing with a screw on cover that has the name ball inscribed in the bottom as the jars do. Has numbers and letters A10 d23hw

  29. Sandy Chapman Says:

    I have a McDonald New Perfect Seal Pat D July 14, 1908 with glass lid & bale that has 4 embossed backward on the bottom. Is this an error or rare?

  30. Genna Says:

    I have a question. I found a mason jar this weekend and it had the number 18 on the bottom. I have never seen that before and I know they only mad 1-15. Does anyone know anything about this. Thank you. Genna

  31. Robin Says:

    I recently found a 5-gallon clear glass Pickle Jar with a perfectly intact label of ‘Aunt Jane’s Dill Pickles’ on the front with the listing of the ingredients & company address. It has a metal wire wrap around the neck with a handle on the top. Has a white screw-on lid. On the bottom on the jar are wavy glass markings with the number/1 encircled. The jar is a large pear shaped pretty jar. Can anyone direct me on where I may find a listing of information/details/value of these types of jar? Thanks much!

  32. brandy huey Says:

    a friend found a bunch of assorted canning qt jars. One of which says samco super mason on it in raised lettering and the glass is clear in color. the number 18 on the bottom. There were other canning jars …one has no manufacturer name on it but looks like a grid with a smooth place meant for a label. are these as rare as I think?

  33. JIMMIE MOORE Says:

    I have a blue mason quart mason jar with a circled # 4 on bottom and with the letter A on outside of circle. I can’t find any information on this type of blue mason jar.

  34. susie Says:

    i have an old purple kerr canning jar, pint size. does anyone know anything about it?

  35. Kevin Osborne Says:

    I have a blue Ball ideal jar. I beleave it was made in between 1910-1923?I bel eave my jar is a misprint .The d i Ideal isnt barely visable .My question is how much is my misprinted Ball jar worth also it has a 5 underscored on base.please help me identify the value of my jar please. Thank you.

  36. Daniel Says:

    I have a blue ball mason jar it has a f on the bottle but it is not followed my any number what does thay mean

  37. dorothy hamilton Says:

    Found a genuine sculpted glass ball 84 64A Mason jar A8. Small mouth with grapes apples orange pear cherries strawberries in the front it’s a half gallon. How old is it and worth of you know. Thank you.


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