How old is that Mason jar? Look at the logo

By: 
TONYA MICHALEC

Mason jars didn’t just come out of the blue. They evolved out of necessity.

In the beginning cooks used whatever they could get their hands on, such as  glasses or jars, and even champagne bottles. But most didn’t work. Either the glass was too thin and would crack under the boiling water, or the neck was not wide enough to allow for the passage of food. Some exploded during the boiling process because little was known about proper sealing and head space.

But all this changed in 1858 when a New Jersey native filed a patent for a glass jar that stood up to the test.

John Landis Mason, inventor and tinsmith, realized that reusing jars designed for other purposes was getting everyone nowhere.

Through his own trials, he found that the container must be made of strong glass, have a wide mouth and a screw thread on the outer perimeter of the opening allowing for a metal band, or ring, to allow for a better seal due to a rimless lid.

A milk crate filled with old Mason jars stopped The White Glove last week at Two Hounds Antiques, 202 N. Water St., Wilmington. Each of the blue-tinted glass jars were priced at $5.

Along with the logo of “Ball Perfect Mason”, the quart-sized jars have small imperfections inside the glass that look like bubbles and are also embossed on the bottom with numbers like “10,12,3.”

According to ball.com, Ball Mason jars were made by them  26 years after Mason secured his patent. Ball, which began in 1880 as the Wooden Jacketed Can Company, was founded in Buffalo, NY by five brothers determined to corner the container making business: William, Edmund, Frank, Lucius and George Ball.

The brothers started making wood-jacketed tin cans for holding hardware store liquids like paint and kerosene before expanding to glass and tin-jacketed containers. By 1884, the company began producing  home-canning jars.

Within two years of their first batch of Mason jars, the men changed the name of their company to Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company and relocated to Muncie, IN.

The business thrived, thanks to a decrease in overhead expenditures, such as the natural gas incentives offered by the city, and from the rapidly growing demand for its reliable food preservation jars.

Although Ball is no longer the name of the company today, production of Mason jars takes place in 45 different locations worldwide.

Little has changed with the product since Ball started rolling them out 133 years ago.

The jars can be purchased in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors. Choices in size go from 4-ounce quilted jelly jars all the way up to 64-ounce smooth glass jars that work great for whole vegetables or large batches of sauce.

Companies have stayed true to sticking with the Ball brothers’ tradition of making them from clear glass, or that which is lightly tinted blue or green. Recently, Mason jars can be bought in nearly  every color of the rainbow.

There is a way to identify when a Ball mason jar was produced says Karen M. Vincent, in her article titled: “How to Date a Ball Jar.”

Unfortunately, according to Vincent, none of the manufacturing companies, Ball Brothers included, stuck to any kind of routine when it came to embossing production dates into jars. And, just because a date is present, such as 1858, that does not mean that is when it was made, nor do the series of numbers featured on the underside of the jars.

Remember, 1858 is when Mason received his patent for his design of the threaded closure. And, since many different brands used his design, many different jars were required to have his patent year on them.

Back to the numbers embossed on the bottom, often shown in a set of three and separated by commas, they are called mold numbers. They say nothing about when the item was produced, but point out the position that the mold in which the jar was made attached to the glass-making machine.

Vincent claims the best way to date Ball mason jars is by the Ball logo itself. Since they were first made, the script of the Ball logo has changed slightly after its first year, others after several decades.

In the beginning, Ball was not yet the name of the company, so the first logo on Mason jars has BBGMC, which stands for Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company. It was used for roughly two years when the plant was based in NY, circa 1885 to 1886.

The second and third logo styles are the block and underscored script-styled Ball logos. Both were used between 1895 and 1896. The fourth style, which was used from 1900 to 1910, consists of a script-style Ball that appears to have a third “l”, which is actually just a connected underscore, or underlining slash drawn from right to left.

From 1910 to 1923 Ball jar logos feature a lower positioned “a” and removal of loop used to connect the last “l” to the underscore. The sixth logo style was used from 1923 to 1933 and is void of both the underscore and ascender.

The underscore was returned to the seventh logo style and used from 1933 until 1962. The eighth style change is still in use today and is the only logo that has a fully enclosed, loopless “B.”

Prior to it, all of the other logos have had at least one loop and at least one open edge in the first letter of the brand name.

By using Vincent’s points of identification, it appears that the Ball jar shown in the snapshot above was produced during the seventh wave of logo styles, making it approximately 55 to 84-years-old.

For what they are worth, it looks like in the case of antique Ball Mason jars, the bigger and the older, the better. Per popular on-line auction sites, one can expect to pay less than $1 for 5-ounce jars and up to $111 for one-gallon jars.

Contact writer Tonya Michalec at tmichalec@fpnusa.com.

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