Types of Antique Canning Jars to Start Collecting

Updated December 10, 2021
assorted antique canning jars on a shelf

From pickled okra to multi-colored marbles, your grandparents and great-grandparents used canning jars to store just about anything. These antique canning jars, commonly known as mason jars, first jumped onto the scene in the mid-19th century, and they've been selling non-stop ever since. While people mostly use mason jars nowadays to make country chic cocktails, collectors run towards the oddly shaped, unusually colored, somewhat impractical jars from the past.

Popular Attributes of Antique Canning Jars

woman sealing lids on antique canning jars circa 1950

Historic canning jars come in such a wide variety of shapes, colors, closures, sizes, and brands that it's nearly impossible to compile a comprehensive list of every single jar you might have tucked away in the back of a pie safe somewhere. Rather, there's a few guiding characteristics to look for as an early indicator of what might be a canning jar to keep away from your nieces and nephews' grubby fingers.

  • Unique/unusual shapes - Before the standard cylindrical and square shapes for canning jars emerged in the 20th century, canning jars were cast out of interestingly shaped molds. Some had larger bottoms and others weren't entirely symmetrical. Either way, canning jars that don't have the typical formulaic shape are probably from the early years of mason jar production.
  • Pontil scars and bubbling - If you look around the glass itself and find obvious imperfections such as pontil scars, bubbling, mold seams, and so on, you've probably got an early canning jar in your hands.
  • Non-aqua colors - Early canning jars came in a rainbow of colors ranging from the darkest ambers to the lightest yellows. These non-aqua colors are generally more collectible than aqua ones are, if only because of their looks.
  • Maker's marks/logos - Another great way to determine if a canning jar comes from this early period in canning history is to research the logos or brand names that you find written across the front/on the bottom of the canning jar. This is because these brands' logos changed frequently and you can pinpoint a series of years that your jar was manufactured in.

Brands to Be on the Lookout For

In the early days of mason jar making, there were tons of manufacturers who created their own versions of John L. Mason's glass canning jar. To further complicate things, some of the companies sold their patents to other companies over time or licensed the patent and produced the product on their own, meaning that the actual jars styles could've switched hands three or four times in the past century. For instance, Henry William Putnam's lightning closure mason jars were manufactured by over a dozen different glass manufacturers in the United States and Canada.

These are some of the more popular brands of canning jars that you can find on the market:

Various Collectible Canning Jar Closures

Another notable element that makes an antique canning jar more collectible than the typical mid-century aluminum top one is the type of closure that it has. The closures--aka, the mechanism that keeps the glass jar from being exposed to the air--depict fascinating feats of the exploratory engineering process of the 19th century. Take these antique canning closures, for instance:

  • Mason's Original Screwtop - Mason's first mason jars were manufactured by a machine that could cut threads into the glass lids, meaning that these lids could be screwed into the tops of these jars, allowing for a somewhat snug fit.
  • Lightning Jars - Henry William Putnam devised a bail wire closure that wound wired around the jar's neck and top to keep the lid securely attached.
  • E-Z Seal Jars - Hazel-Atlas, the famous glass manufacturer for its Depression glass sets, created a new type of closure called the E-Z Seal. This seal was conceptually similar to Putnam's jars, but they raised the lids from sitting right inside the jar in order to prevent cracking.
  • Kerr Jars - Kerr's jars, that were first produced at the turn of the 20th century, were created with a metal lid which had a permanently attached gasket that fit into the jar, voiding any need for screwing.
types of antique canning jars from 1858 - 1910 infographic

Rare Canning Jars Collectors Love

Of course, not all canning jars can be the apple of your eye, and so you've got to be picky about which jars you're willing to spend the big bucks on. On top of these useful tips for separating the wheat from the chaff, you can also look for a few specific, rare canning jars to add some value to your collection.

  • Ball's Upside-Down Jar - Only manufactured for ten years, this unique jar had a dual purpose as both a canning jar and a coffee grinder; being multi-functional and a having a limited production period, Upside-Down jars are some of the most valuable today.
  • Magic Star Fruit's Black Amber Jar - Perhaps the most monetarily valuable canning jar on the market today is the Magic Star Fruit's Black Amber jar which was patented in 1886 and was made out of an opaque dark amber color.
  • Van Vliet Jars - Van Vliet jars were only produced for a four-year period and had an unusual, slight trapezoidal shape, making them a very interesting rare find.
  • Willoughby Stopple Jars - These 1858 jars used a defective two-plate closure technique, which meant that most of them didn't survive into the 21st century, making those that did rather valuable.

Can't Get Enough of These Antique Jars?

Antique canning jars have gotten an impressive comeback in the 21st century, thanks in large part to how trendy sustainability and thriftiness is today. However, if you want to take your mason jar collection up a notch, then you can start scouring the thrift stores and antique shops to add some real canning collectibles and not those dollar store jars to your mug cabinet.

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Types of Antique Canning Jars to Start Collecting