Invented by John L. Mason in 1858, the Mason jar revolutionized food preservation. His design was copied by many others, including the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company, which began in 1884 and quickly became the front runner of the industry. Still sold today, Ball jars are widely revered among home canners and collectors alike. Knowing the particular characteristics of old Ball jars can help determine the age, and hence the value, of your jars.
How to Tell the Age of Ball Jars
Look for identifying marks on the jar's bottom. Ball's first jars were manufactured in Buffalo from 1884 until the company moved to Indiana in 1886. Known as "Buffalo jars," BBGMCo can be found on the bottom. A pontil scar, or indentation on the bottom, shows that a jar was blown into a mold by hand rather than machine, a common practice before 1915.
Examine the "Ball" logo on the jar's face. Buffalo jars did not feature a logo. In 1888, Ball introduced its first logo, a Gothic style, which was used until 1893. A horizontal script logo with a disconnected underscore was used from 1894 until 1896, when it was replaced by an upward script "Ball" with an extra loop connecting the underscore. In 1923, the underscore and front leg of the "a" were removed, but the underscore reappeared in 1933. The present logo, which no longer features a loop on the down stroke of the "B," appeared in 1960.
Identify the jar's line. The name of the line may or may not be on the jar. If not, compare it to characteristics of specific lines in your identification guide. Sure Seal jars were introduced in 1910, Perfection jars in 1914, and Improved jars in 1915. These three lines were discontinued in 1922 and replaced with Eclipse jars, made until 1952. Perfect Mason jars were introduced in 1910 and Ideal jars in 1915; both were manufactured until 1962. Freezer jars appeared immediately after World War II and disappeared in 1952. The 1920s' Jelly Glasses, 1955's Can-Or-Freez jars, and 1966's Quilted Crystal jelly jars are still made today. Ball's rare Universal jars, of which only 50 were made, were manufactured in 1937 or 1938.
Determine the type of lid closure of the jar. The closure on Buffalo jars consisted of a glass lid and zinc band. Standard jars, made from 1895 to 1912, featured a mouth groove that held a metal lid, which was then secured with sealing wax. Wire-bail closures, in which the glass lid was attached to the jar, were introduced in 1898, and were sealed with a tin-plated lid.
Examine the lid itself, if any. Two-piece metal closures with jar rubbers--a rubber gasket to help sealing--appeared in 1934. In 1955, the modern two-piece metal vacuum caps that include a rubber-gasket component on the outer edge of a flat disk lid were introduced.
Look for a patent date, which is not the date of manufacture but rather the date of the jar's patent application. "Pat Apl'd" began to appear on jars around 1898. Many Sure Seal jars have "PAT'D JULY 14, 1908" near the bottom, and many jars from the Perfection line include the dates of April 10, 1900 or April 26, 1907 near the base.
Ball made jars in varying sizes and colors, including clear glass, amber, yellow, green, aqua and the distinctive "Ball-blue." Color or size alone will not help determine a jar's age, but certain colors or sizes of specific lines are rare.
Mold numbers, or large numbers on the jar's bottom, do not help determine the jar's age. Ball did not record mold numbers in a way that can help identify jars today.