The method for preserving food using glass jars was sparked by a contest sponsored by the French military led by Napoleon Bonaparte.
The French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs to the person who devised a method to preserve food for long periods of time. French inventor Nicolas Appert was responsible for introducing the heat seal process of canning in the early 1800s. He won the prize!
Later, glass jars came of age. In the late 1850s — 1858 to be exact — when the Mason fruit jar was patented by tin smith John Mason, everything changed in the world of canning. The Mason jar solved the food preservation problem with the use of a lid and rubber seal. Mason’s patent was for the machine that cut tin into threads making it easy to manufacture a jar with a reusable screw top lid. Mason’s sealing mechanism comprised of a glass container with a thread molded top and a zinc lid with a rubber seal ring was patented on Nov. 30, 1858.
Bacteria was killed by heating the jars in hot water and sealing the jar while still hot. The heat seal process gave glass jars an important place in the collectibles realm. Today, collectors look for glass canning jars, also called fruit jars for canning and for kitchen decoration in the antiques market.
If you think one canning jar is no different from another canning jar, think again…
Clamped Glass Jars
In 1882, Henry Putnam of Bennington, Vermont, invented a glass canning jar that used a glass lid and a metal clamp closure. Called lightning jars because they could be opened in a flash, the glass lids were popular because they did not present as many contamination problems as the common zinc lids.
Many companies produced glass canning jars: Lustre, Climax, Atlas, Swayzee, Samco, etc.
The Buffalo, New York family-named Ball (the Ball jar), headed by William Charles Ball and his five brothers, produced paint and oil storage cans. From a new factory in Muncie, Indiana following a fire at their Buffalo facility, the Ball Company began producing glass storage jars. Like Mason jars, soon Ball jars became a household name. While the majority of glass canning jars sell in the $10 to $75 range, a Ball Perfection half-pint glass fruit canning jar sold recently for $600 at auction.
While both Mason and Ball took great strides in the arena of glass canning jars, Alexander Kerr made canning easier for those working in the kitchen with his introduction of wide mouth/easy to fill self-sealing canning jars. His jars allowed a threaded metal ring to stay in place during the heating process. These jars could be quickly filled and reused, too.
When it comes to valuable glass canning jars, look for embossed pattern decoration and lettering advertising the origin and maker of the jar, clear condition, no cracks or chips, and the original accessory lid, seal ring, or clamp. Happy canning and collecting!
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