In recent years folks have re-fallen in love with the Mason jar. Many of us remember our mother or grandmother canning vegetables and fruits from the garden and others love the quaint look of flowers in a blue Mason jar. Whether used for canning or decor, the Mason jar has an interesting story to tell. Here are 8 things you really do want to know about this simple, yet magnificent, American invention.
#1 – Mason is a proper noun when referring to a Mason jar.
Mason jars were patented on November 30, 1858 by John Landis Mason, a Philadelphia tinsmith. He invented a machine that could cut screw threads in the lip of a glass jar. A metal lid with a rubber ring inside could be screwed securely on the jar and food could then be safely preserved. This was a major breakthrough because it meant summer vegetables and fruits could be preserved for the winter months.
#2 – Mason jars are not a brand but a type of glass container.
When you refer to a Mason jar, you are talking about a type of jar with screw threads at the mouth. There were once many different manufacturers of this patented design. Although many of us are familiar with Ball Mason jars, there’s also Kerr, Lamb, Atlas, Drey, Golden Harvest and a few others. Today, the primary Mason jar producer in the United States is Jarden Home Brands. Along with an extensive product line, they make both Ball and Kerr Mason jars.
#3 – The age of a Mason jar can be roughly determined by its manufacturer and logo.
With short-lived companies such as Lamb, Atlas and Drey, it’s pretty easy dating their Mason jars. For instance, a Lamb Mason jar was made from the 1930s to 1940s by the Lamb Glass Co. in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. Ball Mason jars can be roughly dated using their logo. With this chart found on the Minnetrista website, it’s pretty easy to get an approximate date.
The Ball jar on the left is dated between 1923 and 1933 because of the absent underscore. The two Ball jars are the right are dated by the lettering and underscore marking. The one of the left has an “a” loop and is dated 1910-33 while the one on the right has an open “B” loop and, with the underscore, was made between 1933-62. Cool stuff, huh?
#4 – Ball Perfect Mason jars were a type of fruit (and vegetable) canning jar made from 1913-60.
Other types of Ball jars include Ball Mason, Ball Ideal, Ball Improved, Ball Special and Ball Sure Seal.
#5 – All Ball or blue jars are not Mason.
These jars do not have a screw threads and therefore are not Mason jars. The Ball jar on the left is an Ideal Bar jar and the one on the right is a RE Tongue and Bros Lustre jar made in Philadelphia. These are called Lightning jars because you can take the lid off “fast as lightning.” This design was invented in 1882 by Henry William Putnam of Bennington, Vermont.
#6 – Mason jars come in more colors than clear or blue.
Although I have not come across them, Mason jars come in many different hues – green, pink, red, amber, yellow, cobalt blue, black and milk glass. Some of these colors are very rare and quite valuable.
#7 – 1937 was the last year a blue Ball Mason jar was made.
This means that any authentic blue Ball Mason jar is at least 77 years old. The blue color was partially caused by the minerals of the sand on the shores of Lake Michigan.
#8 – Mason jars, especially the blue Ball, are beautiful, vintage flower vases!
Before the modern grocery store with rows of canned goods and freezers stocked with frozen vegetables, there was the Mason jar. Filled with vegetables and fruits from the family’s garden, the Mason jar, with its patented screw threads and rubber sealed tops, kept food fresh in the pantry for the winter months.
Nowadays, “putting up” the garden’s bounty isn’t as important as in the past, but many folks are rediscovering this lost kitchen art and some have just continued their mother’s and grandmother’s tradition of canning their garden vegetables. I remember rows of colorful fruits and vegetables in Mason jars in my mother’s pantry. Opening one filled with tomatoes or beans was a celebration of our hard work and a delicious reminder of our summer garden.
Southern Vintage Table has vintage blue and clear Mason jars available for your next event. Use them as flower vases or as simple decor and appreciate this marvelous invention by John Landis Mason.
Want to know more about Mason jars? Here are a few websites I used for this blog post.
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