How Can You Tell if a Mason Jar is Vintage?

Mason jars have resurrected, and that’s because they’re no longer just glass jars built for preserving food. These beautiful jars have now become useful accessories for everything from storage and drinking to crafts and decor. However, because of their longevity, you might come across a vintage Mason jar, but would you be able to tell?

Recognizing if a mason jar is vintage is done mainly from its physical appearance, as well as any engravings on its body. These indications of age and longevity include the lettering on the jar, glass thickness, color, engraved date, etc. A professional appraiser could also make more accurate determinations about the age of a vintage jar, as well as the valuation.

For the untrained eye, it’s still useful to know how to recognize a jar that might have seen two World Wars. Before you appraise a jar professionally, you want to know if it’s even worth the process. So, let’s delve right into the indicators you need to look out for to determine if a Mason jar is vintage.

Lot of 20 Mixed Old Vintage Mason Jars
Lot of 20 Mixed Vintage Mason Jars Sold for $30 from ai_bay on Ebay

How thick is the glass?

With earlier Mason jars, the glass used in manufacturing was thicker, compared to their modern counterparts. Today, modern jars are part of a thriving blast-from-the-past culture, and they’re often gotten for decorative purposes.

However, back in the day, they were used to store and preserve food. This meant that the thickness of the glass was an important aspect of preservation, which is why vintage jars are strong and have lasted for years.

If you’re holding a Mason jar that’s noticeably thicker than newer ones, there’s a chance you might have a vintage on your hands.

Does it have an Owen scar?

Older jars have been used for many decades, and that use tends to leave a mark behind. An Owen scar is what you’ll find under old jars, and it is usually described as a ‘round thin sharp line’.

Having likely been dragged across a surface or two over the years, there will likely be a distinct mark or ‘scar’ caused by that friction over time. This certainly won’t be the case with vintage jars that were hardly used.

So, if a Mason jar in your family home has sharp marks underneath, chances are it’s been used for a while.

What does the lettering look like?

John Landis Mason invented and patented the Mason jar, but the patent eventually expired. Once this happened, manufacturers freely produced the jar, and they enjoyed putting their names and logos on it.

One of the most popular jar-making companies at the time, Ball Corporation, kept its logos on the Mason jars. Each time Ball improved upon the jar or made changes to their logo, that change happened on their jars as well.

2 Vintage Blue Ball Perfect Mason Glass Jars w/ Zinc Lids Quart & Pint
2 Vintage Blue Ball Perfect Mason Glass Jars w/ Zinc Lids Quart & Pint Sold for $14.95 from 54canthisbeit on Ebay

This means that you can identify how old a Ball Mason jar is, purely by the company’s lettering on the jar. This dating chart will show you how the company’s lettering style evolved over the last 100 years, but here are key events in Ball’s evolution:

  • 1885-1886: Ball jars were labeled with ‘Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company’ as a medallion.
  • 1892-1896: The logo changed to block letters, simply titled ‘Ball’.
  • 1896: The logo changed to cursive letters.
  • 1900-1910: ‘Ball’ had an underscore extension that looped at the end.
  • 1910-1923: No loop on the underscore extension.
  • 1923-1933: Underscore was removed.
  • 1933-1962: The first letter ‘B’ was looped at the base.
  • 1962-today: The first letter ‘B’ links with the underscore.

How big or weird-looking is the Mason jar?

The older a jar is, the more unique it is bound to look. It isn’t surprising to see antique or vintage jars that come with round-cornered squares or cylindrical shapes. Size is also a notable thing with older jars, especially because most jars are sized to the industry standard.

You’re likely to see four standard sizes of Mason jars: the pint, half-pint, quart, and half-gallon. However, some jars, many of which were sold during Prohibition, are slightly off the usual mark. Notably, the Ball Upside-down jar was 40 ounces – sometimes 42 ounces, specifically for aiding the alcohol smuggling.

If your jar has an odd size, like 40 ounces, rather than any of the standard sizes, you could be holding onto a Prohibition Era jar.

What color is your jar?

The most popular mason jars today are either clear or lightly colored in a pale blue sheen. However, there was a time in history when other colors were used to manufacture these jars. Pale blue was often the standard, even in these times, but that didn’t stop companies from having ideas.

Vintage Ball Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858 Fruit Jar Amber
Vintage Ball Mason’s Patent Nov 30th 1858 Fruit Jar Amber Sold for $149.99 from collect_epic on Ebay

There was a time when some jar manufacturing companies decided to create some of their jars in yellow and amber. This was early in the 20th century when it was still believed that darkly colored glass would prevent the stored food from getting spoiled.

Green jars are not uncommon, especially today. However, vintage green glass had particular shades that are hardly seen in modern Mason jars. Rare shades of green, which are often decades old, are seen as highly valuable by collectors.

Vintage Atlas E-Z Seal Jar in Green
Vintage Atlas E-Z Seal Jar in Green Sold for $94.78 from horn-man on Ebay

Another vintage color that has become rather rare is blue. Not the industry-standard pale blue you see on most jars today, but the deeper blue colors. Rare colors, like cobalt blue jars, are more likely to be vintage or even antique.

So, what color is your jar? Chances are it’s transparent or has a simple blue tinge. But if it’s amber, deep blue, or a swirling green, you might be holding a relic!

What is the value of your vintage Mason jar?

Much like the determinant factors on if a jar is vintage, there are ways to recognize how valuable a particular jar could be. The simplest route, however, is taking your jar to a trained eye.

Get a professional appraisal

There’s a very good chance your Mason jar is vintage, but that doesn’t immediately increase its value. Going to a professional appraiser takes out the guesswork, so you can get direct information on how valuable your jar is.

If you cannot get an appraisal, visit some large pawn shops in your area. The owners of these shops often dabble in vintage valuables, which means they’ll have a trained eye. Going to a few will give you a general idea of the value of your Mason jar.

The jar’s current condition

It will be a little problematic if your vintage jar is riddled with chips and cracks, as these tend to bring the value down. If your jar was manufactured in the early 1900s, according to the Ball embossing, it won’t be valuable if it has numerous chinks.

If you don’t notice any issues in the jar’s condition, then you should look to get it evaluated by a professional.

Final thoughts

Before you run into the pantry at the family house and run through grandma’s Mason jars, keep a few determinants in mind first. Remember that older jars are likely to be more unique because not many of them have managed to enter the 21st century.

A professional appraiser, or even a pawn shop, can help you determine if your jar is vintage, but there are quick checks you can do. The logo, for example, is absolutely something you should check immediately with the chart, so you can immediately place the period it was manufactured.

Finally, while you may easily notice color differences, keep an eye on size differences too. A few ounces less than standard may not be usual to the average eye, but you certainly need to determine if your Mason jar is common-sized.

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