Identifying Antique Canning Jars: What to Look For

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What do old canning jars look like? If you’re a foodie or a canning enthusiast in the United States, then odds are you’ve come across antique canning jars at some point. They come in all kinds of colors and types; clear, olive green, and even cobalt blue. Whether you’ve found Ball jars in your grandmother’s basement or stumbled upon them at a flea market, these vintage jars are highly sought after for their unique history and distinctive designs. But how do you identify them? Let’s take a look at the basics of identifying these unique and antique canning jars that have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. 

Age of the Jar 

The age of an antique jar is one of the most important factors when it comes to identification. Did you know you can date these jars down to specific decades? The best way to determine the age of a jar is by looking at the markings on its bottom. For example, many older jars will have a patent date stamped onto their base. This information will give you an idea of when the jar was made and who produced it. It may also provide insight into what type of material was used to make the jar, such as glass or metal. 

Shape and Size 

One-quart jars with wide mouth openings were used primarily for jams, jellies, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables that could be easily spooned out. Taller jelly jars with narrower openings were designed for holding liquid foods such as pickles, relishes, and sauces. Smaller half-pint jars were typically used for preserves, fruits in syrup or brine, jams, jellies, and small vegetables like green beans. People are starting to use glass jars as a way to store their lunch on the go (ie. salad containers, yogurts, overnight oats, etc.). The shape of antique canning jars was determined by their purpose! 

It’s important to note that some old jars may not have any markings at all; this could mean that the jar you found may be a reproduction jar or handmade jar from the pre-1900 era. Reproduction jars often have a different shape than authentic antiques and lack any kind of labeling or embossment. Handmade jars usually lack any kind of uniformity in shape or coloration—the clay used was often from whatever raw materials were available in the area at the time.  

Marks & Logos 

The best way to identify antique canning jars is by looking for marks and logos on the bottom of the jar. Many household name manufacturers used specific marks or logos that helped differentiate their products from others on the market. For instance, Ball corporation mason jars typically have a ball logo featuring two overlapping circles with a script font below it that reads “Ball.” Similarly, Kerr jars often feature an embossed logo with the words “Kerr” and “Mason” written above and below each other in capital letters.  

Design Characteristics       

Another way to identify antique canning jars is by looking for design characteristics that were popular during certain time periods. For example, early 1800s-era jars tend to be more squat in shape with wide mouths compared to later models which were taller and had narrower openings as opposed to jars manufactured in the early 1900s. 

Antique canning jars typically had either a wire bail closure, which was attached to the side of the jar with metal loops or a zinc lid with a rubber sealer gasket. The wire bail closures were used between about 1880 and 1920, and the zinc lids were used between about 1910 and 1930. You may still find some of these closures on antique jars today, though many have been replaced with modern screw-on lids. If you find an old wire bail closure that’s still intact, it’s likely an antique jar. 

The color of the glass in antique canning jars is often darker than in more modern versions. This is because earlier versions were made with manganese dioxide, which turns glass purple when exposed to sunlight. Most vintage jars also have mold seams, which are vertical lines down the side of the jar that indicate it was mass-produced in a mold. If a jar has no mold seams, it could be hand-blown or even older than 200 years old! 

And don’t forget the logos and symbols that are featured on the jars! These different logos often include two letters (usually “AT” for Atlas), the company name (Atlas Mason Jar Company), or even just an image such as a starburst or flower design. Many of these logos are extremely detailed, so look closely for any embossed markings on your jar! Embossing is one of the best ways to identify antique mason jars since modern versions usually don’t have this feature. 


Finally, take into consideration the condition of the jar you have. Is it cracked or chipped? Does the lid fit snugly? Is there any rust or discoloration? All of these little things will affect how much your jar is worth and should be taken into account before attempting to assign value to your antique canning jar. It’s always better for your pieces to be in good condition if you want to fetch higher prices.

If you’re looking for further reading, there are several books available that specialize in helping people identify their vintage canning jars such as A Collector’s Guide to Ball Jars by William F. Brantley or Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry—both are excellent resources for anyone interested in learning any additional information about their unique rare jars.

With so many different types of antique canning jars out there, it can be difficult to determine which ones are valuable pieces of history and which ones are just good for home decor pieces that don’t carry any real value beyond aesthetics. However, if you understand how to spot distinguishing features such as age markings, manufacturer’s logos, design characteristics, etc., then you should be able to quickly identify any vintage jar that crosses your path! So next time you come across a mysterious old jar tucked away at flea markets or antique stores, put your knowledge to work and see if it’s worth digging deeper into its past!