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Modern Roots

Breathing New Life Into Canning Jar History

Modern RootsI got to the store at about 9 a.m. yesterday and many times I leave the door unlocked. It doesn't bother me if my customers or new wanderers stumble in before I open. I happened to leave the door propped as I stirred and poured lotions. A tall man came in, and I yelled 'hello' from behind the curtain as I typically do. I came out to the front and talked with him a bit, he looked familiar. He asked if I wanted some old jars. Probing for more information I asked him what they looked like and how many he had.

He replied, "Hundreds."

old jars covered in dust, bugs and dirt

I asked if he had a sample of the sizes so he went out to his vehicle to retrieve some. He came back with very vintage blue and blue/green mason pint and quarts jars. I asked, "Do you have any 1/2 gallon sizes?" and he said, "Boxes."

"How much you want for them and how many do you have to buy?" I questioned.

"Oh, 50 cents each, and as many as you'd like. I'm cleaning out an elderly lady's shop. Her husband passed away quite a few years ago, and she wants it all cleared out," he answered.

Quick to respond, "I'll take 200 and see from there." Besides, I can always use more canning jars, I thought.
He was excited. He had a place to drop them off so he could finish his handy work for this woman. He'd already dumped some off with an antique vendor who took about 100 jars, he mentioned. So what the heck. If they weren't what I expected I can always use jars.

He said, "OK, be back in a couple hours." Well that's quick, I thought. Alright.

As he was walking out I said, "No chips, and no cracks. Bring various sizes."

He said, "Yep."

How interesting. Does he know I have a jar obsession? Skeptical of quality and what he was going to bring I got back to work.

globe tobacco containerCouple hours later he came with boxes. I had cleared a spot in the back and in between helping customers I dug through the boxes that he kept stacking up.

These were not just jars. Some were from the patent date era 1858 while others were from 1910. I didn't have time at the moment to date them (especially since there were so many). And lucky for me, there was more than jars. There were a few pharmaceutical bottles for tinctures, glass tobacco containers, and the list goes on.

This woman's husband was a collector. There were written notes on the jars with the date he bought them (many from the 1970s/80s, including the newspapers he wrapped them in), whose estate sale he bought them from, the town name, what he paid, and the approximate value at the time. He collected these. They meant something to him to record that much detailed information about his treasures. Jar collecting became very popular in the early 1960s and given the notes and dates of the newspapers, this too is when he started his treasure hunt.

After dropping off 200 jars, etc., I asked if he had gone through everything else she was getting rid of.

"I am particularly interested in milk jugs, some more smaller jars, and anything amber or amethyst colored."

He said, "Yea, I'll take a look and get back with you." I phoned Mr. Hunky to let him know my jar collection just tripled/possibly more.

He tells me, "I wouldn't expect anything less of you."

I said, "So glad you know me." And got back to work.

My fun new friend came back with more boxes. This time he had really old milk jugs and asked if I wanted any crocks. Being the extreme fermenter that I am, "Sure, I'll take a look" was my reply.

The crocks were by The Weir Co., typically circa early 1900s. He wanted $5 each. Not digging into their quality I took all seven. They are usually used for sauerkraut and fermented pickle making. Their sizes ranged from 1 quart to 1/2 gallon. I was now just short 400 jars plus a bunch of miscellaneous glass jars.

I asked him where he was headed next or if he got rid of everything he needed to. He said the back of his jeep was still full of the large 1/2 gallon blue masons. I said, "Ah, shoot, let me see 'em." Went out and these were all circa 1858-1910 with the galvanized tops and inserts. I said, "What do you want for these? He said, "For you, the same, 50 cents each."

I answered, "Alright, hate to see them separated from their siblings, I'll take 'em all."

He said, "Oh good." And he dumped all the rest in the back with the others.

As he was leaving I asked, "Why did you stop at my store next?" He replied, "Well you're that girl at the farmers' market. I thought you would use them." And use them I will.

After I closed, I was so excited to go through my boxes. I love old packaging, glass and history.

These kinds of finds are my favorite. In fact, they found me I believe, for a reason. This man who collected these jars cared about their worth and their quality. If he knew that I bought all of his treasure for 50 cents a pop, he may be rollin' right now. Or perhaps smiling because he knows I will use these, breathe life into a little piece of canning history, and be able to pass these true treasures onto my daughter (when she values such things).

I brought some of my treasures home and start cleaning. I was up late washing and scrubbing jars. I am still washing jars today. I won't be done cleaning these babies for a week.

After skimming the surface on canning jar history – I have bought several books to help me distinguish exact or close dates of production. Really, the only way to tell is by the writing on the jar. The numbers on the bottoms of the old jars only reflect the number of mold used. It was a quality control measure. If mold #4 was producing jars that easily cracked or chipped, they chucked it.

Most of the jars were 'Mason' jars. In 1858, John Mason created a twist-on opening with threads to use re-usable tight fitting lids, revolutionizing the canning industry. Which is why the large print "Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858" is labeled on jars that were made between 1858 to the early 1920s.

Mason sold the patent a year later to the Sheet Metal Screw Co. run by Lewis R. Boyd. Boyd created the galvanized zinc lid with glass insert to keep food from touching the metal. Boyd and Mason partnered together and made thousands of jars between 1859 and 1910. Mason jars came in several colors with black and emerald being most rare. Amber and cobalt blue are also rare while blue and light green being more common of the colors. Depending on the maker and date of the logo, some jars have been worth $30,000 with many falling into the $1,000-5,000 dollar range.

It wasn't until 1884 when the five Ball Brothers started manufacturing jars. There are several manufacturers up until that date and after, making the ones that were not common worth more. Jars that were made with the smallest date range, unique lid style and color typically are worth more. Other manufacturers are Atlas (Hazel-Atlas), Boyd, The Mason, Jeannette Mason, Anchor Hocking, Pine, Duraglass, LongLife, Presto, and more.

Here are some photographs of my jars that found me.

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half gal  rough top ground

1858 patent mason 

v  atlas

amethyst milk jug  atlas pint


Ball in all caps  dusty old crocks

gallon pharmaceutical  half gallons with zinc lids

jeanette mason  large wine bottles

Ball logos dating

longlife sprouting jar   hazel atlas pint with bail

getting them put in the canning closet 

the mason

cleaned crocks

My New Canning Closet

Modern RootsOne of my favorite parts of homesteading is canning. I love to see my garden in jars during the winter months. Preserving the bounty of summer is great fun, but conveniently storing the jars is another chore.

Our staircase downstairs turns halfway back on itself creating a nice cool space under the steps. It was used mainly as storage for Christmas stuff before I started to set all my canned goods in there. I was getting loads of jars from the garden during the hot summer months. This presented an issue, since floor space was being taken up by all the jars I had. I would tip-toe around stuff and occasionally break a lightbulb that hung down from the low ceiling with my head. However, I did not complain, but Mr. Hunky certainly saw this as an eyesore.

The storage area under the steps has a door so I would just keep it shut, didn't bother me any. A couple weekends ago, Mr. Hunky said he was going to make it into a pine-board canning closet. Pine, keeping it dry and still cool; I thought that would be fantastic. I never thought it would turn out the way it did though.


Usually when Mr. Hunky is going to 'improve' my life in some way, I generally let him go with it. The new closet with shelves and new lighting is economical and space saving. Canning is going to be even more worth it with a convenient, cool, dry place to store my goods for winter. Hopefully, with the added space I can produce enough vegetables for two years worth of canned goods instead of one.

We used pine: tongue and groove, 2-by-2-inch square boards for shelving brackets/wall stabilizers (instead of metal brackets), 10-foot boards in 8 inches and 12 inches for shelves, and pine molding.

Additional supplies include miter saw, nail gun, screws, hammer, and one Mr. Hunky.

Here are some before and afters of the completed canning closet!

before canning closet 

before canning closet 2   lights

without shelves   left

finished back canning closet 


Be sure to checkout more of my homesteading mayhem at my website, and my online natural soaps and body care store here!