Over the years, I’ve learned how to date and identify antique Mason Jars while acquiring a collection of them in different shapes, sizes, and colors. I collected antique Ball Mason Jars for years before I began making our Mason Jar candles.
It probably started around the time I inherited a few pieces of antique glassware from my grandmother’s china cabinet… a love for old things (especially glassware) started that day many years ago and hasn’t stopped since!
To me, part of what makes them so special is their nod to simpler days gone by. These jars carry a special history with them and if we listen, they have stories to tell.
Here are some tips for determining the age and types of different Mason Jars. Along with key features like logo variations, text, and number embossments to keep an eye out for during your antique search.
A History of the Ball Brothers
Now a household name, the Mason Jar’s history dates back to the Ball Brothers (Edmund, Frank, George, Lucius & William). When the brothers founded Ball in 1880 they made wood-jacketed tin cans.
They started the company with a loan of $200 from their uncle. Then Frank and Edmund bought Wooden Jacket Can Co, the predecessor of the Ball Corporation.
In 1884, the five brothers expanded their business to glass home canning jars. The Ball Company, originally established in Buffalo, NY moved to Muncie, IN in 1887 to better take advantage of the natural gas reserve and to grow their expanding business.
How to Date Ball Mason Jars
Since Ball Mason Jars have been mass-produced for nearly a century and a half, there are many variations to the jars and how they were. Noting key features and special container types can show you how to date Ball Mason Jars.
One of my favorite parts of making candles in antique jars is the thrill of hunting for these old, special containers! We search antique stores, thrift stores, estate sales, and grandma’s attic haha!
When you’re dating the ball mason jars here are the things you want to look at first.
The “Ball” logo embossed on the glass of Mason Jars changed and evolved over the years. Noting the logo variations helps us to date our jars!
You have a very old jar if you see the BBGMC logo. This was the earliest version the company used when they were referred to as “Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company.” These became known as “Buffalo Jars” since they were manufactured in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo jars are old and rare, only manufactured from 1885 to 1886!
Ball Jar Logo Date Chart
You can use this Ball Mason Jar Logo Age Chart to reference the different variations and their associated time period.
Look for Embossed Phrases
As time went on, the Ball logo was simplified and evolved from block letters to different variations of cursive script. They eventually added additional words such as “Special” or “Perfect” that help us to identify the style and time period as well.
Look for embossed phrases on the front of the Mason Jar, they are helpful clues! These identifying phrases, such as “Improved”, “Perfect”, or “Special” were often printed on a jar for several years at a time and indicate the time period the jars were manufactured.
Mason Jar Phrase Date Chart
You can use this Ball Mason Jar Phrase Date Chart to reference the different variations and their associated time period.
Disregard the Number
When it comes to dating your antique Mason Jar, you can disregard the number printed on the bottom of the jar. It refers to the mold number (usually 0-15) and has nothing to do with when the jar was produced.
Another number to be ignored is the “1908” printed on the front of many Ball Jars, which actually refers to a patent number and not a year.
Vintage Glass Color
Like other types of antique and vintage glass, color can indicate the year of production. Most vintage Mason Jar glass was made in deeper aqua blue or “Ball Blue”. The sand used to make the “Ball Blue” color was from the Hoosier Slide sand dune on Lake Michigan.
The Ball company says that this iconic blue shade was actually created by accident when the minerals in the sand mixed and formed this gorgeous hue! This sand was also used by glass companies such as Pittsburgh Plate Glass and Hemingray Glass Co.
The Hoosier Slide sand dune had vanished by 1920, but the Ball Brothers had enough saved to get them through the next decade. After 1930, Mason Jars were produced in clear glass.
Later around the 1950s, some jars were produced in amber-like color. Other colors, including shades of olive and amber, are rarer to find.
Notice the Lid Type
Most original jar lids were made of zinc with a milk glass lining. But there is another type of antique Ball Jar referred to as “Lightning Jars.” These special jars have hinged glass lids attached with a wire bale.
The name was coined for the “lightning” speed with which they could be opened. I guess this was a big deal in the days when all of our fruits and veggies were canned by hand, I can imagine those zinc lids could be hard to loosen!
Is Your Mason Jar Antique?
If you’re still having trouble dating and identifying your antique Mason Jar, don’t be alarmed. Over the years, the Ball company and other glass manufacturers have produced reproductions of these now-collectible jars. Some are such close replicas that it can be hard to tell the difference between the old and the new!
If you really want to know if your Mason Jar is antique check for imperfections in the glass. This includes things like:
- Air bubbles inside the glass
- Lines and seams in the glasswork
- Imperfections in shape
Some of my favorite finds are the jars with noticeable imperfections like a lopsided shape or a misspelling in the words! And while I love displaying these jars around my house as decorations, I also enjoy finding new and repurposed uses for them, such as craft projects like making a snow globe, drinking glasses, flower vases, and even light fixtures!
Incorporating these special jars into my home decor, and getting creative and resourceful with all the ways they can be reused!
And of course, I really LOVE turning these timeless collections into our Mason Jar CANDLES!
How do you like to display and reuse your Antique jars? We’d love to hear!
Kimber Smith is the creative founder of The Outer Banks Candle Company. With a degree in art, she has dabbled in many art forms from oil painting to calligraphy to furniture refinishing. And when she’s not busy making candles or managing the high energy (chaos) of life with five kids, she enjoys writing about the journey of it all!