If you've been canning your own fruits and vegetables for years, then you know exactly how little mason jars have changed. An old glass on your shelf might look identical to a rare, valuable mason jar from the 19th century. In fact, if you're still using the ones your grandmother left you, that jar of spiced peaches might be worth way more than you think.
The Rarest and Most Valuable Antique Mason Jars
Value depends on a lot of factors, but many canning jars sell for under $15. However, these are a few notable examples of what your canning jar could be worth.
|Most Valuable Antique Mason Jars||Recent Sales Price|
|Van Vliet Quart Mason Jar||$23,500|
|J.D. Willoughby Mason Jar||Unknown|
|Bennett's Backwards No. 2 Quart Mason Jar||$1,295|
|Ball Perfection Milk Glass Top||$702|
|Upside-Down Ball Mason Jar||$475|
Currently, these are some of the most valuable mason jars that've recently sold at auction. Generally, they stand out for their unique and rare characteristics.
Van Vliet Quart Mason Jar
Quart-sized mason jars are already more valuable because fewer of them have survived, but this yellow-green quart-sized Van Vliet mason jar is said to be extremely rare. According to the company that sold the jar, it's believed that only two of these in this color are known to exist, hence why it sold for a shocking $23,500.
J.D. Willoughby Mason Jar
While there aren't any public sales records for the coveted 19th century J.D. Willoughby mason jar, collectors toss around values of about $1,000 each. This specific mason jar is so special because of the unique twisting Willoughby metal stopple. To the untrained eye, this stopple looks like the crank on a toy.
Bennett's Backwards No. 2 Mason Jar
Collectors love a strange item, and this misprinted Bennett's mason jar is right up their alley. Made around 1870, the front bears an obvious mistake where the No. 2 phrase is actually imprinted with a backwards facing 2. As a rather rare piece, it exceeded its expectations and sold for $1,295 at auction.
Ball Perfection Milk Glass Top
Fourth on the list is actually not a mason jar at all but a unique top. Made out of milk glass by the famous Ball Corporation - a far cry from the standard zinc tops we're used to - this top was likely made in the early 20th century and recently sold at auction for $702.
Upside-Down Ball Mason Jar
Perhaps the most infamous valuable antique mason jar is the Upside-Down Ball jar. Created to be sat on the lid instead of the glass top, this whacky design is popular with glass collectors. That being said, it's not quite as rare as some less prolific brands are, hence why it only sold for $475 at auction.
Identify Antique Mason Jars by Their Characteristics
There's not a whole lot to work with when you're assessing an antique mason jar. But there are a few specific characteristics that shifted over time which you can use to better identify what's housing your pickled okra.
Many canning jars feature the manufacturer's name or the patent date embossed on the glass. According to Minnetrista, the embossing style can help you date the jar, especially for those made by the Ball Corporation. An embossed design that is unusual or unique will fetch more.
Sometimes, you can find a jar that has a word misspelled, like with Bennett's misprinted No. 2. These mishaps make a jar rarer, adding to its overall value.
There are a variety of closures for canning jars from zinc lids to the modern screw-on lids. If you find a jar with its original closure, it'll generally be more valuable than a jar without one or with a replacement lid.
Companies experimented with numerous types of closures, many of which were very detailed, unusual, and impractical. Unique closures might not have been favored by yesteryear's homemaker, but they're a hot commodity among today's collectors.
Some of the myriad closure types you can find on these old mason jars are:
- Screw-on zinc lids
- Wax seals or a combination of wax and glass
- Milk glass inserts slipped between the zinc lids
- Metal lids with rubber gaskets
- Metal clamps or screws
Although that iconic clear-bluish glass is what most of us think of when we picture mason jars, canning jars come in a variety of colors besides clear. The more unusual the color, the more money the jar is worth.
Look for these rare non-aqua or clear jar colors the next time you're at the antique store:
- Milk glass (white)
Color can be difficult to describe and more difficult to label. What looks light blue to one person may seem aquamarine to another. You can see a variety of colors on the Hoosier Jar Color Page if you're stumped.
Many jars are quart-sized, with some being pint or jelly jars. Larger canning jars are unusual, and fewer have survived over the years. These can sell for much higher prices at auction, depending on who's watching the lots and how much they're willing to spend.
Age is an important factor that impacts old fruit jar values. Generally, the older the jar, the more it's worth. Here are some tips to help you figure out how old a jar is.
- Pontil marks or indented rings in the bottom of the jar mean it was hand finished by a glassblower - a technique that fell out of fashion by the 20th century.
- Seams also help determine the age of your jar. Seams that go all the way up the jar indicate it was machine made, probably between 1895 and 1915.
- Color can also help date your jar. For instance, purple glass indicates a jar that was made prior to WWI.
We have a notion of what a mason jar is supposed to look like, but before mass manufacturing, antique jars came in an array of odd shapes. Square jars, for example, date as far back as the 1890s. Although they took up less space in the pantry, they were never as popular as the regular canning jars and so are a little rare - making them a bit higher in value. Other unusual designs can add to the value as well.
Of course, the better a jar's condition, the more it'll be worth. Chips and cracks will diminish an old canning jar's value significantly, while a jar in good condition with its original lid will be worth the most.
Guides Can Give You More Information
If you're an aspiring collector, you may want to pick up a copy of Red Book 9, a detailed guide on old fruit jars. The book's no longer is print, but it is available on secondary markets, and you can get descriptions and basic values of your jars. Another book to consider getting if you want to know more about the wide world of antique mason jars is 1,000 Fruit Jars.
Consider a Professional Appraisal
Many factors can affect the value of old canning jars, but ultimately, rare jars in good condition will fetch the most money. If you think you have an unusual jar that may be valuable, consider having it professionally appraised. That's the only sure way to determine whether you have a pretty piece of canning history or a functional treasure from yesteryear.
Age Only Adds Charm
Much like vaseline glass and vintage lead-paint mugs, antique mason jars have to be relegated to the display shelf. Though they're not working hard at preserving your fruits and veggies, they can add a quaint old-world charm to your dining room or kitchen.