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Collectible Canning Jars

Updated on September 4, 2014
New Mexico. Mrs. Fidel Romero proudly exhibits her canned food.
New Mexico. Mrs. Fidel Romero proudly exhibits her canned food. | Source

Home On The Farm

As I approach the end of August and as summer winds down, this is the time of year when my canning jars come up out of the cellar and back into the kitchen.

Each year we have an overabundance of blackberry bushes on our property which keeps the berry jam flowing through the winter months. Each year those jars are filled with a jam so delicious that I never tire of the taste.

While you are likely acquainted with canning jars used as they were intended, for preserving the summer bounty so that the flavours will be enjoyed far beyond harvest.

Master Chef of the French Revolution

Canning jars are not a recent invention. They have been around since the late 18th century and a result of necessity and of contest. During the French Revolution War, the government had become concerned with the nourishment of their armed forces while in the battlefield. To lead the way towards a solution they decided to throw a competition.

A French chef, “Nicolas,” collected the prize in 1810. His success was accredited to the discovery that when hot food was enclosed in an air-tight container it had the ability to consume safely for long periods of time. The canning jar was the chef’s answer to the problem of keeping food from spoiling in harsh conditions which could be as extreme as the “front line” of war.

There has been quite an evolution since those early days of canning, or “fruit” jars. In the beginning they were carefully crafted by hand before becoming manufactured by a variety of different firms. The companies making the jars often had the firm’s name or trademark embossed in the glass. These clues are appreciated by hobbyists who collect canning jars.

Selection of Welsh chutney and preserves for sale on a butcher's shop counter at Upper Killay, Swansea.
Selection of Welsh chutney and preserves for sale on a butcher's shop counter at Upper Killay, Swansea. | Source

Handmade Vs. Machine

It is not very difficult to determine whether a jar was made by hand or by machine. The rims of handmade canning jars are usually rough and somewhat pitted, while machine made jars have rims which are smoother and rounded. Although collector’s may easily discover the firm which manufactured the jars through embossed trademarks and lettering, it is not as easy to tell when the jar was made. For instance, many glass canning jars will have patents which date to the 19th century. This doesn’t always mean that the jar in question was actually manufactured during the same time period.

Many collector's enjoy the discovery process to each jar in a collection and welcome the challenge of learning about the canning jar history.

Detective Tactics

Some people enjoy the hunt and it will likely take time, dedication, and detective tactics to determine when a canning jar was made and by which manufacturer. The Internet has become a handy tool for researching a collection. A few books have been published about canning jars and identification.

Often more than a single jar maker will use similar items for trademarks. An example that I found in the book, “101 Great Collectibles for Kids,” is that of a crown which is used by several Canadian canning jar makers. Experienced collectors may have, over time, developed the skill to recognize the subtle differences between jar makers. It is not as easy for novice canning jar enthusiasts.

Each crown is different in size, shape, and decoration. For instance, the Burlington Glass Works crown is shaped like a heart with dots appearing above each of the two humps and a stick man is located at the two sides of the crown. Having the ability to discover a trademark tied to a certain firm does not mean that every jar made by that manufacturer will possess exactly the same single trademark as it can change over time, or even through the size of the canning jar.

While both Canada and the United States produced pint, quart, and gallon canning jars the two countries manufactured jars that were of slightly different shapes and styles. Even the size seemed to differ between the neighbor nations.

Of the three common sizes the pint is preferable to the majority of canning jar collectors. The size is not as commonly available as the larger jars and the pint is a better fit into a collectible display as it takes up less space than the larger jars.

Jams and Jellies

Étalage de confitures
Étalage de confitures | Source

Sourcing Jars

Enthusiasts enjoy acquiring canning jars through auctions, estate sales, rummage sales, yard sales, thrift shops, antique stores and flea markets. I once had a friend who would ask for permission to dig for canning jars on private farms. He was able to collect older jars he could tie to the history of the location and farm in which he unearthed his treasures. With soap, water, and care the jars were able to be cleaned nicely.

Some collectors look for jars without chips, cracks or visible damage while others appreciate the worn and weathered look. These hobbyists also display their collection in a variety of ways, with some preferring to display the jars on their own and others will fill the jars with objects such as beans, marbles, or plants.

As with all collectible hobby it is best to enjoy your collection with the display being a reflection of your character and personality.

On the Book Shelf

A Collector's Guide to Ball Jars
A Collector's Guide to Ball Jars

This handbook presents a guide to the history of Ball Jars and tips for dating these collectible jars.


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Birth Of the Bell Jar - 100 Years and Counting


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      This is one of the things on our to do list for next year...learn how to can and take advantage of the bounty we grow in our garden. Loved this hub, and thanks for the reminder to update my to do list.