As a part of our vintage goods series, I am diving into the history and origins of the iconic, vintage mason jars that are widely used today as they were in the past.
Vintage Mason Jars
As a part of our vintage goods series, I have been going item by item through my favorite vintage finds to learn more about their history and origin. Of course, the iconic glass mason jar made it on the list of vintage items I wanted to look further into.
If you have been following our brand since the beginning, then you know we started selling our Icemilk Aprons in ball mason jars. I loved the branding it provided for our company, and how it effortlessly sold itself to customers. The mason jar look is an iconic one for many reasons, and learning about its evolution over time has been nothing short of interesting.
History of Vintage Jars
Early history of food preservation
The canning of food started back in the early 1800’s by a French chef who sought to find a new way to preserve food during the Napoleon years. His first glass jar featured a wax seal that allowed the chef to extend that lifetime of fruits and vegetables. While it was a start to the preservation of foods, its inconsistency could leave foods spoiled and its consumers sick. However, this method of canning was adopted by the French military and was used to supply troops with nonperishable foods during their service.
Throughout the years, the glass jars received many upgrades and tweaks, as creators in the glass jar industry sought to create the perfect jar for canning. Keep reading below for details on how each brand contributed to the jars we know and love today.
The canning of food in glass jars again had a resurgence in the US during WWII as Americans were encouraged to build Victory Gardens. American homes nation-wide came together in their efforts to make their food and ration for the efforts of the country.
Mason jars are seen all over today used for food storage, canning, drinking glasses, flower vases, utensil holders, and so much more. With the recent pandemic, statistics have shown another resurgance in the popularity of canning and the preservation of foods.
John L. Mason of New York City invented the mason jar in 1858. This glass jar is the one recognizable to what we use today, featuring a screw on tin lid and rubber liner. This style of jar was both new to the market and reusable for consumers.
The Mason jar creation now allowed the use of canning techniques to spread widely. Adopted by farmers and urban families alike, Mason’s invention became a staple in the American home.
Unfortunately, Mason failed to renew his patent of the jar in 1879, resulting in free rein of his design to other glass jar manufacturers and distributors. Because of this, Mason no longer reaped the benefits of his invention, lost his fortune, and lived the end of his life as a poor man.
Created by Hazel-Atlas Glass Company, the Atlas E-Z seal jar was similar to the mason jar and featured a lip that prevented the glass jar from cracking.
The Hazel-Atlas Glass Company was widely popular in the early 1920’s for their manufacturing of depression glass. While the depression glass pieces by Hazel-Atlas never had their logo on them, the Atlas mason jars did feature the logo and can still be easily identified today.
The most popular Atlas jar designs were made in clear or aqua colored glass with the word “ATLAS” across the front. In regard to sourcing vintage jars today, it is worth noting that older vintage jars will feature “Atlas” on the front, while newer models of the jar will feature “Atlas Mason.”
In the 1880’s, the five Ball brothers of Buffalo NY took a loan from their uncle for $200 to start their business. Early on, the brothers’ business was comprised on creating tin cans for oils, chemicals, paints, etc. From this, this started The Ball Brother Glass Manufacturing Company of 1884 as they switched from tin production to glass methods.
The brothers found success in the glass industry and became the leaders in the industry as they mass produced glass jars that were distributed throughout the country with ease from their multiple factory locations.
Ball jars are of the most iconic mason jar brands as they are still a leader in today’s industry. After acquiring smaller glass companies and expanding their production across the country over the years, Ball Company was acquired by the large parent company Newell Corporation. Today, the Ball brand is a top producer in glass jars and can be found in homes all over the globe for canning.
Alexander H. Kerr is credited with creating the first “wide-mouthed” glass jars. A design still popular today, these wide-mouthed jars allowed for easier canning by the users. Additionally, the jars were inexpensive to product and featured a permanent rubber ring to help seal the product within.
Kerr later invented a flat metal top for the mason jar that was held down by the metal ring during a hot water process – the process we use for canning today.
When I am sourcing vintage, I need not look far for vintage mason jars. I find an abundance of these vintage items while I am out, so I start with pieces that catch my eye.
One of the first things that catches my eye in a mason jar is the closure mechanism. There are variants in the types of screw-on tin lids and the clasped glass top jars. Depending on your preference, I suggest you find what works best for you. I prefer the glass lid clamp closures, as I find them to look unique and not sold today.
Secondly, I look at the condition of the mason jars as I find them. The value of vintage jars come from their age, rarity, color, mold, shape, condition, and production marks. Because of this, I check specifically for cracks, chips, scratches, damage, bubbles, etc. I think it is ideal to find glass mason jars that have little to no flaws, so as to maintain their integrity in the future use in your home.
Additionally, vintage mason jars come in a variety of shades, including pink, cobalt, aqua, amber, and violet. Ball Company was known for their iconic “Ball blue” glass, which was a shade of blue-green.
Favorite Jar Recipes and Hacks
While researching glass mason jar history, I realized just how much use I have found in the products over the years. Check out this round up of my favorite recipes to make in a mason jar.
Summer Salad Jars
A simple + fun idea for serving up your summer salad in a jar, with layers of ingredients and the dressing all-in-one. Shake the jar and you’ve got a delicious lunch, a perfect portable meal on-the-go, for a picnic or taking to eat at your desk at the office. Get the recipe here.
This is a fun twist on a classic recipe for sweet tea. Learn how to make sun tea with a just a few steps. It will soon become one of your favorite summer activities. Get the recipe here.
Sea Salt Caramel Sauce
This sea salt caramel sauce makes for a delish topping on your favorite ice cream, brownie, or other sweet treat. Packaged in a mason jar, this can be a wonderful gift for a friend or family member. Get the recipe here.
If you’re looking for an easy and delicious, classic crispy pickle recipe then this is the post for you. Our Day Pickle recipe is easy and can be accomplished in just a short amount of time vs. a true pickling + preserving tactic. Get the recipe here.
Freshly Squeezed Lemonade
A timeless summer beverage staple is an ice-cold pitcher of fresh, hand-squeezed lemonade. Get the recipe here.
This classic BBQ sauce recipe is straight out of my Grandmother’s recipe collection. It’s a quick and easy BBQ Recipe for ribs or pulled meat. Get the recipe here for Classic BBQ Sauce.
heirloomed is a lifestyle brand with a mission of “keeping heirlooms around for another generation.” Our blog features stories about my favorite made-from-scratch recipes, creating traditions with your family, farmhouse home decor, effortless entertaining by mixing new and vintage pieces, tips on gardening creating a timeless capsule wardrobe, and small town + historic travel. Our product designs feature a collection of “goods inspired by the past, for generations to enjoy” with an array of aprons, table linens, hand-poured candles and keepsake gifts. Learn more at www.heirloomedcollection.com.