The term “Mason Jar” refers specifically to the design of jar invented and patented by John L. Mason in 1858, but to a collector of vintage jars, there are several other jars to watch for. The Most Collectible Styles of Canning Jars are discussed below.
One of the more common styles of jars is often called the “Lightning Jar,” first designed by Henry William Putnam in 1882. The Lightning jar had a glass lid, a rubber seal, and a stiff wire mechanism that was used to clamp the lid to the jar. Numerous companies made their own jars in this style to include Ball, who made the Ideal jars between 1915 and 1962, and later the Eclipse line of jars in 1922 and lasted until 1952, the latter being a wide mouth jar. Atlas also made a lightning style jar that they called the EZ Seal. Other examples of this jar can also be seen embossed as “Acme,” “Sealfast,” “Foster,” or several others.
Wax Seal Jars
The precursor to the Mason jar or any home canning jars, are what most call wax seal jars. These jars were made from the early 1800’s until the early 1900’s, and have a large lip with a channel in it that runs the circumference of the opening of the jar. The purpose of this is so that one can fill the channel with wax and use a metal lid to seal in their food or preserves. The problem with this method though was that it was messy, metal could contact the food and corrode, and since there was no way to check that the contents were properly sealed the food could spoil and cause food borne illness.
Van Vliet Jar
Yet another style of jar is the Van Vliet Jar, made by Warren R. Van Vliet in 1881. But the Van Vliet jar was only made for four years due to a fire that destroyed the factory, and the factory was never reopened. The Van Vliet jar is unique, but bares some similarity to the lightning style jar. It has a glass lid and rubber seal, but rather that the wire hinge mechanism, it uses a screw mechanism that pressed down on the lid which was yoked to the base of the jar by two long wires. The jar itself is also unique in the fact that rather than being perfectly cylindrical, it tapered slightly from the base narrowing towards the top. Examples of these jars are rare and much sought after, especially those in the rarest of colors, such as dark amber.
Similar to the Van Vliet Jar is the Millville jar, made by Whitall-Tatum in Millville, New Jersey. Rather than yoking to the bottom of the jar, the Millville jar had a thick rim and glass lid, the lid was them tightened down onto the jar with a screw mechanism that attached to the rim of the jar. The screw mechanism itself was a “C” shaped piece of metal in which the ends hooked under the rim of the jar and a screw in the center was used to tighten the lid onto the jar. Examples of this jar are also rare, as they were patented in 1861, but were only produced for an eight year period between 1862 and 1870.
Other more simple jars are also available to collectors, such as the “Economy,” later acquired by Kerr Glass, was a very simple jar, having nothing more than a thick band running the outer circumference of the jar about a quarter inch below the seal. This jar utilized a simple piece of spring steel, that were sold as “clamps.” These clamps held in place a metal disc that was lined so that the metal did not touch the food, causing the metal to corrode. This disposable lid system was invented by Alexander Kerr in 1915, and is still used today by most home canners.
As a side note, Kerr and Whitall-Tatum were also known to make glass insulators for the power and telegraph companies. Numerous examples of insulators in several styles and colors are available to those interested in collecting insulators as well, and are considered by many to be pieces of American history. Just like jars, certain insulators can be quite rare, depending on quality, color, or manufacture.
Finally, numerous other styles of jars can be found with more elaborate means of closure such as screws, levers, or springs. Many of these jars are rare and valuable, especially when they are intact with matching and original components, but often times components corrode, are lost, or lids are replaced that are mismatched in either color or manufacture. So, be on the lookout at your local flea market or yard sale, you never know what you may come across or what it may truly be worth.