A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Monday, April 16, 2012

One sweet haul and one heck of a good time! A lesson in life and the evolution of Ball jars (in part)

Saturday, I got a quick text from my dear friend saying, "Five boxes of used canning jars at an auction - 25 jars, many blue, per box - $5 each.  SCORE!!" This was followed by "Come see them!" How could I resist?

I went right over and while she washed, I did a preliminary sort. When I went home for the evening, I printed out some of the resources I have found on the history of the Ball brand and their logo, to take back with me on Sunday. Armed with information, we set about identifying what treasures were in her haul, and to determine an actual count. My preliminary sort from the day before was helpful here, as I had grouped by color and similar logos to try to separate time frames of production. When we were confident we had them all ordered chronologically, we began cataloging the inventory and photographing each style for reference. There was a marvelous mix of blue and clear Ball, aqua and clear Atlas, lavender and clear Kerr, as well as several other interesting fruit jars and miscellaneous jars produced by Ball and Atlas for commercial purposes (these originally came with food in them from the grocery store - pasta sauce, commercially canned fruit. etc.). The commercial jars were labeled with the actual product label, so the jar manufacturer was molded quietly into the bottoms of these jars.

Chronological lineup
I spent the entire day (from noon-ish to 7pm or so) with Vicki, organizing, cataloging, and all-around appreciating these beautiful and historic gems. We learned together about some of the history of the company, associated patents and government regulations, all of which shaped the history of this line of fruit/canning jars. We lined them up for a "family" photo and Vicki took a video of the progression.

Aside from the learning and productivity we experienced all afternoon, the greatest gift was not that she sent me home with some beautiful jars to add to my collection (although it was extremely generous and is unbelievably appreciated), but the amazing gift of friendship. We got to know each other better and had what we decided was a proper, soul-feeding Sunday afternoon. As humans, we all need a day now and then that recharges our being and revitalizes our spirit. This was the sort of day we had. We bonded, shared, laughed and let go of the stresses of the workweek together. It was, I believe, the greatest gift that can be shared between friends. I made sure to tell her how  much it meant to me and how blessed I am to call such a lovely person my friend. Everyone should be so lucky!

Enough with the mushy stuff. Let me cover some of the history we pieced together. Please keep in mind, this is the assembled history of only those jars she acquired in the lot. It is in NO WAY a complete reference, nor am I an expert in any way. All dates are approximate, as there was often overlap and ambiguity as to when the molds were removed from production and new ones were introduced. I will list the major resources from which I gleaned my information and I highly recommend anyone interested go check out the information for themselves. That said, here is what we learned:

Shoulder seal 3L Ball,
c1896-1910, likely
around 1900
The oldest jars in the lot were produced only between 1896 and 1910.  They are blue, shoulder sealing 3L Ball jars. (She had 1 Quart and 2 Pints) What does that mean?  Well, the logo is a script font and immediately following the second L in BALL is a loop that flows into the underscore beneath the word. In what is referred to as "3L" jars, the loop looks a bit like a third lowercase"L." You may see them referenced either as Balll jars or 3L Ball jars. It is likely these were manufactured right about the turn of the century.

3L Pint, Shoulder seal
Shoulder sealing jars did not have a "lip" around the neck for the rubber and lid to sit against to seal.  These simply had a flat "shoulder" where the rubber sat and sealed the lid.  You can see this clearly in the picture at right. This type of jar was phased out sometime around 1910, as was the loop at the end of the Ball name.  This was the time they added the "bead seal" feature that created a neck and lip area on the jars.

Bead seal, 2L Ball
with underscore,
drop a, offset wording,
You may notice jars occasionally with the words "Perfect Mason" offset and not centered in the jar.  These are not jars made in error.  The molds had simply said Ball Mason to this point and the word "Perfect" was added at this time.  Essentially, they reworked the molds to "make-do" for a while.  There was an approximate two year time frame when these jars were produced, c1913-1914.  Vicki had one of these in her new collection, a quart.

Dropped a, underscore
present, c1915-1923
The company began centering the words around 1915.  At this time, they were still using a logo with what they called a "dropped a."  This was a letter a that began with a little "foot" or ascender. This script and logo style continued in use until around 1923, when the logo changed again.

Standard a,
no underscore
c1923-1933, blue
This was when they omitted the ascender on the "a" and removed the underscore beneath Ball. This new style was used until around 1933 (about ten years).  *On a personal note, this may be my favorite variant of the logo, as I think it is the prettiest, cleanest version.*  This is the time frame best represented in Vicki's new collection. There are than 20 that bear this logo in blue.

Standard a,
no underscore
c1923-1933, clear
She also obtained one in clear from this time frame as well.  *The picture of this one turned out cool, since the tree behind it was reflected in the water that was still in the jar from washing.*

Grippers, with underscore
During the early 1930s, there were a number of changes that took place in production. Around 1933-1934, they added "grippers" to the jar to assist in holding them. These were vertical lines molded around the jar on either side of the logo. Ball was able to do this after they purchased the Brockway Sur-Grip patent for the design.  There were jars made with and without grippers with the same logo for a time while molds were retired and introduced.  This would have been right around 1933, as near as I can tell from what I have learned (limited, so far).

The underscore returned, sometimes connected to the end of the last "L," sometimes it wasn't. The best way to distinguish these jars from those produced earlier is to note the lack of the dropped "a."  These jars began production between 1933 and 1937.

In 1937, Ball stopped production of the beautiful blue jars they had produced since the late 1890s. It was interesting to find out that the color came from the minerals in the sand they used to produce the glass.  The exciting part was that the sand came from the shores of our very own, Lake Michigan.  The oxygen levels used to produce the glass also contributed to the hue.

First rounded square
design c1942-1960
The next major change made was the shape of the jars.  Around 1942, the war board required the nation's glass manufacturers to adopt a rounded square shape for all fruit jars, as it was determined this was the most efficient shape for containing the same volume of material.  It meant saving glass.  It also allowed for simpler storage, as square sides pack more neatly together than round ones.

"Made in the USA"
In Vicki's auction collection, we found two versions of the new-to-the-time-period rounded square design.  The first read "Ball Perfect Mason" with the underscore and gripper ribs.

The second added the words "Made in the USA" to the front of the jar, with all other factors remaining constant.

measurements added in
ounces, this jar still has
the open B, c1956-1960
I am guessing that the mandated change in shape will also help you determine approximate age of other brands of fruit and canning jars as well. It would seem logical since all companies had to shift from round jars (if they were making them) to rounded square.  Incidentally, this is the shape of Ball jar we still know today.

The changed to the
closed B can be seen here
Around 1956, measurements were added to the side of jars in ounces and cups, as in the pint example shown here.  Those jars produced until 1960 maintained the logo as it was with the addition of the measurements.  Around that time, the logo underwent another change, taking the "B" from "open" to closed.  This meant that the bottom loop on the B did not connect with the vertical line previously, but did after 1960.  Another visual cue to this change is that the point where the top and bottom bumps of the B connect was previously a loop, but narrowed to a clean point in the new design.

c1975 - present
Around 1974, measurements were added to the opposite side of the jar in mL as well. A year later, in 1975, the logo welcomed an addition, the Registered Trademark "R" in a circle.  This appears to be when the fruit in the oval on the back of the jar made its first appearance as well, although I am not at all certain of this.

There are lots of known variants of the common molds.  This is largely due to the number of other companies and molds that were purchased over time and the need to rework them in order to produce Ball branded jars. This means that some variants cannot be placed into any particular point in the chronology with certainty. Logic may sometimes apply, or it may simply not be possible to determine where they fit in. There were a couple examples in this lot of such variation.

Much more square,
9 gripper ribs/lines
3 ribs per side, totaling 9
For example, there were several jars that were much  more square than the rounded square examples and they had not 6, but 9 gripper ribs around the jar. The shoulder area of these jars was shaped with less taper as well.The logo fit into the 1923-1933 time period and the grippers were added about the same time.  Logic would have it then that this was likely an example of a reworked mold from that era.  This is particularly true since Ball will still primarily making round jars at this point in time.

Logo is lower than usual
on the jar on the right
Another neat example in this lot was a jar with a logo from the 1923-1933 era that was made in the rounded square shape.  The oddity here is that the logo was set particularly low on the jar.  There are no gripper ribs on this example.

Many folks have heard of the scarcity of jars with the mold number of 13 on their bottoms.  It is told that superstitious folks of the times would break and discard any and all jars with this mold number to avoid bad luck.  You may even see sellers on eBay and similar places touting their rarity and thus increasing the price on these jars.  Reputable sources agree, this is simply not true.  In fact, they are not even uncommon enough to be labeled with any type or rarity or scarcity and there is, consequently, NO legitimate premium/price increase applied to these jars.  In support of this notion, we found several labeled with mold #13 in this mixed lot of auction jars.  If they were truly rare in any way, we would not likely have found one, let alone several examples in both blue and clear.

Please keep in mind, the above summary is my interpretation of the research I have gathered about the chronology of the jars Vicki was able to snag at auction.  It is not all inclusive, nor should it be regarded as quotable fact. However, it will get you started on narrowing time frames and hopefully spark your interest in the history that goes along with it.

Below, I have included a marvelous chart showing the evolution of the logo over time.  I have been able to include photographic examples of the latter 6 of the 9 designs.  Not bad for $25.00 spent at a weekend estate auction!  This chart came from this great and informative page.  I strongly encourage you to check it out and read more for yourself.  The site contains lots of additional information and further elaboration on many facets I only briefly touched on.  It is by far the most comprehensive and apparently reliable collection of information I have come upon.

 Please go to http://home.earthlink.net/~raclay/DatingBalljars.HTML
for a more complete history of the company and the ever changing logo...

Some of the additional resources used for information (there are loads of sites to reference, just be careful to look for a consensus on certain things, not taking any one site as the expert in the field):

Info on Ball history and the logo from the company themselves: http://www.freshpreserving.com/guides/jarsOfThePast.pdf

Info on random other fruit jar companies:

I will write a separate post to highlight some of the jars of other brands that were in the lot after I have time to do some more research on them so I can write knowledgeably.

My takeaway from this: some beautiful gems in the form of jars, new historic knowledge and most importantly, a very deep and real appreciation for time well spent in the company of a great friend.

By the way, if you are interested in the total number of jars, we counted 220.  That works out to about 12 cents per piece.  Yeesh, what a bargain! :-)

Happy canning and collecting!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! I found this very interesting. I use canning jars that I got from my parents, a lot which came from estate sells and they are all very different. This year I'll have to remember to check them out and see what I have.