NEW YORK — In 1858, New Jersey tinsmith John Landis Mason revolutionized the home kitchen when he invented and patented a glass jar with a lid that used a screw thread. His invention became known as the Mason jar, and it has since been manufactured in endless quantities. Today, many home pantries contain at least one Mason jar, if not an entire case set aside for canning fruits and vegetables.
While the term “canning” calls to mind a tin can, it is of course common to can, or preserve, fruits in glass jars. Mason jars were and are available in a variety of sizes, and some examples are valuable. Proving the point is a Mason’s Improved half-gallon fruit jar that sold for $550 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022 at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates. Embossed with a fancy “M,” the amber glass bottle with a screw band insert dates to 1880-1900 and is 9¼in tall.
Besides the Mason jar, there are many other types of fruit and jam jars that glass, country store and kitchenalia collectors eagerly seek.
Antique and vintage fruit and jam jars were produced in nearly every color of the rainbow, but a widely accepted standard color is amber. Its light-blocking properties extend the life spans of preserved fruits, staving off spoilage for longer. Some brands of beer and medicine are still bottled in amber glass today, for this reason. Variations in the manufacturing directions and in how closely factory workers measured the chemicals yielded amber jar hues that ranged from a dark, almost brown shade to a pale honey yellow to ones with orange or red undertones.
Among the most iconic amber fruit jars are beaver jars, which were made in Canada in the late 19th century. Author and expert John C. Barclay, whose books include The Canadian Fruit Jar Report, was quoted in an article on beaver jars for the Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. website. In it, he notes factors that affect the desirability of a beaver jar: color, condition and whether and how well the lid color matches that of the jar.
The direction in which the beaver faces also affects the value of a jar, with the less common left-facing beaver being more coveted. But that doesn’t mean jars with right-facing beavers lack for fans. An amber beaver quart fruit jar with a right-facing beaver made $1,648 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd. Despite a chipped lip, the jar brought a strong price.
So-called fancy fruit jars, designed to serve as elegant table ware rather than canning vessels, are also favored by collectors. In the early 20th century, the renowned silver and jewelry maker Buccellati produced several fruit-shaped glass jars, fashioned from hand-blown Murano glass and topped with sterling silver finials. They took the forms of apples, pears, plums, peaches and pineapples. A set of three — two pears and a plum — earned $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022 at Hindman. Each came with a Buccellati silver jelly spoon and the tallest ones stood 7 ¼in tall.
Other notable forms for collectible glass jars include an unusual and rare tall-necked fruit jar patented by Indiana inventor G.W. Griswold in 1862. One such clear glass jar, having a sheared mouth, brought $2,200 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Hyde Park Country Auctions. The hand-blown jar was also made in aqua and clam broth colors. The jars are sealed with a cork that is inserted into the long neck, and all are embossed “Fluid Or Dry Sealing / Adjustable / By Atmospheric / Pressure / Griswold’s Patent / 1862.”
Despite its lack of light-blocking coloration, aqua has long been a popular color for fruit jars. A Huyett & Fridley fruit jar in a half-gallon size, made in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, realized $700 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021 at Keystone Auction LLC.
Many glass collectors say that color is king in the realm of fruit jars, but, as always, it is wisest to buy what you like and what you can afford. Investment value is important, but given that you will be living with your collection, you might want to choose colors that make you happy rather than those that might have the highest resale value down the road.