Puttin’ Up Some Summer

by Clinton J. Holloway


Summer is here, the gardens are bringing forth their bounty and the farmer’s markets are full of wonderful things to eat. For modern day folks, eating healthy, green and local is a choice, but for our forebears it was a necessary way of life.  Not so long ago it was a crucial element of any well-run home to grow a garden, raise their own fruits, vegetables and meat, and preserve these comestibles for the long winter and spring ahead. Freezing, canning, storing food in crocks in the root cellar were all precursors to our modern day grocery stores.


As I look around both GasLamp  and GasLamp Too, I find evidence of these traditions in the many crocks and particularly, canning jars. Canning jars by the millions were produced by the Ball Corporation of Muncie, Indiana. In fact, Ball Jar has become the generic name for a canning jar; Mason Jar is another.


You will often find both names, Ball and Mason, on the same jar, along with a patent date of 1858. John Mason patented the fruit jar in 1858 and many companies subsequently used the name and patent date. Just because a jar is dated 1858 does not mean it was made in that year. (See “A Collector’s Guide to Ball Jars,” by William F. Brantley, 1975, for explanation.) Several dealers in both GasLamps feature jars; prices range from $1 to an average of $15.


Canning jars come in a variety of colors, but aqua and clear are the dominant ones. Occasionally you will find white, black, purple or others. Olive green is a rare color, as is brown, red and cobalt. The purple tone can often be caused by exposing certain clear jars to the sun for long periods of time.


This year Ball reissued their classic Ideal aqua jars in celebration of the 100th anniversary of their standard jar, which first appeared in 1913. The new aqua jars are a beautiful option if you are a modern-day canner.


As far as shapes and sizes, there are options galore: from little half pints to big gallon jars, round, square and plenty more.  The top, or the way of sealing the jar, helps to date a jar and make them interesting. To name a few examples, glass lids are held on by a wire “bail,” zinc screw lids are fashioned with a glass insert (often milk glass), and  the present day lid has the screw on band. Unusual lids and shapes have the most collector interest. Booth B-2021 in the original Gas Lamp has a great selection of browns and ambers in the $9 to $35 range, among the most unusual in the malls (photo, above right).      


Beyond canning, these jars present a wondrous array of uses for today’s decorator. They are popular amongst wedding décor as table center pieces when filled with flowers, candles, shells; whatever your imagination conjures up! Many are made into lamps and or hanging lamps. Southern Junk Chic (Booth B-303) has turned some canning jars into great hanging lights ($14, photo left). On Pintrest and Ebay you can easily find parts to adapt canning jars to sippy cups (!), soap dispensers and even solar lids to make outdoor luminaries. Not to mention they are useful for storage or as canister sets.


Who knew Grandma’s humblest canning jar could lead so many lives?





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