5 Rare Most Valuable Mason Jars (Last Finalized Auction Price: $23,500)

Antique Mason Jars: The Humble Kitchen Essential Worth Thousands

It‘s hard to imagine a single kitchen item that could be worth thousands of dollars, let alone one as commonplace as a glass jar. But in the world of antique collecting, mason jars are king. The most sought-after specimens have sold for upwards of $20,000 at auction houses like Morphy Auctions and Greg Spurgeon Antiques. So what is it about these humble food storage containers that commands such high prices? As it turns out, mason jars have a rich history and certain rare varieties are highly prized by collectors. Let‘s uncover what makes a mason jar truly valuable.

From Pantry Essential to Collector‘s Prize

Today, most of us are familiar with mason jars as a charming way to store dry goods in the pantry, serve a beverage, or even as a vase for fresh flowers. But their story begins over 160 years ago, born out of necessity in a time before refrigeration. In the mid-19th century, food preservation methods were limited – smoking, salting, pickling, and drying were common but didn‘t always prevent spoilage. Home cooks used wax to seal jars of fruits and vegetables, but it was messy, unreliable, and still allowed some air flow.

John Landis Mason, a tinsmith from Philadelphia, changed all that when he invented and patented the first mason jar in 1858. Mason‘s design consisted of a molded glass jar, a zinc screw-on lid, and a rubber seal. When heated, the lids would create a tight vacuum seal that kept contents fresh for months or even years. Mason‘s jars allowed the home canning of garden harvests to flourish, revolutionizing how families put food on the table.

While other inventors had attempted glass jars with metal lids before, Mason‘s design was the most successful. His Patent No. 22 186, issued on November 30, 1858, was for a "new and useful Improvement in Screw-Neck Bottles." The earliest mason jars from the late 1850s and 1860s, embossed with this original patent date, are some of the most valuable to collectors today.

The Golden Age of Mason Jars

Mason‘s patent expired in 1879, and many other glass and canning companies capitalized on the design to create their own jars with innovative closures, shapes, and embossing. The Ball Corporation quickly rose to dominance, producing a dizzying array of jars, lids, and glass home canning accessories that are still widely used today.

From the 1840s to the 1920s, hundreds of different mason jar designs were patented and produced. But certain varieties are much rarer than others due to factors like short production time, unusual color, or a novel closure design. These unique jars are the gems that collectors covet.

According to antique bottle expert Michael Polak, the most valuable mason jars often have these key characteristics:

  • Early production dates (1840s-1860s)
  • Rare glass colors like amber, cobalt blue, black, or emerald green
  • Unusual closure designs like clamps, lightning toggles, or thumbscrews
  • Misspellings or embossing errors
  • Intact original lids and seals

Let‘s take a look at some of the rarest and most valuable mason jars to come to auction in recent years:

The Van Vliet Clamp Lid Jar (c. 1860s) – With its unique metal clamp closure and amber glass, this jar sold for $23,500 at Morphy Auctions in 2010. Only two amber clamp lid jars are known to exist.

The Willoughby Stopple Jar (c. 1840s-1850s) – This very early jar with a glass lid and metal clamp is extremely rare. An olive green pint sold for over $19,000 at Greg Spurgeon Antiques.

The Black Amber Magic Star Fruit Jar (c. 1886) – Only a few of these jars were produced in black amber glass before the factory burned down. In 2019, a quart sold for $3,000 at auction.

The Crowleytown Mason‘s Improved Jar (c. 1850s-1860s) – Surviving jars from the Crowleytown Glassworks are highly sought after. A deep olive green quart sold for $2,000 at Morphy Auctions in 2016.

The Cobalt Blue Mascot Jar (c. 1900s) – Vivid cobalt blue jars are always in high demand. This quart "Mascot" jar with an original glass lid sold for $1,900 at Morphy‘s in 2021.

Misspellings and errors can also add value. "Millville" jars with the error spelling "Millvile" have sold for over $2,000. Even seemingly mundane jars can be worth a closer look. Collector Darrell Wilson paid 50 cents for a jar at a yard sale that later sold at auction for $19,975 – all because it had a very rare "Clever Cone" closure.

Color is King

When it comes to value, color is one of the most important factors for mason jars. Because colored glass was more expensive to produce, these jars were often short runs. Amber glass blocks the most light and therefore preserves contents the longest, making it a very desirable color. Amber jars can sell for 10 to 20 times more than the same jar in clear glass.

Other rare colors that command high prices include cobalt blue, emerald green, black glass, olive green, and milk glass. According to Country Living, some of the most valuable jars are:

  • Medium emerald green: $500-$3,000
  • Yellow amber: $300-$2,500
  • Olive green: $300-$2,000
  • Cobalt blue: $200-$1,500
  • Black glass: $150-$1,200
  • Milk glass: $75-$400

However, color alone does not guarantee a high value. Age, condition, and closure still play a key role. More common colors like aqua or "ball blue" are still collectible but tend to sell in the $50-$200 range vs. hundreds or thousands for rarer colors.

Condition is Key

Of course, as with any antique collectible, condition has a significant impact on mason jar values. Chips, cracks, stains, or other damage will lower the price considerably. Complete, intact jars with their original lids in good condition will always bring the highest prices.

Having the original lid is important and can easily double the price of a jar vs. one with a mismatched or missing lid. Lids should match the color and age of the jar and show a similar amount of wear. Unusual closure types like thumbscrews, lightning toggles, or clamp lids often indicate an early or rare jar.

Some signs of age or manufacturing processes actually add to the value of a jar. A pontil scar on the base, left by the glass blowing rod, is a good sign of a very early handmade jar. Antique jars will also often have bubbles, mold seams, or minor irregularities in the glass that modern reproductions don‘t.

Starting Your Own Collection

With their charming colors and historical significance, it‘s easy to see why mason jars are such popular collectibles. For many antique lovers, the thrill is in the hunt – scouring flea markets, antique shops, and yard sales in hopes of uncovering a rare gem.

If you‘re interested in starting your own collection, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Educate yourself on the history and key characteristics of valuable jars. Invest in a good reference book or consult with experienced collectors.
  • Inspect jars closely for chips, cracks, and other condition issues that affect value. A 10x loupe can help you spot damage.
  • Check for the original lid and closure. Mismatched parts are a red flag.
  • Know the signs of a reproduction or modern jar, like a ground lip, bright colors, or a "1858" date embossed on the front.
  • Consider specializing in a certain jar type, color, or time period to focus your collection.
  • Look beyond just antique stores. Flea markets, estate sales, and online auctions can be great sources.
  • Prices can vary widely so assess value based on documented past sales, not just what a seller is asking.

Of course, the most important tip is to simply collect what you love. Not every jar in your collection needs to be a five-figure rarity. Even common mason jars still have historical charm and look beautiful displayed on a shelf or used as home decor.

The Legacy Lives On

Incredibly, the basic mason jar design has changed very little since John Landis Mason‘s 1858 patent. Screw-top jars are still widely used for home canning today. According to the International Housewares Association, 17% of U.S. households did some home canning in 2021, putting up over 108 million jars of fruits, vegetables, jams, and pickles.

Mason jars have also seen a huge resurgence in popularity as decorative or functional pieces. Crafters use them to make snow globes, terrariums, or oil lamps. Couples have latched onto the rustic-chic trend of using mason jars as wedding centerpieces or drinking glasses. Bars and restaurants often serve cocktails or desserts in mini mason jars. And of course, they‘re a staple for farmhouse-style kitchen decor.

Over 160 years after their invention, mason jars are more popular than ever – as collectibles, as functional storage, and as home decor. These humble glass workhorses have certainly earned their place in our homes and our hearts. So next time you come across an old mason jar at a flea market or thrift store, take a closer look. You just might have a valuable piece of history in your hands!

Polak, M. (2012) Antique Trader Bottles Identification & Price Guide. Krause Publications.
Schroeder, B. (1971) 1,000 Fruit Jars. Collector Books.
Sears, B.A. (2019) The Complete Guide to Vintage Mason Jars. Country Sampler.
Watson, T. (2018) What are the Most Valuable Canning Jars? Country Living.

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