Minnetrista Blogs

How to Date a Ball Jar

No, not at a movie on Saturday night. Not that kind of date. Instead, I mean how do you tell how old your Ball jar is? I’m the current contact for information about historical Ball jars on the Ball Corporation web site. One of the most common emails I receive comes with a description of a jar—e.g., Blue pint Perfect Mason with the number 5 on the bottom—and the question, “How old is my jar?”  

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Use The Logo To Find An Approximate Age

It would have been much easier if Ball had placed a date on each and every jar, but that didn’t happen. Luckily, there are some tips and tricks you can use to determine an approximate age for your jar. First check the logo, which changed fairly frequently until about 1962. The earliest logo was the intertwined BBGMC—Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company—used on jars made in Buffalo, New York.

Rejoice if you find one of those; Buffalo jars are pretty rare. They were first made in Buffalo in 1884 and for several years after. But, you say, how can the date 1884 be correct, since you have a jar embossed with a patent date of 1858. That was the date when John Mason received his patent for the threaded screw-type closure, and it appears on many different brands of jars. It doesn’t indicate when the jars were made.

Check the logos below against the logo on your jar. Date ranges are estimates.

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Ignore the Mold Number

How about that big number on the bottom of many jars? Does that help date the jar? Again, the answer is unfortunately, no. These are called mold numbers. They identify the position that the mold in which the jar was made held on the glassmaking machine. Most machines would have from eight to ten molds, all making the same type of jar. The quality control people used the number on the bottom of the jar to identify which mold was producing bad jars. The number has nothing to do with when the jar was made.

Two Online Resources

Now you know that you can determine an approximate age from the logo and that the big number on the bottom won’t help—even a “13,” but that’s a story for another day. To get a little more help in determining the age of your jar, visit the Minnetrista Heritage Collection and do a keyword search on “Ball jar.” Match your jar to one of those listed and check the dates. You can also go to the Midwest Antique Fruit Jar and Bottle Club website, click on “When was my Ball jar made?” and follow the instructions.

Join the Club

While you’re there, check out the entire Midwest Antique Fruit Jar and Bottle Club web site. You’ll find a plethora of jar information. If you’re interested and close by, attend one of the club’s meetings, which meets regularly at Minnetrista. The schedule is on the club’s web site. You’ll meet enthusiastic and knowledgeable jar collectors, including club president Dick Cole. Dick is a retired Curator of Business and Industrial History at Minnetrista. He taught me everything I know about Ball jars, but not everything he knows.

What is the oldest Ball jar you own?