Whether it’s Vic Clinco’s hot sauce collection which has almost 10,000 bottles of fire for your tongue, or Jean-François Vernetti, who built a collection of over 11,000 ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs between 1985 and 2014, there are no limits to what we can collect for fun or as a passion.
Provided an item is important enough to you to collect and preserve, it is probably equally as important to someone else.
Whether it is for pleasure, status, learning, or potential future financial rewards, we all have reasons for collecting items we consider valuable. However, per the title of this article, you might be wondering what could make the mason jar—which we often consider an afterthought—valuable.
The answer to that question lies in the history of mason jars.
Today, everyone enjoys using mason jars. While we may easily stock a bunch of them for ten bucks and have them lying in the corner forgotten until we need to preserve our soups, pickles, and fruit, these handy storage devices were not always this accessible.
Refrigeration for home use was not invented until 1915, and even then, it took a few years before these devices became available to the general public.
Before this period, we had to resort to more crude methods for preserving food, like salting and drying, soaking items in vinegar, and covering food with clarified butter, leather, or a pig’s bladder.
However, before refrigerators became mainstream, mason jars were a cheap, effective solution that changed the game.
With their invention in 1858, mason provided the easiest way to store food and extend its shelf life to the maximum possible value. These jars achieved this new level of preservative strength because, when heated, their seal could become airtight, keeping out all of the potentially food-spoiling bacteria.
Perfecting the airtight sealing mechanism of the mason was no easy feat. It took years of innovation and multiple iterations of the product by different manufacturers to get it right.
Some of these vintage mason jar types that were part of this developmental process now command considerable value on the collector’s market, thanks to their extreme rarity and the critical role they played in the history of food preservation.
Here are some of the most valuable mason jars you can collect today.
Most Valuable Mason Jars
With so many innovations involved in creating the mason jar, many prototypes and working products exist (or no longer exist) that would be considered valuable to collectors today for their importance in the evolution of this food storage device.
However, this small selection of units has risen to the top over the years, attracting the most value on the open market.
Van Vliet Improved Jar
Last Finalized Auction Price: $23,500
Like many people who created the simple innovations from the 19th and 20th centuries that we still use today, Warren Van Vliet was only a part-time inventor.
The Pennsylvania man who served as a recruiter for the Union Army during the Civil War returned to his job as a teacher after the war while moonlighting on the side in his spare time as an inventor. He is remembered best for his invention and patenting of a new mason jar design named after himself.
Van Vliet’s jar design came in 1881, several decades after the original mason jar was produced. He intended it to become the next step in improving and extending the preservative powers of such canning jars.
The unique design incorporated a clamp that fits tightly over the jar’s lid when closed and connected to a wire band that goes underneath the jar to ensure an airtight seal when the clamp is tightened.
However, while the Van Vliet Improved Jar was a revolution at the time, it was not produced for long.
Warren Van Vliet never went into the jar-producing business himself, so his designs were only produced by other companies that made them under his name. According to some reports, the jars were manufactured at a tiny glass factory in Monroe County for four years until the factory burned down in 1885, destroying most of its stock.
Consequently, only a handful of these jars—which measured between a one-half pint to two quarts—survived this time period, and fewer still made it to our time.
Today, there are only two known surviving colored versions of this jar, one of which sold for $23,500 at an auction in 2007. According to the auction footnotes, the jar once belonged to a “George McConnell,” who purchased the jar in 1977 for $200.
The mason jar exudes a yellowish-green tint, sports a glossy metal lid with a similar hue, and has the words “VAN VLIET,” “IMPROVED,” and “PAT D MAY 3-81” embossed on its side.
Mason jars were first developed by John Landis Mason, an American tinsmith who created and patented the design in 1858. He creates a glass jar with a thread screw-on metal head for a tighter seal when storing food items.
Eventually, John lost his patent for the jars after his patent (U.S. Patent No. 22,186) expired without renewal.
The development gave other companies the leeway to begin producing similar jars, establishing their own brands, and creating improved variations of the jar without inhibitions. However, by this time, “Mason Jar” has already become the go-to term for this style of glass container.
Very Dark Amber Magic Star Fruit Jar
Last Finalized Auction Price: $3000
This extremely dark Amber mason jar offers the next step up in the innovation of covers that provide a more reliable seal.
This unique jar design features a glass lid that is held secured by a three-piece cast iron clamp that reaches only to the neck of the bottle. This new system ditches the metal band around the entire bottle for a more convenient and aesthetically pleasing shorter clamp which takes advantage of the jar’s distinct neck, which offers grooves to latch onto.
The new design—which was patented by inventor Hermann Buchholz in 1886—gained favor with the public and was produced in considerable amounts and a variety of colors by the McCully & Co. glassware company. It was shipped embossed on the side with a star logo surrounded by the text “THE MAGIC FRUIT JAR.”
However, today, only a handful of these units still remain, and all of them are heavily sought-after by seasoned mason jar collectors.
This extremely dark, almost black, amber variant is the rarest of the lot, and it consequently attracts some of the highest prices seen in the mason jar collecting world. The last authenticated sale of one of these units was for an excellent condition and professionally-cleaned specimen that sold at auction for $3000 in 2007.
Amber Beaver Jar
Last Finalized Auction Price: $3170
Anything we place sentimental value upon—irrespective of how commonplace the item—will end up becoming a prized collectible and valuable antiques in the long run. No other entry captures this concept better than this Canadian Amber Beaver Jar.
The amber beaver is a late 19th century and early 20th-century mason jar that rose to prominence in Canada, becoming one of the go-to’s for preserving food items of all kinds.
This distinct glass jar, with its then peculiar color, was produced by the Sydenham Glass Company, a glassware company located in Wallaceburg, Ontario, over a couple of decades and distributed and consumed locally.
The Amber Beaver Jar’s design is appropriate for the time and does not bring any new revolutions. Instead, where this piece gets its glamor from is its instantly recognizable color and use of the beaver logo (which is as Canadian as it gets.)
The beaver is currently an official symbol of Canada, an emblem that was instituted in 1975 to symbolize the independence and sovereignty of the nation. However, the animal’s use in Canadian symbolism has existed for significantly much longer.
Beavers played an instrumental role in shaping the history of Canada as we know it today. Back in the 16th century, when the explorers and colonists set their sights on Canada, in the absence of readily minable gold, trade in beaver fur became the mainstay of the Canadian economy and remained so for over two centuries.
With beavers existing in every Canadian province and serving as the cornerstone of financial progress, it is not hard to see how they quickly became a cultural symbol.
Beavers appeared on the logos and coat of arms of the major Canadian fur trading companies, the “Three Penny Beaver” (Canada’s first postage stamp,) and a host of other governmental and private emblems.
These glass jars were produced using amber glass because the color blocks out most of the ultraviolet radiation from the outside, helping to preserve further the original constitution and consistency of the jar’s content.
However, the production systems used in creating the Amber Beaver Jar were far from consistent, and hence there were models in various color shades.
Today, the color shade of the jar is one of the strongest determinants of its price. Darker Amber Beaver Jars in excellent condition are some of the most sought-after specimens and typically attract considerable ransoms on the open market.
A dark amber shade is one of the most effective colors for blocking out the light and protecting the contents of a bottle from the reactivity that comes from exposure to ultraviolet light. This effect is why some medicine bottles still retain this color to this day.
This immaculate piece with its deep and consistent amber tone sold for $3170 at an auction conducted by Miller & Miller Auctions Ltd in 2019.
Mason’s Amber Jar
Last Finalized Auction Price: $1300
Any mason jar produced by the original Mason brand that is still in good condition is guaranteed to receive intense demand on the collector’s market.
Since Mason is the brand that started it all, its products hold the highest possible sentimental value possible. This jar takes things a step further as it is one of the earliest designs produced by the inventor.
This primitive version of the mason jar features a rare amber glass container with a very dark amber tone. The var also sorts the trademark screw-on metal top lid as other mason jars, but in this unit, the cap is made of zinc.
As is typical with jars from that time period, this specimen also features detailed embossing that promotes the brand and shows the model number of the unit. On the side, you will find “MASON’S PATENT NOV. 30TH 1859,” while a solitary “102” is embossed beneath the base.
As a relatively good condition specimen of one of John Landis Mason’s earliest designs, it is no surprise that this unit managed to sell for $1300 at an auction conducted in 2007.
The Chief Jar
Last Finalized Auction Price: $827
The Chief Jar is another specimen from the first couple of decades of mason jar manufacture. This unit, which was manufactured in 1870, sports all the crude characteristics that come with the first mason jars.
The container is an aqua-toned glass jar with a relatively transparent exterior and a metal cover that is held in place by an unrefined wire installation.
In front, the glass bottle bears an embossing of “THE CHIEF,” which forms part of the company logo, while underneath the bass, you will find another which reads “PAT NOV 29 1870,” arranged in a circle with the model number “4” sitting in its center.
With the jar being over 150 years old, it is no surprise that it comes a little scratched. However, considering its age, this piece’s condition is probably as clean as possible.
As one of the oldest mason jars you will find in decent condition anywhere, this Chief Jar is in high demand and attracts prices that are significantly higher than the bulk of mason jars. This specimen was last sold in 2007 for $827.