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The do's, don'ts, cans and can'ts of canning jars

Some brands, types and varieties are more collectible than others.

Antiques & Collectibles — Sandy Erdman column sig

Farmers market season is in full swing, with fresh produce, canned goods, flowers and more.

Gardens are such a magical place, and this year, tomatoes, beans, pickles, pickled eggs and zucchini are being put in old-fashioned canning jars, bringing cheer sitting side-by-side on someone's pantry shelves.

There are various types of canning jars available. Some have a glass lid, a rubber ring, zinc tops and metal clamps to hold the lid in place, while others have a lid in two parts: a flat metal disc and a screw lid. Jars must have lids and metal discs, and use the USDA-approved methods of canning, and also follow the farmers market guidelines in your area.

Unique jars with clamp style glass closing and embossing styles on the jars found with Chris Rand Kujath at Old River Valley Antique Mall, Stewartvile..jpg
Unique jars with clamp-style closures and embossing at Old River Valley Antique Mall in Stewartville. Contributed

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Glass pieces were designed for putting up fruits and vegetables in the days before refrigeration. Some of the most valuable finds are from the 1840s to the 1920s, when hundreds of companies were vying for a spot on America's shelves. Most old jars date to the 20th century, not the patent date of 1858. If they are not made of an uncommon color, they are worth very little. Their value is based on age, condition, rarity, color, and special features.

Some collectors also look for different clamp-type glass closures and embossing styles. A good guide I found is by Bill Schroeder titled “1000 Fruit Jars.” And collectors are adding to their collection copies of the canning “Blue Book” by Ball, which is the guide to home canning and preserving, dating back to their first copy in 1909. Ball and Kerr are the most common fruit jars in the stores today. I encourage people to recycle the jars.

Ball Jar cheat sheet compliments of Ball jar..jpg
Today, Ball is the most sought-after brand of canning jars. This sheet of logos helps determine a jar's approximate age. Contributed / Ball

Where to find

Sarah Kieffer, Sarah's Uniques & Jim's “Man”tiques, St. Charles: “The zinc lids are always in high demand! I have several Ball, Kerr, some unusual, and some from Canada. Being an Amish community, the Amish women do come in to buy jars, selling for $5 to $10, with some of the collectible as much as $25 or more. I have found decorators want the old jars rather than the new ones, and a lot of people like the blue jars. I have clear and some green.”

Vintage canning jars on display at New Generations of Harmony.jpg
Vintage canning jars on display at New Generations of Harmony. Contributed

Joan Thilges, New Generations of Harmony: “We always have an assortment of vintage blue quart and even some pint jars with zinc lids. For the serious collectors, you'll find half-gallon jars with zinc lids, the occasional half-pint jar, and a number of pint and quart jars, with glass lids and wire bales.”

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Neil Hunt, A-Z Collectibles, Winona: “I have all shapes and sizes. Price, depending on brand and size, with or with out lids, all are less than $10.”

Brenda Jannsen, Treasures Under Sugar Loaf, Winona: “We have multitudes of clear and aqua canning jars, zinc lids, some with white milk glass liners, and others with clear glass liners. Most lids are regular mouth, but we do have some for wide-mouth jars. Some canning jar brands are Ball, Drey, Kerr, Atlas and more.”

Joan Zenke, Minnesota Memories & Antiques, Nodine: “I have lots. The quart size in blue are $7 each, and the others run around $5 each. Come and check out more at my booth at Rochester Gold Rush, Building 411.”

Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at life@postbulletin.com .

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Using canning jars to display flowers found with Joan Thilges.jpg
Joan Thilges created this canning jar display for her dining table. Contributed

Related Topics: HOME AND GARDENSANDY ERDMAN
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