Ball Perfect Mason
The Ball Perfect Mason was a brand of glass fruit jar (canning jar) made by the Ball Bros. Glass Company, with headquarters based in Muncie, Indiana. (See “Ball Brothers Glass Company” page, for a brief summary of that glass company).
Glass jars with this embossed marking probably constitute the most popular jar for home canning ever produced in the United States. Hundreds of millions (possibly upwards of a billion or more!) have been made and used by home canners throughout most of the 20th century. (NOTE: also please see paragraph farther down on this page showing a modern REPRODUCTION of this jar, called the “AMERICAN HERITAGE COLLECTION”).
They are commonly seen for sale at antique malls, farm auctions, flea markets, yard sales, and on online auction sites.
The very first versions with this embossing are believed to date from around 1913 (some sources say 1909) with production continuing to approximately 1960. Hundreds of slight variations in shape, size, lettering font, glass color, base markings, etc., exist, and this particular type of jar presents a wide field of study for fruit jar collectors and glass historians. Typically, they were made in half pint, pint, quart, and half-gallon sizes.
Most of the earlier versions were round (cylindrical) in shape, and some of the later types are square (with rounded corners) in design. Some variants have vertical “ribs” or “grips” along the sides, probably added to assist in handling the jars while they are wet.
Ball Perfect Mason jars were made utilizing steel molds (or “mold cavities”) as part of “ABM” (“Automatic Bottle Machine”) i.e. automatic glass container-making machinery. Many different jar molds (thousands) were used over the many years’ time these jars were being produced. Each mold was hand-cut (hand-engraved) with the lettering incised backward into the inside surface of the mold, which of course results in the embossing (raised lettering) which is seen on the surface of the jar. Very close inspection and comparison between different older jars (that may appear to be exactly the same) will show that it was very difficult, if not nearly impossible for all of the lettering (including the cursive “Ball” lettering and the “block style” lettering underneath) to be engraved absolutely identical from one mold to the next. Many slight variations are seen, with the exact lettering orientation just barely noticeably different from one example to another, such as the spacing, height, width, depth of cut, of individual letters. On some jars, the word “Ball” is underlined, on others, not. The underline may be very long, or heavily “looped”.
Most of the typical Ball Perfect Mason’s are marked with a mold number between 0 and 15 on the bottom. (Sometimes the number is accompanied by a letter). As can be readily discovered, there were many different “sets” of molds used over a period of many years, with this same series of (up to) 16 numbers used over and over again to identify the molds being used on any particular machine. Thus, if a random sampling of these jars are studied,(for instance, just looking at a selection of only those marked with a number “2″ on the bottom) , it may be seen that the numbers typically appears slightly different, in fact “unique” in it’s exact formation, from one jar to the next. It may be a while before exact duplicates are found (i.e. finding two jars that were made from one individual, specific mold). This is one of the aspects of collecting these jars that can be fun and intriguing (or boring to some!) if you are “into” studying fine differences in these jars …. somewhat akin to the practice of collecting some older coins and comparing their minor “mold” or “die” variations.
The great majority of these jars were made in aqua or “Ball Blue” colored glass (Ball Blue is the standard color of these jars, a somewhat “more blue” shade of aqua). Later versions (after around 1936) were made in clear glass, and some (usually from the 1950s) in brown amber. Other colors that are known, but not so easily found, include Cornflower blue, straw yellow, olive green, olive amber, blackish olive, dark yellow amber, light green and medium green.
A number of “error jars” are found among the Ball Perfect Mason’s, including examples found with the embossing missing a letter (or letters), or with a word misspelled, such as “PERFFCT”, ”PEPRECT” or “PEREFCT”.
A listing of many of these error jars can be found in the Redbook, a price guide used by fruit jar collectors. In general, the Ball Perfect Mason variants are listed in the Redbook from #332 to #363-3, and several of the BPM error jars are found within this group, listed as jars #352 to #363. There are no doubt very minor variants/errors that are not currently listed in that guide. Some jars have embossing that is unusually faint ( for instance, just one or two letters within a word) and this can sometimes be due to accumulated debris partially filling the engraving of the lettering on the mold itself at the time of making, or perhaps some other reason.
Other popular jars made by Ball include the Ball Mason, the Ball Ideal, the Ball Improved, the Ball Special, the Ball Sure Seal and others. (Please see my page on the “Mason’s Patent Nov 30TH 1858” fruit jars).
New “REPRODUCTION” Ball Perfect Mason Jars: the “AMERICAN HERITAGE COLLECTION”
NOTE: Just recently (circa 2013) a new type of BALL PERFECT MASON jar has been issued, primarily sold through department/grocery stores such as Target, Kroger, and others, and online venues such as Amazon. These commemorative jars are being produced in a lighter, brighter blue color— not quite the same shade as the original jars.
These jars as being sold in sets of 6, and come in pint size only (as of this writing). They are marked (on front) “BALL PERFECT MASON”, on rear ”1913 1915 / 100 YEARS OF / AMERICAN / HERITAGE / MADE IN U.S.A.” . Also, there are volume/weight measurements embossed along the side of the jar, including cups, milliliters and ounces. They are being sold along with modern screw bands and lids. The glass is a bit thinner and lighter than the original Ball Perfect Mason types.
These jars are currently being sold for actual canning use, but also for “rustic” or “retro” decorative appeal; are being used as containers for liquid soap dispensers (some ebay or etsy sellers are selling them with special lids for this use); for use in candle making, and for similar Americana “primitive” and crafts projects.
The “1913 1915″ embossing (given above) readily identifies these as new production. As time goes on, however, their provenance might be somewhat less obvious to new fruit jar collectors.
Number “13″ Jars
Some Ball Perfect Mason jars are found with the number “13″ on the bottom. As mentioned earlier in this article, most Ball-produced jars are typically found with a mold number ranged between 0 and 15, so naturally some percentage of them will carry the number “13″. Rumors have circulated for years (and have especially been promoted on auction sites and by flea market and antique mall dealers) that superstitious distillers of illegal whiskey (“moonshiners”) who often did use fruit jars to contain their product, were hesitant to use jars marked with a 13 on the bottom. According to the stories, they threw them away, or intentionally broke them, fearing their enterprise could otherwise be met with bad luck. Sometimes the story accuses ordinary housewives of having done the same thing if they were especially superstitious.
Personally, I think most of the stories are hogwash, although I wouldn’t doubt that it happened on a very occasional basis, and just often enough to provide impetus for an urban legend (rural legend?). Most myths and legends are based on a kernel of truth, and this may be no exception to the rule. (However, keep in mind that fruit jars cost money, and the average farmer or housewife, often continually stretched to the limit with their household budget, would have never destroyed a jar merely because of the number on the bottom). Most home canners would pay little or no attention to the markings in the first place.
Some dedicated and experienced antique jar collectors will state that they think the number 13 jars are just as common as jars as those with other numbers. I don’t think this is true. There is a definitely noticeable difference in the numbers of #13-marked jars compared to the other numbers — they are a little less common. I’ve noticed this through looking at the bases of many hundreds of typical Ball Perfect Mason jars while browsing at antique and collectible malls and flea markets. However, the mild scarcity is NOT REALLY STRONG ENOUGH to warrant the prices which are often asked for these jars on online auction sites.
It seems evident that many of these jars are now saved by non-collectors or casual glass collectors (and “culled” from large groups of common jars) merely because of the number on the base. This culling out of #13 jars from among the “general population” of jars (and stashing them away) can increase the perception of their scarcity.
They usually do sell on auction sites (if priced low enough) for several reasons- but typically because of the belief in the rumors, along with the general public’s fascination with the number 13 and it’s connection with the “dark side” of life, the theme of “being unlucky”, and the perceived connections with the supernatural, the occult, etc.
For a very good informative webpage about antique fruit jars, and commonly asked questions, including some info on the Ball Perfect Mason, check out Ball jar collector/expert Bob Clay’s page here: Common Misconceptions about Fruit Jars, by Bob Clay .
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For more information on Ball glass jars, please see Ball Jars Collectors’ Website.
For information on values, you might check out the Redbookjars.com site, where the “Redbook” fruit jar price guide for collectors is available for purchase.