Recently, I perused a few sites designed for and by Mason jar collectors. They’re usually places for serious collectors to show off their finds, pick up tips on finding jars, and share stories. Then there’s the occasional forum scattered with questions from excited newbies. These people have usually come across old boxes of Mason jars without really knowing what they have. You can practically hear the breathless anticipation in their typed questions: “How much can I get for this jar?” “What’s the value on this?” “What’s a jar like this worth, anyway?”
The answer is complicated. I’m head over heels for my jars, but I’m not alone. Whether we’re pickling pecks of peppers or blackberry jamming ’til dawn, we rely on the Mason jar to keep everything neat, tidy, safe and beautiful. And the story behind them — well, that’s special, too.
In 1810, Francois (Nicolas) Appert, a Frenchman and expert brewer, chef and food preserver, designed a procedure for storing food in sealed glass using a heated water bath and the principle of air exclusion. Those of us who bottle our food will recognize that familiar process — it’s one we can practically perform in our sleep. But at the time, it was revolutionary. You have to remember, this was way before we knew anything about bacteria or pasteurization. Appert was taking a guess, one based on experience and a lucky hunch. (Can you imagine discovering such a thing on a whim?)
People began to preserve their food with Appert’s system, but things weren’t exactly airtight, if you’ll pardon the pun. Hand-dripped wax seals, paper circles and all manner of messy and unreliable methods dominated the canning scene. Then, in 1858, a New York City tinsmith named John L. Mason (bless his heart) invented a machine that could cut threaded lids. He saw the potential for applying this to food preservation, an area that other innovators before him had tried and failed to improve. Mason designed a glass container setup with a threaded top, zinc lid and rubber ring. After this, the Mason jar took off in the city and country alike — canning was easier, safer, and more popular than ever. Even blenders were originally designed to fit mason jars! And they’re so useful that the Ball plant produces 585,000 jars (and counting) every day.
So how can we best show our respect for these deceptively basic homesteading accessories? I’d say by giving them long, practical lives as the multi-purpose workhorses they are. And if you’re short on ideas, just lemme bend your ear for a few.
Measuring cups. Salad dressing shakers. Holders for spare change. Or spare pickles. Dried beans and pasta storage. Small toy containers. Drinking glasses. Rings and earrings kept in the small ones. Necklaces and bracelets hung from branches perched in the large ones. Trusty soap and detergent holders. Homes for mines of bath salts, clouds of cotton balls and stacks of Q-tips. A happy sight: Mason jars full of candies or candy-colored office doodads like paper clips and rubber bands. Oh! A large Mason jar full of perfectly sharpened, yellow, number-two pencils. Be still, my beating heart.
Corrals for tiny hardware bits and pieces. An at-a-glance location for your beads and buttons, spools of yarn, ribbons and fabric scraps. The vehicle for neat stacks of chocolate chippers or a whimsical jumble of brownie cubes — all tied up with a pink bow and presented with a bashful smile. A beauteous home for bouquets or for a luminous citronella candle on a muggy, buggy summer’s night. Flower vases. A big one all full o’ lemonade (too big for one person, truth be told, but you’re going to drink it on the porch all by yourself anyway).
A fermentation cave for sourdough starters or vinegar mothers. Fresh milk from my dairy cow, Chocolate, generous sweetheart that she is. With a present tucked inside, your jar’s a reusable gift wrap! But with apple-cider vinegar and a squirt of dish soap, it’s much less romantic — a fruit-fly trap. A glass encampment for little green plastic army guys. A good way to keep an eye on how much of my Budget Mix you have left. A home for key collections, seashell collections or special pebbles that your kids gave you. A clothespin bin or a soap bar scrap pile. A sprouting jar. A support for your best-loved wooden spoons. A treasure chest for last season’s heirloom seeds.
So back to that question: what is your Mason jar really worth? It’s priceless.
Copyright 2011, MaryJane Butters.
Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.