Hundred-Year-Old Canning Jar Labels

Source: Milton (PA) Evening Standard (August 23, 1911)
Source: Milton (PA) Evening Standard (August 23, 1911)

A hundred years ago people didn’t have markers that could be used to write labels on canning jar lids. They also didn’t have printers to print labels  or even clear tape that could be used to attach labels to the jars. Back then newspapers often printed labels that could be cut out and pasted on jars of freshly canned food.

I generally prepare posts for this blog fairly quickly – but today’s post is an exception. It’s taken me over five years from the time that I first thought about doing this post to actually posting it.

I recently was browsing through a hundred-year-old magazine and saw this tip:

Sometimes the women folks can’t remember when they put up certain cans of fruit. Paste a dated slip of paper on the side.

Farm Journal (August, 1915)

The old tip reminded me that back in 2011, which was the first year I was doing this blog, that I’d scrolled though some old microfilms of hundred-year-old issues of the Milton (PA) Evening Standard,  and had been surprised how the newspaper regularly printed labels for commonly canned foods – cherries in July, tomatoes in August, grape juice in September . . .

I copied a page with labels for tomatoes from the newspaper and planned to do a post on it – but somehow I never actually got around to writing that post and quickly forgot about it until I saw the Farm Journal tip.  So here is the post – better late than never.

69 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Canning Jar Labels

  1. Your timing is much appreciated…I pickled some shallots yesterday and I completely forgot to label them until I saw this! So thank you. This is such an example of how easy it is to take things for granted, though. I saw the slips and thought, oh how useful. But of course it’s obvious, there were no sticky labels and the jars and cans needed to be labelled somehow.

  2. Sometimes younger people don’t appreciate the role the community newspaper played “back in the day.” We read our newspaper every day for local news, homemaking tips, social notes, and so on. You could find a good recipe, a tip on how to transplant lilacs, or the details of Mr. and Mrs. Harrison’s visit in the home of their son and daughter-in-law. Oh — and the school lunch menus, too!

    I didn’t know about the canning labels, though. I don’t remember seeing those. It’s a wonderful idea. Don’t you know those women in 1911 would be amazed by our ability to print out pre-gummed labels?

    1. You nicely describe the multiple roles of newspapers years ago. Some of their functions were very similar to the role of Facebook and other social media today, while the internet has filled other roles.

      1. We did. We also used it to insulate dog houses, pack boxes for mailing or moving, create papier-mâché art work, make rolled and wax-saturated firestarters. And, because there was so much information, we clipped articles incessantly, and often put them in our scrapbooks. I still have a few showing me involved in this or that. Great fun.

    1. I also thought that it was interesting how the old magazine referred to “women folks.” Those few words make me very aware of how rigid gender roles were a hundred years ago. Men obviously weren’t in the kitchen cooking and canning back then.

  3. It’s interesting what’s taken for granted now-a-days. Something as simple as a label to mark food was greatly appreciated for the homemaker back then.
    Five years is a long time. Well worth the wait. You did a fabulous job. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words. The labels in the newspaper make me realize that most households probably didn’t even have a typewriter back then. Modern technology allows us to take so much for granted.

  4. Very interesting. Amazing what we take for granted. I keep discovering things that make me sit up and take notice. Yesterday in googling for “My Father’s House” I came across President Hardings age when he dropped dead of an apparent heart attack in 1923. He was 58, close to two years older than the average life span for an American male — 56.1 years. Of course, that average is influenced by the death rate at the early end of the age scale — i.e. infants and children. Still …

  5. They also tied labels on with yarn. They would use the inside of boxes that food came in for the labels. Cut out little squares and punch holes in them with a ice pick. When jars was cooled write out the label and tie it on right under the lip of the lid. You didn’t have to soak labels off.

    1. People sure didn’t waste anything back then – not even food packaging. Though in some ways, tying the label on with yarn sounds very practical. 🙂

  6. I’m glad to hear you have thoughts way ahead of yourself, too. The power and pleasure of the newspaper still exists for many of us, but down the road, I wonder…

    Thank you for bringing us your wonders of the 100 years ago past.
    Sheila

    1. Ideas are always popping into my head. Fortunately they generally seem to pop out of my head almost as quickly – otherwise I’d never find time to write everything up. 🙂

  7. Wow I had no idea the papers did this back then, what an amazing service they provided. And look, NO ADVERTISING to go with it, which probably started happening in later years. I think Ball would have paid for it though.

    1. That is an interesting point. Old newspapers had lots of advertisements in them, and now that you mention it, it seem like they might have been able to get Ball or other canning companies to “sponsor” the food labels. I don’t know why they didn’t do it.

  8. I love the tidbits of history that you share with us! So very cool that newspapers printed labels in their paper for people to cut out! Our microwave just died and we reheated our meal the old fashioned way on the stove and hubby and I were reminiscing those days before microwaves!!! Times sure have changed! Have a great weekend my friend! Hugz Lisa and Bear

    1. It’s always so frustrating when appliances break – though it sounds like you were able to make the best of the inconvenience by reminiscing about the “good old days.”

    1. I’m going to have to look for an old flour paste recipe. 🙂 Similarly to Suzassippi, I have vague memories of making flour paste a couple times when I was a child.

  9. Love this post. I used to do a tremendous amount of canning and loved all of the pretty labels available. I know my grandmothers didn’t have this advantage and apparently didn’t get any from the newspaper, since we were always trying to identify what might be in that purple-colored jelly jar (always hoping for something with blackberries).

    1. You comment reminds me that my mother always put white tape with her name written on it on the bottom of dishes and cake pans when she took them to picnics.

  10. “Sometimes the women folks” 🙂
    I’m glad you finally posted this. It really brought home the point that folks just couldn’t print out a label or write on one. The things we take for granted today!

  11. Another interesting post – these practical labels must have been so appreciated back then. I’m impressed you managed to find the page you copied back in 2011! You must be very organized.

    1. I’d put all of the pages that I’d copied when going through the old newspaper microfilms in a file folder, and I was pleasantly surprised how easily I found this specific page. I thought that it might be more difficult to find, and was pleased that in this instance my filing system actually worked. 🙂

  12. Ah, the things we take for granted! My husband enjoys picking wild berries and turning them into jam. I’ll be sure to share your post with him – he can compare the labels he printed with those from the newspaper. Love the post – thank you for sharing!

    1. mmm. . . wild berry jam sounds wonderful. I find it amazing how basic these labels are; yet back then people must have considered these printed newspaper labels to be much better than handwritten ones.

    1. When trying old recipes it seems like there is always a lot of interpretation involved. Many recipe writers back then apparently assumed that cooks would somehow just know how much to use of the various ingredients. I think they were trying to be flexible so that adjustments could be made to account for different pan sizes, personal preferences, characteristics of the ingredients, etc. – but it also assumed that recipe users were very skilled cooks. I know that I’m often not quite sure whether I’ve exactly replicated a hundred-year-old recipe writer’s intended recipe – but try not to worry too much about it and just have fun.

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