An Answer To An Old Question

 

By Dick Cole

 

The late Dick Roller unearthed, researched and solved many mysteries in his years of working on fruit jars. One that he never was able to completely answer involves the Drey jars. The history behind this line of jars is fairly well known. Leo Drey, who pronounced his last name “dry,” was the president of the Schram Manufacturing Company from 1908 until his death in 1920. The company, which had been founded by Henry Schram in 1904, was first known as the Schram Automatic Sealer Company, after its patented jar of the same name that used a side-sealing metal lid.

The Drey jars were Schram’s secondary line, and they came in a variety of styles and embossing. They are most famous for the Drey boss, a glass projection on the neck used to anchor the wire bail on a lightning-style jar. But not all Dreys have this boss. Dreys can be found with a full-wire bail closure, a patented circular dimpled boss, and both shoulder seal and bead seal mason closures. The embossing variations include Drey Ever Seal, Drey Improved Ever Seal, Drey Pat’d 1920 Improved Ever Seal, Drey Mason, Drey Perfect Mason and Drey Square Mason.

Ball Brothers bought out Schram in 1925, and operated its plants at Hillsboro, IL, Huntington, WV for many years. The standard thinking was that Ball dropped the Automatic Sealer line of jars after they acquired Schram, but continued to use the Drey molds at the old Schram plants over the next few years until they wore out. A few Drey molds were even known to have been modified, the "Drey" being changed to read "Ball." The Ball Square Mason jars are one example.

The problem that Dick Roller faced was this: This theory did not explain the existence of Drey Perfect Mason jars that had some very distinctive Ball characteristics, characteristics that Ball didn’t introduce until well after the molds should have been worn out.

For example, Dreys can be found with grippers (ribs) on the sides and concentric circles on the base. Ball bought the rights to the grippers from Brockway in 1933, eight years after acquiring Schram. The concentric circles are also a later addition. As Dick said in his Standard Fruit Jar Reference, page 110: "It is possible that the variation jars with concentric circles on the base and glass ribs on the sides were made by Ball after they acquired the Schram plant at Hillsboro, Illinois and Huntington, West Virginia, which they continued to operated for some years. Why they would make Drey-marked jars is uncertain."

The problem got more confusing when Dick diligently searched the Ball factory records in the possession of the Minnetrista Cultural Center and found that Ball made Drey jars in Muncie for many years after the acquisition. As he said in the Fruit Jar Newsletter of December 1991: "Ball Muncie Production journals show that Ball produced various styles of Drey jars as late as 1938 - thirteen years after they had bought Schram.... It is unknown why Ball continued to make competitor jars long after having acquiring them."

Adding to the confusion is that the Drey jar is never listed in Ball advertising literature, or in places you would expect find it, like in the Ball Blue Books of the era. That Ball was indeed making and selling Dreys was confirmed when Dick reported in the April 1993 Fruit Jar Newsletter the discovery a cardboard box labeled “Drey Perfect Mason.” It has no indication on the box as to who made the jars. The only clue is on the bottom of the box, where, along with the date - 1933 - it lists Ball as the maker of the box.

The mystery - why did Ball continue to make and sell jars with the Drey name for years after the buyout, not advertising them, and even trying to hide the fact that they were the maker?

The solution came about simply enough one day in the Fall of 1999, when I got a message that Mr. Edmund Ball wanted me to be at his house at 11 o'clock the next morning to pick up some artifacts that he was donating to Minnetrista’s collection. As most of you know, Mr. Ball was the son of one of the five Ball brothers that founded the famous fruit jar company. As the Ball Brothers Foundation is the source of most of the funding for Minnetrista, where I work, the request was treated with proper attention.

My hopes of finding a treasure trove of old, rare, unreported jars were quickly dashed. The artifacts consisted mainly of the commemorative and retirement jars that Ball pumped out in the last 25 years. There were a bunch of bottles, flasks, mugs and glasses, none fruit jar related. There were some nice jars, like four midgets - one Hero cross, the others CFJCo monogram. - a couple Mason's Patent jars with the Ball added, two half-gallon Ball Perfect Masons from the 1920's, a sun-colored Mason (loop underline) - all things that had been given to him over the years, as Mr. Ball explained to me.

The answer to the mystery came about when I picked up a Drey jar, an offset Perfect Mason, nothing unusual about it except that it had a piece of paper stuck in it. The unsigned note explained the history of Ball buying Schram, then added the following: “Used Drey trademark in order to avoid cutting price on regular Ball jar,” followed by “This info from Edmund F. Ball 10-1-84.”

Since Mr. Ball was sitting right there, I read the note to him and asked him if he would elaborate on it. I can’t recite his response verbatim, but he confirmed the information, saying that during the Great Depression, many competitors cut the price of their home canning jars to try to stay in business. Ball wanted to remain competitive while maintaining the image of the Ball line as the quality leader in home canning jars.

So the Drey jar became Ball’s discount line. To keep costs down, they didn’t advertise. They didn’t want to undercut their Ball line by letting people know that the Drey was made by Ball in Ball plants on the same machines as regular Ball jars. This accounts for the lack of identification on the box, no mention in the Blue Books, etc.

I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask Mr. Ball about the Acme line of jars, but I suspect that the same thing might hold true for them and even other Ball-made jars of the era.

Since Mr. Ball was in a position at the time to know the inner workings of the company - he was 28 years old in 1933, working for a business owned by his father and uncles - I have to believe that his information is reliable. It makes sense, fits the facts and is simple enough I should have figured it out myself.

It would be nice if I could take credit for doing some involved research to come up with the solution to the mystery, but in reality I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I just wish Dick Roller was still around so I could have the pleasure of sharing my discovery with him.

 

Written by Richard H. Cole, Jr.

© 2002 Minnetrista Cultural Center