These glass spheres were used to contain gases such as iodine, bromine, and hypo-nitrous acid in order to study their light-absorption properties, i.e. their absorption spectra. Light shown on the cell passed through the glass and was absorbed by the gas differentially at different wavelengths. The spherical cells are listed in the 1888 "Illustrated Catalogue of Instruments used in Physical Optics" published by James W. Queen and Co. of Philadelphia at $7.00.
Property of the W&L Physics & Engineering Department
“Absorption Cell,” Digital Exhibits at Washington and Lee University Library, accessed November 20, 2017, http://omeka.wlu.edu/items/show/169.