This is a device used to demonstrate the effect of atmospheric pressure. A glass vessel with openings at the bottom and top has its large top opening covered by a piece of animal bladder that is tied to seal it around its edges. As air is pumped from the vessel through the bottom opening, atmospheric pressure causes the bladder to deform downward, ultimately bursting with a loud bang. This seemingly simple effect is mentioned in the majority of nineteenth century physics textbooks.
Property of the W&L Physics & Engineering Department
“Bladder Glass,” Digital Exhibits at Washington and Lee University Library, accessed November 20, 2017, http://omeka.wlu.edu/items/show/173.