This strange-looking device is a siphon coffeemaker made in England between 1865 and 1875. Scottish marine engineer Robert Napier (1791—1876) is credited with inventing this type of coffeemaker in 1840. To use the device, one added ground coffee and boiling water to the glass vessel, then poured a small amount of boiling water into the porcelain vessel. Lighting the burner below the porcelain vessel created a vacuum that siphoned the water into the glass vessel containing the steeped coffee. Once the porcelain vessel emptied, a counterweight raised it above the reach of the flame, which was then extinguished. Another vacuum siphoned the coffee back into the porcelain vessel, almost as if it were riding a see-saw. The spigot dispensed coffee. These coffeemakers are still made today; watch a video of one in action by searching on YouTube.
This object, along with many other technical devices, can be seen in the upcoming DAR Museum exhibition “Creating the Ideal Home, 1800—1939: Comfort and Convenience in America,” which opens October 4, 2013, and runs through August 30, 2014.