What Is It? Game 147

Hello Neatoramanauts! This week's collaboration with the What Is It? Blog brings us this truly strange object to the left. Can you guess its function?

Place your guess in the comment section. One guess per comment, please, though you can submit as many as you'd like. Please post no URL or web links - let others play. You have until the answer is revealed at our partner blog.

Two winners as usual: the first correct guess and the funniest albeit wrong guess will win T-Shirt of their choice from the NeatoShop (check out the Funny T-Shirt and the Science T-Shirt and Artist-Designed sections for our best selections).

For more clues and a larger pic, check out the What Is It? Blog. Good luck!

Update 7/31/10 - The answer is: A Small Time Ball that was used around 1855, this clock would sit in a railroad station or store window and was connected to a telegraph line. At precisely 1:00 P.M. daily, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich would send out a signal to all of these clocks and the ball would drop. By charging for this service, observatories could profit from keeping time. The ball we see dropped on New Year's Eve every year originated from the practice of observatories dropping a large ball from the top of the building to indicate to ships and towns the precise time each day.

BigWally who got it right, but didn't specify a T-shirt. Congrats to Serris who guessed "industrial strength moth ball," which reminded me of a weird experience I once had renting a room. We found that the previous occupant had filled an entire cabinet drawer with moth balls - and I do mean "fill." I think I still remember the horrible smell of moth balls until today (we never did find out why he kept so many moth balls - perhaps he was storing dead bodies ...)

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