Here’s some good information from Unmaking Things about the Bell Jar.
Little is known of the origins of bell jars. Effectively inverted, wide-mouthed glass vessels, it has been suggested that similar objects were used by the Egyptians to extract the elements responsible for illness as early as 1559 BC. Such ‘Cupping’ instruments were also used for blood-letting in the nineteenth-century (See Illustration 1). However, there is no specific provenance for the object or its appellation. It is often suggested that the ‘bell’ jar reflects the frequently bell-like shape of the glass. One would further speculate that the denotation may have become more popular following Robert Boyle’s infamous bell-in-a-jar experiment in 1660. Demonstrating how a ringing bell contained within a bell jar became inaudible when a vacuum was established, this was the first experiment to prove that sound cannot travel in a vacuum. Published in Boyle’s influential New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of Air and its Effects of 1660, this arguably marked a significant moment in the history of the bell jar.
More images and information can be found on Unmaking Things.
Unmaking Things is an online creative platform, established in October 2011 by History of Design MA students at the Victoria and Albert Museum & Royal College of Art.