This doodad is in the entryway to the Bancroft Library. What is it? If you know, email me with the
    answer at danm41@verizon.net   

    As of February 28, 2013, I've only heard from Don Howes on this. Here's what Howsie had to say:

    Hi Dan,

    I have looked at that DooDad many times, and it always fell into the “someday I’ll figure it out” part of
    my brain. As I looked at your picture, it HIT me.

    First, for the sake of this discussion, let us ignore the Black and White Switches in the lower left
    corner. They came much later, and for now we will leave the brass valve out of it as well.

    That DooDad, the big round, black item with a hand crank, inside the vestibule of the Library is an
    “Improved Electrical Device,” invented by H. Julius Smith and patented in 1869. It is made of
    Vulcanite.

    These are the facts, the rest is conjecture on my part, but I truly believe I know what it was for, and
    why the B+W switches are there as well, and I will tell you more later, but I have to TRY and get
    something done today.

    Howsie

    About a week later, I heard from Howsie again. He'd put some clues on Facebook to see if anyone
    could come up with an explanation of the purpose of the device. He heard from Charlie Dennett.
    Here's the story from Howsie:

    Well, Charles Dennett was spot on. The round black device is an electrostatic generator. It was
    made by the A.L. Bogart Co. in NY, patent date 1869, patent # 93563, (Google patents, has the full
    text with drawings). It is listed as an "Improved electrical device" Invented by Julius Smith in Boston.
    The open contact switch in the upper right corner was to direct the lighting spark from the generator
    to either of two different fixtures. The valve is for the gas.  I am assuming that the gas was turned on,
    switch in position #1, crank the generator, it lights, repeat with switch position #2. It seems VERY
    unsafe having gas on at two locations at once, but almost nothing had any type of safety or fail-safe
    system as we have become accustomed to. The black and white switches in the lower left corner
    came later,(not currently functioning). They were cut into the existing cabinet when electrical lighting
    was added to the Library. (as of now, we don't know exactly when that was.)

    Obviously have some facts and some conjecture within my answer, but I think it is a very plausible
    explanation.

    Thanks for bringing up this little mind teaser.

    Howsie

                                                   Bancroft Memorial Library                               HOME