These were sold as fire extinguishers at the
turn of the 19th/20th century.
In the event of a fire, the grenade was to be thrown into the
burning room, where it would (hopefully) break - allowing the
liquid it contained to escape and extinguish the fire.
It seems likely that many did contain a liquid which would
vaporise when released from the glass sphere and, perhaps,
extinguish a small fire in a small room.
Many claims were made about the efficacy of the liquid they
contained and without doubt the salesman’s imagination could run
riot. Cynics suggest that some might have contained just plain
water or, sinisterly, that some of the liquids they used would
produce deadly, toxic vapours!