JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 660
Oh, all right--these aren't really miniature people--they just look like it. (And I'll be interested to see how people come to this post via Google!) What these images display are physical science laboratory demonstration tools and toys. (People have been swimming in fomalin and formaldehyde for a long time, hundreds of years--but I'm not dealing with the biological preparations today, I'm only after found, out-of-context oddness.)
This first image, lovely and odd as it seems, is a simple demonstration device showing how a diving bell operates and was manufactured around 1910. This would've been used in a classroom for a three dimensional learning tool , a standard approach to help elucidate phyical principles. Classrooms would've had cabinets stuffed with these sorts of instruments--if the school had any money--and were in vogue for hundreds of years. In this case we see the worker with his shovel being lowered into water, encased in a glass dome, with a line attached top a syringe which delivers oxygen. (The image is from the catalog of John J. Griffin & Sons, Scientific Handicraft... London, 1910.)
The second image is a pretty high-end cup of tantalus--a vessel that cannot be filled because of pressure and siphoning and an exit port. It is named for the Greek bad boy Tantalus, who was the son of Zeus and Plouto, and by whose various misdeeds was cast away in Tartarus, the lowest strata of Hades in a place reserved for evildoing evildoers. Tantalus lived a life of theft and flippant care: for example, he was the one whom invited to dine with the gods, stole their ambrosia and gave it to the people. In another example we see Tantalus offering his son to the gods by preparing him, thinnly dicing the boy, and chopping that, serving him to the gods for luncheon--not everyone was fooled, and no one was amused. Part of his trials in the Underworld gives us the term "tantalzing": desire without fulfillment. His position in the afterlife, such as it was, was not pretty: Tantalus was to stand in perpetual hunger in a stream beneath fruiting trees; the water though would prevent him from reaching anything to eat, every time, and forever. . Every time he grew thirsty, the water level would lower itself, and he couldn't reach anything to drink. Pretty bad stuff to do for eternity. This cup was called a Tantalus Cup because it would siphon itself off (through a tube in the bottom of the glass) so that the glass would always only get about half-way filled. Why a "Chinese-like" figure was chosen for Tantalus, I don't know.
Lastly is a Jar of Sinking Imps--I've seen this before with Mother/Father figures, regular humans--but this device contains non-humans. This image comes from Aryton Paris, Philosophy in Sport (1853), and was a scientific toy demonstrating what happens to air-filled items immersed in water (and where they are nearly the same specific gravity as water), when pressure is applied to a rubber bladder on top of the filled jar. The pressure from the weight applied to the rubber bladder causes the air in the imps to compress; and when the air is compressed, the imps sink to the bottom. Not exactly hours of fun, unless there was nothing else around, though I must confess I've seen my daughters have long periods of uninterrupted fun with slimmest of found objects....