Who would want a guillotine? I mean not a toy guillotine, but a real one? And one which is in perfect working order. On Thursday, March 27 (this year – 2014), one will be sold by auction in the town of Nantes, 383 kilometres (237 miles) southwest of Paris and home to almost a […]

This guillotine is for sale

This guillotine is for sale


Who would want a guillotine?

I mean not a toy guillotine, but a real one? And one which is in perfect working order.

On Thursday, March 27 (this year – 2014), one will be sold by auction in the town of Nantes, 383 kilometres (237 miles) southwest of Paris and home to almost a million people.

The guillotine’s auctioneers, Enchères Talma, expect this instrument of death to fetch between €50,000 and €60,000. ($68,945 / $82,734  or  £50,088 / £41,740)

On Wednesday, the auction just hours away, as night began to fall over this Loire valley town, the Atlantic ocean just 50 kilometres (31 miles) away, no buyers had yet manifested an interest in buying Louisette, as the guillotine used to be called after Antoine Louis, the Paris surgeon, who had designed a prototype of the guillotine. Later to be named guillotine after another French medical man, Joseph Ignace Guillotin, who as a member of France’s National Assembly (parliament) proposed that capital punishment should be carried out through decapitation with the Louisette.

Louisette is rather a tall lady.

Made of iron, steel, copper and wood, she stands 300 centimetres (9 ft 10 inches) high, and that part of her that once ended the lives of men, and of women too, when the lever – the déclic – was pushed down weighs 40 kilograms (88.19 pounds). This weight is made up by the mouton which is the metal block that holds the guillotine’s blade in place and which weighs 30 kilograms (66.14 pounds). Added to this is the weight of the blade – 7 kilograms (15.43 pounds), and the kilogram (2.2 pounds) of each of three bolts that kept the blade in place. The blade was oblique. Such a blade had been found to be far more effective than a straight-edged one which was inclined to crush the neck rather than to severe it, making guillotining an altogether messier procedure. The blade always hit a man’s neck with a dull and very sharp thud. (Note that the language of the guillotine is French.)

According to the auction house, the guillotine to be auctioned as Lot 201 in an auction of 406 lots which include paintings and porcelain, was used by the army during France’s Second Empire (1852/1870) under Napoléon 3 (1808/1873).

Whoever will buy this guillotine will not be able to take it from France because, classified as an historical object, an export licence is required for it, and this the French State would not issue.

You can see a guillotine in only one place in Paris. This is in the Police Museum – Le Musee de la Prefecture de Police – at No. 4 rue de la Montagne Sainte-Genevieve, in Paris’s 5th arrondissement (district). You can see the blade of a guillotine in that museum too – and what is more it is the blade from a guillotine which was used during the French Revolution. You can also see a guillotine blade in the Conciergerie Museum. You can also see a guillotine in a jazz club in Paris’ Latin Quarter. It is not one from the French Revolution though.


Guillotine in Paris’s Police Museum (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Guillotine's blade in the Conciergerie in Paris

Guillotine’s blade in the Conciergerie in Paris


In my true-crime DIE IN PARIS, the story of France’s most prolific serial killer – Dr Marcel Petiot – guillotined on Saturday, May 25, 1946, I write about his execution.

Dr Marcel Petiot

Dr Marcel Petiot


You can read a little of what I write about the guillotine in DIE IN PARIS here below.


 Offered a glass of rum, another of France’s guillotine traditions, Marcel turned it down. He would die without ever having drunk alcohol. Instead, he asked if he could smoke a cigarette. Floriot quickly offered him one of his own.

Marcel inhaled deeply and blew rings into the stale air.

Finished, he swept his eyes over the men in the cell with him.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “I am ready.”

He was again handcuffed, and his night chain was swung around his ankles.

Without wasting any more time, the group started walking down the corridor of Block 7 — Death Row. Other inmates kicked and banged violently on the doors of their cells.

Adieu Mégot!” a voice called out.

It was a long walk down the many corridors and across two yards to the ceremonial courtyard where the guillotine was waiting. Marcel, because of the chains, lost his balance

and stumbled several times; to steady his gait, he lifted his handcuffed hands over his chest.

Close to the courtyard, he was pulled into a small room. He was to have his neck shaved, and his shirt had to be cut open so that his neck would be exposed for the guillotine’s

kiss. He seemed familiar with the routine. The room was in semi-darkness; whenever there was an execution in the courtyard the blind in front of the window was to be pulled down because sometime somewhere someone had decided it would be too cruel for the condemned to see the instrument of death.

His shirt cut, and his neck smoothly shaved, Marcel asked for another cigarette. Again, Floriot gave him one of his.

While Marcel smoked, some of the witnesses stepped outside to wait in the courtyard. They were silent. And they tried not to look at the guillotine.

The cigarette, smoked, Marcel’s handcuffs were removed. Those had been on very tightly and they had left red marks across his wrists. He was still shaking his arms to return their blood circulation when he was asked to take off his jacket and to put his hands behind his back. He shot a glance at the handcuffs lying on a table as if implying they weren’t needed anymore; would not be needed in future— not for him. He must surely have read in the books found at the townhouse, but must have forgotten, that the condemned did not go to the guillotine handcuffed; their hands were tied with ordinary domestic cord. So were his.

They were tied behind his back.

The chain around his ankles was removed.

His blood was free to rush.

You can buy the book here. It has been published as an e-book and paperback.

My book Die in Paris - the paperback

My book Die in Paris – the paperback







Marilyn Z. Tomlins

4 Responses

3-27-2014 at 11:12:10

Yes, one would need to have a weird and perhaps not altogether healthy mindset to want to own such a thing! Excellent article though, Marilyn, and intriguing snippet of your book.

2-22-2017 at 09:09:43

is the item for still for sale ?

2-22-2017 at 12:23:56

Avi Goldreich:

No, sorry, the auction was in 2014.

12-12-2017 at 01:55:05

I would like this

If you wish not to miss one of my blogs, do subscribe.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


Should you wish to contact me you can do so by email: