|The models in this section represent upgraded versions of the basic 1792 guillotine with various features added through the years. Tobias Schmidt's first two machines, built for Paris and Versailles, were strongly criticized by architect Giraud in an official letter to the Justice Ministry. Schmidt immediately offered an improved machine with many of the changes suggested by Giraud but still lost the bidding to a carpenter named Clairin, a friend of Giraud. This did not prevent Schmidt from going directly to the Provincial governments and selling his improved machine around the Ministry. Since he was prepared to build them immediately, he appears to have outmanoeuvered Clairin. There is good evidence that most of the regional guillotines from the 1792-1794 period were built by Schmidt contrary to some historical accounts that suggest he was pushed out after building the two first machines.|
Original 1792 documents from the archives of the Ministere de la Justice give many details of the Schmidt machines through his own hand-written proposals. Among the details given in the quotes are dimensions and sketches of various metal parts. From these and from photos of the Luxembourg, Venlo and Brugge guillotines, which date back to that same period, I have been able to reconstruct the 1794 guillotine.
The 1794 model shown above was sold to best-selling Swiss author Claude Cueni.
A large number of guillotines were built in 1793 and 1794 for regional executioners throughout France. When the number of executions returned to a more normal level, after the 9 Thermidor Year II (27 July 1794), which marked the end of the Terror, France was left with a big surplus of guillotines.|
Some were sold to foreign governments, some were sent to the colonies and others were upgraded and used through 1871. The models photographed in this section represent various designs used between 1794 and the 1850s. Upgrades to the basic 1792 model include metal lined tracks, metal lined lunettes, moutons with rollers, bascules with leather straps, zinc head tubs, blade stops with springs etc.
This particular model could be from 1820, 1830 or could even be similar the one that took Lacenaire's life in 1836.
|This third model would probably have been used in the 1840s or 50s. The metal bucket comes straight from the Berger guillotine introduced in 1871. The spring stops and the steel-lined lunette are early improvements, but the taller posts and the spacer bar between the uprights only appear on guillotines in late 1800's photos. The Metz guillotine (See History Page) was very tall, had a post spacer bar and ressembles this model closely. To further project this as the modern version, I used the brown paint of the Berger guillotines rather that the red paint that was used during the Revolution.|
This model is a close replica of the guillotine that was operated on the island of Nou, part of the New Caledonia bagne (penal colony).
The only design information I had to build this model is the photograph on the left, which shows the old executioner, Massé, with his guillotine around 1900 and a few drawings of executions made by inmates.
Read more about the New Caledonia guillotine on the history pages of this website. The model, which also features a metal head tub and a wood body crate, will be exhibited in a small museum located in the restored bakery building of the old penal colony, on the island. The model was purchased by the New Caledonia-based historical organization "Temoignage d'un passé".
|Note the partial steel liner on the back of the lunette, a design found on the Geneva guillotine. Note also the leather curtain hanging from a steel hoop. This contraption was described in detail in a 1792 Schmidt quote. It was designed to hide the most violent part of the execution from direct view. A hoop of this type is still visible on the antique French guillotine exhibited in a Nurnberg Museum (See History section).|
|The mouton on the model above is cast from lead musket balls found on a battlefield of the French Revolution. The 1792 guillotine was designed to always be bolted to a scaffold thus lacks lateral stabilizing braces. This became a problem when the scaffold was eliminated by law decree in 1870. Some French colonies that continued to use older guillotines simply removed the legs from the scaffold but retained its frame and floor planking as an integral part of the machine.|
|This model also uses the partial liner on the back of the lunette. The rope basket is speculative as there is no irrefutable evidence that baskets were actually used, despite their popularity in cinematographic depictions. The metal lined tracks were described already in a 1792 written quote from Schmidt to the justice ministry. Their use is confirmed by the Luxembourg guillotine but several other surviving 1792 guillotines do not have this improvement.|
|The spring stops seen here were not used on the original guillotines but they appear on a drawing of the Liege guillotine dating them back to the early 1800s. Before that the mouton slammed down on leather or fabric pads packed into the tracks. The mouton on this model is also equipped with steel guide rollers which were already used on the 1793 guillotine from Nantes. They appear to have been one of the first improvements made to the original guillotine.|
|The full steel lined lunette was already introduced in late 1792. Schmidt indicates that each steel plate was to be secured to the wood with 6 nails. On this model, I use 12 recessed screws on each plate. The mouton has four the steel guide rollers that do not ride in the tracks but against the inside of the posts. The shape of the chapiteau is copied on the New Caledonia guillotine which may have been built around 1850. The smaller chapiteau appears on photos of guillotines in New Caledonia, Reunion Island, Senegal and in the city of Metz.|
|Note the release handle with the locking pin, mechanically similar to the one on the guillotines during the Revolution, but with a guarded handle which was in use on guillotines in later years. Note also the metal head tub, the steel lunette liner and the spring stops, all later improvements to the original Schmidt model guillotine.|
|The machine was built around the core of a 1792-type Revolutionary Guillotine. This machine was designed to always be bolted to a scaffold. When the scaffold was eliminated by the Cremieux ministerial decree of 1870, the older guillotines had to be adapted or replaced. In the case of the guillotine from Ile Nou, a frame was added under the original base, including a cross beam to provided lateral stability. New lateral angle braces span between the beam to the posts. The guillotine also includes two wood cross members between the uprights which were not part of the original core machine. These were likely added to maintain track parallelism as the machine aged and warped.|
|Other notable “modern” modifications are the footrest on the bascule, the metal head bucket and the slot in the lunette track allowing the lunette board to be removed without disassembling the machine.|