A Guillotine That Beheaded No One Stirs Up Controversy

It was purchased last week in France for $9K
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 18, 2018 3:47 PM CDT
A Guillotine That Beheaded No One Stirs Up Controversy
An illustration of a guillotine.   (Getty Images/ilbusca)

It wasn't one of the guillotines actually used to behead people, but the sale of it has still stirred up some controversy in France. The mid-19th-century replica was sold last Wednesday in an auction that lasted just 2 minutes, with a French multimillionaire named Christophe Février snapping it up for $9,300. That's a relative bargain, per the New York Times, which reports that the same 10-foot-tall guillotine was purchased by an unnamed Russian in 2011. His winning €223,000 bid is about $260,000 at today's rates, and exceeded the offer made by rival bidder Lady Gaga, reports the Times of London, which notes experts at the time held that the guillotine had actually been used in executions. Subsequent tests showed that was not the case.

But the Russian's purchase came with a problem: France doesn't permit the import or export of instruments of torture, so the guillotine remained in a Paris jazz club until the club's recent bankruptcy. (The BBC fills in the timeline, explaining the jazz club took over a space formerly occupied by a museum of torture.) France's auction watchdog was not pleased, with a rep saying the sale shouldn't have occurred: "Objects like the clothes of people who were deported to the (Nazi death) camps and instruments of torture are sensitive." But it was unable to stop the court-ordered auction. Février himself is sensitive about where he will display what he describes "as a historic symbol tied to the common heritage of humanity": "As a father of four, I don't want to exhibit it in a family setting," he tells the Times. (An item left on the Waterloo battlefield recently sold for $400,000.)

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