More than four decades after the guillotine was last used in an execution in France, a 150-year-old replica of the device made famous in The Terror that followed the French Revolution has sold at auction for the equivalent of $9,355.
The 10-foot-tall guillotine, described as having “a few dents on the blade” had nonetheless never been used in an actual execution, according to the Drouot auction house.
The auction, which lasted only two minutes, ended with French industrialist Christophe Février putting in the winning bid, which was double the starting price.
Although the guillotine sold on Wednesday is a replica, its sale has sparked some of the same criticism reserved for past auctions of the authentic object.
“They should not be selling this guillotine,” a spokesman for a French auction watchdog told the Parisien newspaper. “Objects like the clothes of people who were deported to the (Nazi death) camps and instruments of torture are sensitive.”
The Agence France-Presse news agency reports, “That did not, however, stop another going for 220,000 euros ($234,000) in the same saleroom in 2011 when US pop star Lady Gaga was reportedly among the bidders.”
According to the BBC, the replica sold on Wedneday “was once on display at a museum of torture in Paris. It was part of a bankruptcy sale of a jazz club that took over the museum’s premises.”
France abolished the death penalty in 1981 and its last execution by guillotine was in 1977, when Tunisian Hamida Djandoubi was executed at a Marseille prison for the torture and murder of a young woman.
According to the History Channel, “The origins of the French guillotine date back to late-1789, when Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed that the French government adopt a gentler method of execution. Although he was personally opposed to capital punishment, Guillotin argued that decapitation by a lightning-quick machine would be more humane and egalitarian than sword and axe beheadings, which were often botched.”
The device was famously used in the Reign of Terror, or simply The Terror, a period of inter-factional dispute that followed the French Revolution of 1789. The Terror lasted from June 1793 to July 1794, when 16,594 people were executed by guillotine, according to official records.