Guillotines were once a popular, supposedly humane form of public execution, where the condemned dramatically and quickly had their head lopped off at the shoulders. The device is most synonymous with the French Revolution, where countless nobles and royal family members met their fate at the hands of the diagonal blade. It was such a common sight and event that children in 18th century France even played with toy guillotines.
According to History, 2-feet-tall replica — functioning replicas, at that — guillotines were sold to children, so they could play undertaker at home. Most of the “victims” of their toys were porcelain dolls, but other times unfortunate rodents were decapitated. Some towns and villages banned the gruesome toys, fearful of their influence on children, but it wasn’t just kids playing executioner; some upper-class dinner parties featured them as morbidly ironic bread slicers, showing how ingrained the device had become in French society.
Guillotines and business were intertwined
Beheadings of the upper class and nobility became huge public events during the Reign of Terror in France, and local businesses were quick to cash in on the morbid gatherings. According to Ripley’s, cafés and restaurants would support the massive crowds lined up to watch thousands of beheadings over the years. City squares were filled with thousands eager to see the enemies of the revolution meet their supposedly humane yet definitely grisly fate. Executioners became celebrities, and heroes of the revolution. It’s no wonder children who attended these sports-like gatherings wanted to emulate the men who held up the severed heads of the condemned.
Though use of the guillotine cooled after the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, and certainly guillotine toys, the execution device would linger on for a few more centuries, finding use in Germany and French Guiana. In fact, the device saw use as late as 1977, and remains a symbol of revolution, particularly against the wealthy and ruling classes. Still, don’t expect too many Christmas presents to be filled with model guillotines any time soon.
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