When did Guillotines for Bookbinding Start?

1834 Patent Model of a “Paper Trimmer”. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/patent-models-graphic-arts?page=1

Here is another gem from the Smithsonian Graphic Arts Model Collection, a very early — though not the first — guillotine for books or paper. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the US Patent Office in 1836, so this model is the only remaining record. Visually, it looks much more like the neck cutting variety rather than ones for book or paper cutting. The massive blade operates by gravity rather than a lever or flywheel; again, like the non-book styles. Similar to all the early guillotines is that the blade operates straight up and down.

It’s always a dangerous game to cite the earliest book you have seen that contains this or that evidence, since it often gets superseded. Nevertheless, the earliest book I have seen that contains incontrovertible guillotine marks (thanks to a very damaged blade) is this Harper’s publisher’s cloth binding from 1834 of “The Works of Mrs. Sherwood”. The machine had a clamp and operated straight up and down. The curvature to the marks resulted from tightly clamping and distorting the unbeaten bookblock when cutting, a feature which the patent model above lacks, and when it is released it springs back into its resting shape.

If you have earlier evidence let me know!

4 Replies to “When did Guillotines for Bookbinding Start?”

  1. The guillotine was invented in Philadelphia around 1825. I wrote it up for the American Bookbinders’ Museum when I was one of the exhibits there, about ten years ago; my write-up is still on the Museum’s site, still uncredited and rather battered in its citation formatting and prose:

    When I was in the Museum we had a Challenge guillotine on display, its components late 19th century (if my memory is correct) but probably factory-rebuilt from two examples around the 1920s. Half the write-up at the time was “our example”. The Museum has since changed the displayed guillotine to a Palmer & Rey of the 1870s, I believe, made in San Francisco at a time when The City was a world leader in industrial iron casting (connected with the gold mining industry) and typography (Palmer & Rey was a typefoundry in origin). The Palmer & Rey design, howevere, is an exact copy of an eastern company’s design of a few years earlier. The current guillotine is a better example for the Museum; it is a pity that they have no one who had the knowledge to write up the example. And it is a pity that when they removed the long write-up on the Challange, they didn’t remove the footnotes for it.

    Still, the substance of my write up on the early history of the guillotine is still there, and yoou can get some further facts from it.

    Tom Conroy

  2. Thanks for the link, Tom.

    When researching machine bookbinding, this prompted me to consider three aspects, to gain a broader picture.
    1) When was the machine was invented or patented?
    2) When was the machine physically made or purchased by a bindery?
    3) What is the earliest evidence we have of the machine in use?

    Am I missing something?

  3. I think perhaps all the various “why” questions need to be considered. The “what” questions too. If you start your list with “what is machine binding?” and “why is it important?” you will quickly find yourself in a whole different set of answers and concerns.


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