Guillotine models
Public DomainGuillotine models - Credit: Michael
Device for carrying out executions by decapitation. It was invented under King Louis XVI in 1791 as the French Revolution was getting underway, by a committee headed by the king’s physician, Antoine Louis. The idea was to come up with a surer, more humane form of execution than beheading by hand-held axe or hanging, both of which were subject to botch-ups and prolonged agony.

Louis and German engineer Tobias Schmidt designed and built the first prototype, but for some reason the object was named after another member of the committee, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. The resulting tall, upright wooden frame containing a suspended blade which drops with a rope to sever the prisoner’s head became the premier symbol of The Terror that followed the revolution.

The description of “Monsieur Guillotine” and his apparatus in chapter 24 sounds more like a wax museum display or Ripley’s Believe It or Not, than a carnival sideshow amusement.