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Culture

Auction of guillotine cuts France down the middle

media A guillotine AFP/Damien Meyer

A 150-year-old guillotine with "a few dents on the blade" will go under the hammer in Paris on Wednesday.

The 10-foot (three-metre) tall instrument of execution which was used to dispatch criminals in France until 1977 is in working order.

But the Drouot auction house insisted that the model was built as a replica and has never been used to behead anyone.

The sale of guillotines has been highly controversial in France where the death penalty was only abolished in 1981, with the French auction watchdog already objecting to the auction.

"They should not be selling this guillotine," a spokesman told the Parisien newspaper. "Objects like the clothes of people who were deported to the (Nazi death) camps and instruments of torture are sensitive."

That did not, however, stop another going for 220,000 euros in the same saleroom in 2011 when US pop star Lady Gaga was reportedly among the bidders.

Nor does the watchdog have the power to stop the proceedings because the guillotine is part of a bankruptcy sale.

With a reserve price of between 5,000 and 8,000 euros, auctioneers expect plenty of interest. However, a similar apparatus valued at 40,000 euros failed to sell in the western city of Nantes four years ago.

And in 2012 the French culture ministry stepped in to stop the sale of 812 objects belonging to the last French executioner in Algiers.

Fernand Meyssonnier had executed 200 people there when it was part of France, most of them fighters for Algerian independence.

Guillotines, sometimes known as "The National Razor" (Le Rasoir National) or "The Patriotic Shortener" (La Raccourcisseuse Patriotique) in French, were first adapted as a "humane" alternative to hanging, when many of the condemned had long, lingering deaths on the scaffold.

They became notorious in the Terror that followed the French revolution when more than 16,000 people were beheaded between the summers of 1793 and 1794.

The last person to die on the guillotine in France was Tunisian Hamida Djandoubi, who was executed in a Marseille prison in September 1977 after being convicted of the torture and murder of a young woman.

(with AFP)

 
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