During a routine valuation in Dorset, Duke’s Auction specialist found a rare working model of a guillotine made out of animal bone scraps. According to family lore, the model has been in the family since the 19th century, but they had no idea what it was until Duke’s expert Amy Brenan (who also generously provided the sweet high resolution pictures herein) identified it.
The guillotine was crafted by a prisoner of war, probably French, who was held in Britain between 1805 and 1815 during the Napoleonic wars. He collected sheep bones from the trash, carved them and put them together with impeccable attention to detail to make the 20-inch high model of an execution. An elaborate superstructure crowns the decapitation machine which rests on a platform with a victim lying horizontally waiting for the blade to fall. The victim is surrounded by armed guards on the platform, and the base of the structure is also manned by armed guards and cannons. Each figure has a hand-painted face, the blade of the guillotine drops and the soldiers holding weapons have moveable arms.
Any Brenan describes its rarity: Napoleonic prisoner of war models made from bone and ivory are hard to come by. Many designs such as the model battle ships, spinning jennies and guillotines are so intricate that they disintegrate overtime and this makes any surviving examples extremely rare. The sheer skill in creating a working model of the guillotine coupled with its social significance at the time, has made the guillotine models particularly desirable.