THE REVOLUTION: Guillotine trinkets and toys
Were earrings and other objects made showing the guillotine? In different discussions between 1866 and 1923, several writers in the Intermediaire des
Chercheurs said they were, but not without contradiction.
The 1866 thread begins (May 25, 18666, (295)) with a reference from Mercier's New Paris ("Nouveau Paris") in which he talks of the luxury and parties that contrasted with the horrors of the Revolution. The writer of the item says that - per his grandfather, a member of the Directory - this was no longer true under the Terror: "All the silversmiths were closed; only copper jewelry was sold, not even gilded, in the form of guillotines, levels [? implying the leveling of society? JC], liberty caps, etc."
Some questions were then discussed: was the copper jewelry gilded or not? Did the women of Paris wear such items, or only the women of Nantes? A later
writer even questioned the existence of such objects. The next entry (August 10, 1866 (454)) quotes Mercier again: "The women of Paris did not wear in their ears, like the women of Nantes, gilded guillotines." But the writer points out that Mercier was imprisoned during the period in question and so could only have heard, not seen, this - in other words, his account is questionable. However, an item from September 25 (561) gives the example of colonel Maurin, who was said to have had earrings in the shape of the guillotine, as well as the ladder used by Latude to escape the Bastille and one of Palloy's models of the Bastille (made from its own stone), and Camille Desmoulin's last letter to his wife.
Other examples - all from Nantes - are given in the 1867 (February 10 (87-88)) edition. One note cites an image in the Autographe (of December 1864) of "Guillotine earrings, worn at Carrier's balls at Nantes. An example of this curious piece of jewelry belongs to M.D.R. of Nantes; he has it from his mother, on whom it was imposed by Carrier himself. Another example is said to exist in the judicial archives... of ...Chartres." (Still? Chartres is a lovely town, if anyone's inclined to go look.)
Another writer cites another pair from Nantes, owned and described by Chéron de Villiers in his work Charlotte Corday. These, in red copper, included a dangling head, crowned and beheaded. Yet another reports seeing several pieces of copper jewelry (some quite long) representing squares (T-squares?), "radiant levels", little guillotines, scaffolds, etc, or mottos such as "Liberté, Equalité, ou la Mort" (Liberty, Equality or Death), "Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité" (the still current Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) and "République Française une et indivisible" (French Republic, one and undivisible).
In Nantes, at least, it appears that such jewelry really did exist.
The last writer here prefigures a subject which appeared years later: working miniature models of the guillotine. He says that "at the request of several distinguished amateurs" reduced versions of the guillotine were created as "household furniture and utensils".
Most such models seemed to be toys rather than useful items. In 1906 (667) the Goncourts were quoted, from their History of French Society during the Revolution, to the effect that exiled Royalists used to set up miniature mahogany guillotines and with these behead dolls representing Bailly, Lameth, Lafayette, etc. When each head rolled, a purple fluid spilled out in which the emigrés would dip their handkerchiefs (as some were said to have dipped theirs in the blood of Louis XVI) - the 'dolls' were actually bottles and the 'blood' was perfume. The writer of this item questions this tale (though the Goncourts' rigor overall is later defended). The writer also questions tales of guillotine jewelry and toys, but accepts as true references to a seal showing a guillotine.
A later writer (1923 (53)) says the seal in question was used by Gateau, a military administrator. The same writer says that the guillotine 'trinket'
described by the Goncourts must have been made abroad, as were 'guillotine plates' which were sold to English customers who'd read (probably falsely) that
the Revolutionaries had produced such ghoulish souvenirs. In France itself, less playful toys of a 'prudent civic spirit' were produced: "little guillotines for flies, streetlamps on which were fixed, hanged, little cardboard aristocrats."
The idea of toy guillotines, not surprisingly, survived the Revolution - though I doubt they were welcome in France under the Restoration. The Magasin Pittoresque (No 70 -1902 (19)) tells the story of Cruchet, originally a fisherman and then a sailor, who was captured at Trafalgar and learned to make toys while in prison. One so impressed the Regent that he offered him money and his freedom - but Cruchet demanded the release of five others with him, and was refused. Finally released in 1815, he stayed in England, where he made toy guillotines for children, before returning to France to become a maker of clever and often expensive toys.
Cruchet was not alone. The Carnavalet Museum has models of the guillotine (complete with steps and scaffolding) made by French prisoners in England. (Strangely, the museum's own site doesn't seem to show these details.