Guillotine is what we call the machines which trim the edges off our books after they have gone through the binding line. Huge guillotines are also used in paper handling for cutting down and squaring up sheets. And of course most of us are familiar with the piece of office equipment thus named: 




The Oxford English Dictionary‘s earliest reference to guillotine, in the paper cutting way, dates from 1883. Already in 1850 Hawthorne was using the word in the sense of curtailing parliamentary discussion (in The Scarlet Letter). I wonder who the cynic was who first applied the name of Dr Guillotin’s hair-raising brainwave to more mundane articles.

This image, from Jeff Peachey’s blog shows why we now have all these safety bars which attempt to make it impossible to leave even a finger in there. Notice that, perhaps understandably, the French word for this machine is “massicot”.

Suicide d’un relieur qui se guillotine avec un massicot dans l’imprimerie rue de l’Amiral Roussin a Paris. Gravure. Une du journal “Le petit parisien” le 19/06/1910. Collection privee. ©Lee/Leemage

Modern 3-knife trimmers tend to be integrated into high speed binding lines and function without any human manual intervention. Here’s a video showing an off-line trimmer with obvious safety features. After trimming these book blocks will proceed to casing in. Note the sophisticated piece of equipment the operator uses to clear the off-cuts.


I can remember in my early days seeing trimmers which were quite open and readily available to chop off your arm — all that stood between the operator and dismemberment being his good sense.

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