The guillotine took over the task which was once performed by a plough: trimming the edges of a book. The word “guillotine” came after the French Revolution; a machine for bulk cutting presumably predated it though, and probably sparked Dr Guillotine’s imagination. As commercial binding became more and more mechanized during the nineteenth century the use of the plough became less widespread. However it was until recently quite usual for book binderies to have one or two workers who were skilled in unusual tasks — apprenticeships aimed to make you master of many techniques — and during my working life it was possible to get a book hand bound at many book binderies. I can’t swear that the plough was used on these occasions, but one had heard the term, so I assume it was.

This is how the plough works:

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Ploughs are still being used by many hand binders. One of them, Jeff Peachey, has a fascinating post about an old plough with commentary by Tom Conroy, a binding tool expert.