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According to mythology Hephaestus created mechanical young women out of gold to be his helpers. But being kind and wise he wanted them to be more than mere slaves to do his biding so he gave his creations the ability to think. He made them his companions.

Inside the bindery the artisan has, just like Hephaestus, his three metal companions and helpers. These are the Guillotine, the Press and the board Shear, and all are invaluable.Each performs a task that is vital in the process of bookbinding, faster,easier and more accurately than the craftsman’s hand can though they themselves came from it.And they are so much more than just machinery;in a way they embody the binder’s will and purpose and keep doing so for decades as their owners change or even pass away.

Today I want to talk to you about the paper cutting guillotine, which by the way hasn’t been always around. The guillotine cuts flush the edge of a book  in a second. Book edges in their original form,even today, are deckled but people soon found out as books were bound that when the edges have a smooth uniform surface it is difficult for dust and other elements to enter and harm the book. They later took this a step further by gilding the edges in colors or gold to protect the book from the harm light causes at the paper over time. Trimming the edges of the book manually is a laboring process that is achieved through the use of the “plough” (see person at the forefront of the pic . From Jeff Peachey’s blog ). The plough is a small blade that goes back and forth while the book is clamped down and trims the edges a bit with each pass. The result is superb but at the cost of weariness and time. As books became more available and popular by the industrialization of the printing process so did binders need a way to trim a lot of books easy and precisely.

The paper cutting guillotine came to serve this purpose. An ingenius yet simple machine that multiplies human strengh utilizing core mechanic principles by the use of levers counterweights and gears. The blade comes down diagonaly to ease the cut. The guillotines  work either by pulling a lever or with a wheel that is fastly turned as if you are paddling. The second ones are called rotary guillotines. As the world was taking a leap on the shoulders of the first industrial revolution new production and casting processes became available. Paper cutting guillotines could now be made from big parts of cast iron and could be found in every bindery. People at the time and the ones to follow still felt that objects should be aestheticaly pleasing no matter how practical their functional purpose might be and that is how the elegant appearence of those metallic leviathans comes in full contrast with their mass and power.

Those guillotines where produced up until the middle of the 20th century when new motorized versions made their appearence. Those replacements were still made from cast iron, were still the hard and trustfull workers needed for the job but their face had faded.They seemed more like workhorses and less like companions. Then came another descendant even more remote to it’s “spirited” ancestor. This one was safer,stronger,larger and cheaper. But this one was just needed…

Today not many of those “first generation” -if I might name them so- guillotines survive and they are much prized amongst binders. I was lucky enough to get to use two different of those old rotary guillotines at the binderies I’ve been an apprentice and I can’t really express the admiration I hold for those devices.They are living history and on their metal flesh are etched the toils of numerous binders. They witness the human ingenuinity at achieving hard tasks in simple and efficient ways. When you turn the wheel the massive machine becomes an extention of yourself…

Am I romanticizing and magnifying what to some may just seem vintage junk? Maybe…
I know though, fingers crossed, that I will have my own gearhearted helper one day.