By Talia Bromstad

Cuttin' Up with My Antique Paper Guillotine

My antique Pearl paper guillotine was a gift from my parents for my 25th birthday. But it was mostly from my mom. She reveled in gift-giving and secretly did research and tracked down a book and paper equipment dealer to find this for me, unbidden. She was so pleased with her surprise, as was I. Not the typical birthday gift, but a treasured and—more importantly—useful one.

 Using the Pearl paper guillotine

It is well over 100 years old, a solid cast iron behemoth that can cut through a stack of paper two inches thick. My dad (lovingly) calls it the boat anchor. These days I use it to cut down all my greeting cards as well as smaller art prints.

The small wheel on the front controls the position of the backstop. There are no measurement marks on the bed, so I mark my sheets with trim marks and eyeball their alignment with the cutting edge. A little locking mechanism on the backstop keeps it square once it is in position.

The big top wheel controls the clamping mechanism, which holds the stack of paper tightly in place for cutting. The lever arm on the left side gets pulled down to lower the blade and slice neatly through the stack. Thicker stacks take a lot of effort to cut through. It could be time to get the blade sharpened too, ha ha.

 Pearl paper guillotine

The blade, secured with three massive bolts, is over 14" across. Once while dusting the guillotine, I accidentally sliced through my fingernail down to the flesh in one careless movement. I have not made this mistake again. When it's time to get the blade sharpened, I wear thick leather gloves to position it in the guillotine.

This particular piece of equipment was made sometime in the early 20th century in Franklin, Massachusetts by Golding Manufacturing Company. I love the straightforwardness of their name; it's one of the inspirations for my likewise straightforward company name, Bromstad Printing Company.


A customer asked me recently if I do all the finishing of my cards myself, and I do, with the help of a few simple machines including this one. One day, maybe, I'll have a bigger studio and a nice fancy electric paper cutter that can trim 17" and doesn't require all the fussing with dials and throwing my body weight onto the lever for those thick stacks. 

But I think I would miss the old Pearl. It's more than a useful piece of equipment, or even a pretty antique. I'm too sentimental about its giftiness, its story. It makes me think about my mom, who has been gone for nearly ten years now. I don't think I could ever part with it. 

 Pearl paper guillotine

Photos in this post by Lacey Sombar.

1 comment

  • I love this story and the beauty of using such a durable machine. I recently picked one up at a print museum sale and was wondering if you had a manual to share or some tips on how to replace the wear strip etc. Thanks so much! Mindy

    Mindy on

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