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Wednesday 2 October 2013

Typewriter Update, September 2013

Washington Post chairman Don Graham moves a typewriter in a room full of antique newsroom and pressroom equipment at the Post last week. It looks suspiciously like an Imperial to me. Surely not? There's a Linotype machine in the left back corner.
The countdown for my trip to the US – for Herman Price’s Typewriter Collectors’ Gathering at the Chestnut Typewriter Museum in Fairmont, West Virginia, from October 11-13 - is now on in earnest. With a little more than a week to go before I depart for Cincinnati, I will be devoting most of my time to making final preparations for “le grand voyage”. So for the time being, at least, I will be cutting back on posts on this blog, while I concentrate on other, more pressing matters.  I do have two or three interesting typewriters about to arrive here, so I will post on those if I can find the time to do so. In the meantime, please forgive me if posts are a little less regular in the coming weeks. Normal service should (hopefully) resume upon my return in late October.
One of the people I am keenly looking forward to meeting in the flesh in West Virginia is Peter Weil. Peter contributes the always highly-readable Ephemera column to ETCetera magazine each quarter, and has a growing and impressive collection of his own, one which reflects his particular interest in the way typewriters were marketed and sold at the turn of the last century. (In the upcoming September issue of ETCetera, his column is on the marketing of the Sholes & Glidden). In the past few weeks, Peter and I have been exchanging thoughts about various business models relating to typewriters in the late 1890s, early 1900s.
In light of this, it has been interesting for me to take a close look at present-day business models for selling typewriters. A few categories are:
What is it?
THE CHANCERS: As the interest in typewriters steadily grows worldwide, so too does that band of “entrepreneurs” who think they can spot an opportunity to make money out of this mounting interest – sometimes at the expense of genuine  typewriter enthusiasts.
These charlatans have got me very much on my guard these days. The category can be characterised as the “I love typewriters, tell me all about them” model. It’s generally a young person who initially gives the impression of having a great deal of interest in typewriters, seeks advice on what and what not to buy, and about cleaning up and fixing typewriters. Unfortunately, when this happens, I can’t resist such enthusiasm, and throw myself into the task of helping out with great gusto. It very soon proves costly. Happily for me, I have some excellent friends in the Typosphere, ones with a sincere interest in typewriters, a couple of whom have given me a word to the wise about such opportunists. I have pretty quickly come to realise that the interest of these “chancers” (as the Irish so aptly call them) is not in typewriters per se, but in acquiring them cheaply and selling them at a considerably higher price. They are out to profit from the guidance and assistance of real typewriters lovers. Be warned: the numbers are growing.
OK, so this is the real world, the 21st century world. But many of these mercenaries will read this, since they seek out blogs such as this while mapping out their business plans. They also should be warned. They are becoming more and more transparent as times goes by. If one of these chancers does read this, and wonders to him or herself wherever he or she is one of them, take my word for it – it the cap fits, wear it.
Tom Kern has this beauty for sale on eBay for $315
ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS: When one keys in the word “typewriter” in a Google search, the results may vary from day to day, but most often a link to will appear toward the top of the list (as will non-selling sites, such as Paul Robert’s Virtual Typewriter Museum and Wikipedia, of course). On its site, Charles Gu's company claims, "Today, has become the largest source on the Internet for American- and European-made classic typewriters, as well as related merchandise."
When people with a genuine interest in acquiring a typewriter, or typewriters, start their quest, they more likely than not will come across And invariably they will be surprised to see the prices being asked for the typewriters there. They will also soon find that typewriters, often good ones, can be found elsewhere at much lower prices. This is all well and good, but people must also understand that a typewriter acquired from Charles Gu will be in, without exception, as close to pristine condition as it is possible to get. In other words, you pay for what you get, and you also pay for (at least in the short term) a bit of peace of mind. The machine will arrive looking just like the beautiful one you saw and bought online. I know this from personal experience.
What you get for $650 on is what you see. Immaculate.
Unfortunately, of course, many of the “chancers” described above will also see Charles Gu’s site, and will allow themselves to think that they too can sell typewriters at those prices. Big mistake. Unless they have put into a typewriter the type of work Charles Gu’s company, or Tom Furrier or Bill Wahl have put in, can guarantee the same service, have the same selling track record, they will be putting high prices on their typewriters under false pretenses. Would-be buyers must be aware of that.
$570 for this Blickensderfer 9 at the Vintage Typewriter Shoppe.
To Charles Gu’s we could perhaps add in this category Dan Puls’ Mr Typewriter and Scott McNeill’s Vintage Typewriter Shoppe as among the better-known, more frequently visited sites. One other seller I am  aware of in the US is Tom Kern, who sells on eBay. I must confess to being confused by a blog titled Vintage Typewriter Shop (different spelling), on which there is this disclaimer: “In case you were wondering, NO I am NOT a sister site or a friend of Vintage Typewriter Shoppe. In fact, I think the owner is a wanker. Hence the making of this website – I am not a wanker.”
Judging by the Yahoo online typewriter forum, Scott McNeill does seem to have come in for some criticism over the past few years – I know that Wim Van Rompuy in Belgium was one very disgruntled customer, but that was some years ago now. At least a couple of prominent Typospherians have advised caution, including one who called VTS a “scam” and another who wrote these very wise words:
$695 at
$375 at VTS. $525 at myTypewriter.
“Typewriters are complex - and now, ageing - pieces of machinery. Anyone can rub down an enamelled machine with a little mineral oil to make it look good, but the skills to adjust and repair a machine are good deal more rare. If I'm buying something that elaborate and fragile over the Internet, I want an expert to go over it first.” He recommended “Tom Furrier at Cambridge Typewriter, or Bill Wahl at Mesa Typewriter Exchange, or the folks at Blue Moon Camera and Machine in Portland. All three have come highly praised for their service from members of the Typosphere and I've read stories about these guys (and other businesses) setting things right when there's a problem, or even resurrecting old machines that seemed hopeless.”
Unlike this Typospherian, I have had a lot of experience dealing with both Charles Gu and Scott McNeill (I have exchanged emails with Dan Puls, but have never bought from him).  Indeed, I think I would have spent close to $40,000 between and the Vintage Typewriter Shoppe. But all that was a long time ago. I only ever had one problem with a VTS machine, and I don’t think that was Scott’s fault, but the evil work of either USPS or Australia Post. I do agree, however, that “after-sales service”, that is help when things went wrong, was markedly absent. While I have not bought from Tom Furrier or Bill Wahl, I can only say that my dealings with these two thorough gentlemen has been most pleasant. I also say the same about Tom Kern, from whom I have bought typewriters. In Germany, another reliable seller in this category is Filipa Freitas (Typewriter Workshop), who sells on Etsy. In each case the prices are high, but my experience has been that you do get what you pay for.
From Charlie Foxtrot's website.
IN A STORE DOWN UNDER: Obviously the major drawback for the real typewriter lovers in Australia is the cost of shipping from the US or Europe. The only typewriter seller in this country who we could in all honesty compare with the like of Tom Furrier or Bill Wahl is Derrick Brown in Brisbane. Derrick sells on eBay under the name “carsstag” (he also has an interest in Triumph Stag cars). Derrick qualifies as both a fairly regular typewriter seller and a highly reliable one. He is hugely experienced in the typewriter industry, and brings to the machines he sells not just that mechanical expertise but an ability to make the typewriter look as good as is possible. As well, his typewriters have always very well packaged and safe in transit. I have bought many typewriters from Derrick in the past five years or so, and can vouch for the service he provides. The downside, I suppose, is that Derrick is a one-off seller – he doesn’t run an online store. When his typewriters do appear on eBay they are usually snaffled up pretty quickly – as instanced by a Remington 5 listed yesterday with a starting price of $170 and sold by today at a “buy it now” price of $285.
Derrick Brown's latest offering
Lately, another seller has emerged online in Charlie Foxtrot. This is a couple called Phillip and Julie Chapman, who are based in the Southern Highlands in New South Wales (around Bowral) and who also sell print type blocks, old cameras, telephones, China, cufflinks and tiepins, and old suitcases. Apart from having an online store, the Chapmans sell at markets such as the Old Bus Depot in Canberra and Kirribilli and Rozelle in Sydney.
I do not know much about this couple, so therefore am unaware if either of them have had, like Derrick Brown, any past experience in the typewriter industry.
As sold on eBay from Fletcher, NSW, for $23.
The same machine priced at $135 by Charlie Foxtrot.
At their online store they list a number of typewriters and confidently state: “All our typewriters are in full working order and have been given a service, clean and re-lubed, as well as fitting a new ribbon so that the typewriters we offer are ready to start typing on. We can provide you with new ribbons in the future for the typewriters we sell. They are generally $10 to $15 including postage. We can also offer technical support if required. Unlike most 'support' services, this doesn't require us to dial into your modem or talk to you using language that you can't understand! You just need to call us and we will work through the issue with you … We have actually had very few clients who have needed to call us and in all cases we have sorted out the issue. To get a better understanding of the workings of a particular brand of typewriter it is now possible to download pretty well every type of manual from the internet.”
I didn’t expect to see an acknowledgement to the like of Ted Munk, Richard Polt, Rob Bowker or Alan Seaver for providing those manuals online, but then I guess Typospherians put such things out there for the good of the general cause, fully knowing they would be used as well as abused. The question of the Chapmans’ “technical support”, however, does interest me, and I’m keen to find out exactly what that entails. I am aware of the existence of most surviving typewriter technicians in Australia, so I must assume it is one of them.
The operation here is quite simple. The Chapmans buy typewriters online, mostly on eBay in Australia and in Britain, and on-sell them at considerably higher prices.
 As sold on eBay from Woodend, Victoria, for $157.50.
Resold by Charlie Foxtrot for $445.
An example is this green Blue Bird (Torpedo) portable. It was sold to Julie Chapman on eBay by Steve Graham Auctioneer of Woodend, north of Melbourne, on August 31 for $157.60. It was then almost immediately on-sold by the Chapmans for $445. That’s a $287.50 mark-up, or 182 per cent. The question here, of course, is what happened between the Blue Bird arriving in Bowral and then being on-sold. Without knowing any better, one must only assume that sufficient work to justify the $287.50 mark-up did occur.
In the past six weeks or so, the Chapmans have bought at least 78 typewriters on eBay alone (68 in one month alone, then I lost count), 49 of them in Britain (mostly Imperials was my impression). So I guess Charlie Foxtrot’s stock of typewriters is about the get a whole lot bigger. There have been some absolute bargain buys, too, especially among the British purchases.
This Remington for example, was an absolute steal at £3 (yes, that’s right £3, or $5!). I wonder what it will sell for here, if it comes to Australia. Indeed, future offerings from Charlie Foxtrot will be most fascinating. As of now, it is possible to buy a Remington Quiet-Riter (one of the most common machines in this country) for a princely $255, an Olivetti Lettera 22 for $185, a Silver-Seiko Imperial for $165 (Silver-Seikos are very popular with the Chapmans), a Lemair (Brother) for $165, a Sears Achiever (another Brother) for $145, an Olivetti Lettera 25 or 35 for $145 and an orange plastic Olympia Monica for $135. This last machine was won on eBay for $23.35, so the price for the same item has suddenly gone up by $111.65.
Good luck to Charlie Foxtrot if people are prepared to pay these amounts for manual portable typewriters. And it appears that they are. But I wonder what long-term effect this will have on the Australian typewriter market. I also wonder whether more than $200 worth of work has gone into a typewriter to justify its price shooting up from $157 to $445. If I was buying from the like of Charles Gu, I would be confident that that would be the case.
The Old Boat House markets in Brisbane.
There seemed to be a quite few stunned mullets (or maybe blind ones) about when I posted on the sale of the Thurber Kaligraph for more than $40,000. When I was a new features writer at The Canberra Times, about 10 years ago, I recall our National Museum spending $180,000 of taxpayer's money on a football shield - yes, that's a piece of wood with a few small tin cut-outs nailed to it. Nothing especially skillful in its design or production. No real significance to anyone, except perhaps one family (the Messengers). Where it sits in the overall picture of Australian cultural, social, political, economic and sporting history is questionable, to say the least. Yet it was bought for $180,000. At the same time, the museum spent $30,000 of taxpayer's money on a boomerang purportedly signed by Tom Willis on the Aboriginal cricket tour to England in 1867. Anyone could have told the museum at a moment's notice that Wills didn't go on that tour. For one thing, he was too drunk to go.
Now, I won't try to make an impassioned argument in favour of Charles Thurber's place in the history of the development of the typewriter, and especially not for the Kaligraph in that development. Nonetheless, Thurber played a notable role in 19th century American typographical history. To mock the fact that someone spent $40,000 to acquire this wonderful artefact is both narrow- and short-sighted. It surely has to be a far, far better investment in preserving a nation's history than spending $180,000 on a piece of wood with some bits of tin tacked to it.  A piece of wood, by the way, that contributed zip and zero to Australian history.
We hear a lot about the liberal use of typewriters images. Someone once encouraged me to join Pinterest. When I did, first I noticed the number of my typewriter images which had been used there, uncredited, and then I realised there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it. Usually, the person using the image had taken it from some other site, not mine. Where it originated had gotten well and truly lost along the way. Attempts to rectify this just got ignored.
Last week, while doing some research on robots and typewriters, I chanced upon an image of a lovely old grey Royal portable set up with a USB connection. When I clicked on it, to my astonishment an image of my own Corona Standard portable came up as a link. And when I clicked on that – can you believe?! There it was splashed, uncredited, across the top of the Goggle+ blog of one MG Siegler. My kitchen benchtop was unmistakable. See image above.
MG: Where's your Corona Standard?
Now, who is MG Siegler? MG Siegler is a general partner at Google Ventures (a venture capital investment arm of Google Inc) and a columnist for TechCrunch. At Google Ventures, “he primarily focuses on seed and early-stage investments. He has been deeply involved in the startup space since 2005, first as a web developer, then as a writer, and most recently as an investor and advisor. Before joining Google Ventures, MG was a founding partner of CrunchFund, an early-stage investment fund. Prior to that, he reported on the startup world as a writer for both TechCrunch and VentureBeat. MG still writes a weekly column for TechCrunch on top of writing on his own sites and from time-to-time doing movie reviews in haiku. Originally from Ohio, MG graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor before moving out west to work in Hollywood. One day, he will write that killer screenplay.”
Now, if a guy like MG Siegler can go to my blog, grab one of my images of one of my typewriters, and just throw it on top of his Google+ blog without so much as a word to me about it, or a word of credit to me, anyone can. What chance do we have? None! I guess that if you work for Google you feel you can just go and grab whatever you like off the Internet. Let me add that Google is worth zillions and I have 2/6 to my name. So if anyone was to sue me for copyright infringement, they can expect to get a bit of my last 2/6. Such is life!
Fred McDarrah died in November 2007, aged 81.
Nonetheless, I do thank Timothy McDarrah, son of Village Voice and Jack Kerouac photographer, for his very polite and pleasant email to me this week, and I do take on board what he said. Timothy noted, “As you are a creative person, you surely understand the importance of protecting your valuable, original work.” I have gently asked MG Siegler for recognition, but I guess he’s too busy running Google Ventures to worry about little ol’ me.
I felt guilty this morning when I read a post from Ben Hoberman on about the “Traffic Dos and Don’ts: A Checklist”:
Write regularly (check).
Write well (do try hard).
Keep your blog easy on the eyes (don’t know).
Use your existing network (yep).
Create new networks (exceedingly guilty of neglecting all friends in the Typosphere. Feel remorseful.).
Don’t forget to tag (don’t know how).
Don’t spam (hate it).
Don’t be afraid of the Publish button (rarely).
Don’t stop reading (try hard).
Don't lose sight of why you blog (never).
I reached a daily peak of 1939 page views the other day, and have totalled 688,335, so I feel I must be doing something right.
I was very interested in a comment Richard Polt made about the Adler Tessy I posted on in August. He mentioned “little typewriters” that produce typing that is well-aligned and clear. I really think Richard put his thumb on it there, providing the criterion of what I am eternally seeking as my “Holy Grail” typewriter. I am certain that is what I like so much about the little grey Erika 9 I acquired from Filipa Freitas in Berlin, or my “go-to” early Bijou (Erika) 4, or the little Underwood 4s and Remettes I like to type with. I have since received a magnificent pre-war Erika 9 (Model M), which I will post on soon – but it’s not so “little”.
Higgins: 'Arm extension'.
Peter Weil offered another clue to my typewriter philosophy when he and I were exchanging emails about the way journalists felt towards their typewriters in the “old days”. Peter suggested that, regardless of how we treated them, or took them for granted, we developed an attachment to them. He was so right. I recalled how, when I interviewed the great Irish snooker player Alex “Hurricane” Higgins in Sydney in 1970, the new world champion fussed about damage done to his cue in transit to Australia, how he bathed it in melted butter to get it straight again, and how he talked about it being “an extension of my arm, of my very being”.  Little may we have realised it at the time, but portable manual typewriters were extensions to the being of journalists back then, too.
Lo and behold, the other day New York filmmaker Patrick Wang joined the Typosphere, saying “manual typewriters are new to me, but I feel I have discovered a third arm, thoughtlessly neglected all this time. In just a few months with my Olympia, I am certain my writing (and thinking) has changed for the better.” Well said, Patrick, and welcome to the Typosphere!
A couple of Facebookers drew my attention to this wonderful Non Sequitur cartoon by Wiley Miller today:

. Someone in Portugal says he wants to sell this Taurus typewriter. But then his email says “Courtesy of Mantelli collection”. Umm ....
 . Another variation of the IMC Engadine has turned up. It’s a Valiant, owned in Amsterdam by a man who, having thought it was rare typewriter (but an awful typer) and having been told it wasn’t (rare, that is), is now going to put it on eBay. See here for my post on this machine.
. Likewise, yet another variation of the Baby Alpina,  Condor, Rexina and Clipper – in fact, it’s almost identical to Mark Petersen’s Clipper. This time it’s a Jaguar. So far that’s five different model names for the same typewriter! More interestingly, no second versions yet of the Baby Alpina, Condor, Rexina, Clipper or Jaguar. The Clipper and Jaguar differ slightly from the others in that they have a flat ribbon spool cover, Nippo having overcome a very serious design problem with the earlier machines in this line. They are not all that unlike the Quality 003 Richard Polt came across in June, especially in the carriage area.
. Someone in the US has listed this Remington 10. Today the price dropped from $1200 to $875. I wonder why? Note how the bright red paint just edges around the decals?
. You may already know about C.D.Hermelin. I didn’t until a friend sent me a link. You can read “I am an object of Internet ridicule, ask me anything” here.
. There was also a typewriter story, about New Jersey company Swintec, in the Wall Street Journal in August. It was strangely headed: “Death Keeps Typewriters Alive, Clacking:  Funeral Homes a Key to Survival; Function Follows Forms.” Well, I’m glad something keeps them alive. Email me if you want a copy of the story (it's behind a paywall).
. A correspondent with a cork-platened Imperial Good Companion portable asked me how common cork platens are (or were). I have a Canadian-made Royal portable with one, and I after posting on it, a number of questions were asked about the platen. So maybe they are not as common as I once thought. I am now assuming that demands for rubber in the early part of World War II caused some typewriter companies to use cork. But since thus seems to have been a short-lived move, maybe the companies found cork either more expensive or not as effective as rubber. I didn’t find any real difference with using the cork platen, except the platen didn’t show any signs of use.
This IGC has a cork platen.
I have also heard of Imperial standards with cork platens.
. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could do this with typewriters? ABC TV ran a lovely little news item the other night about the four previous owners of a Morris Mini car getting together with the present owner in Tasmania. All five went for a drive together. What I loved was when the present owner said, “It has no radio, but you wouldn’t be able to hear one over the noise of the engine, anyway.” (Too true!) “It has no heater, but there are three ash trays!” I am very fond of Morris Minis – I’ve owned four of them in my lifetime (including a Mini Moke), and never once regretted buying one.
. Ettore Sottsass and the Olivetti Valentine just won’t go away. His latest “appearance” was during the Taiwan Designers’ Week, in a presentation called “Around – Ideas About Life”.
. In March, when I was visiting my sister in Hervey Bay, Queensland, a large female kangaroo kept on eye on my then “Typewriter Mobile”. She’s still hopping around my sister’s backyard, but now has a joey in her pouch. I told my sister the joey should be called “Urania” or “Piccola”. It was the then-mystery typewriter I was working on up there at the time.
. I wish I had known about this image when I posted on robots and typewriters:
1.    When one messages an overseas eBay seller and asks, “Are you prepared to post to Australia?”, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a simple “yes” or “no” in reply. But “It will cost a lot” is not the answer to the question I asked. And, “Listen, you idiot, I didn’t ask how much it would cost, I asked if you’d ship it” is such a rude thing to write back. So I don’t do it. Tempted, but no …
2.   You have 1267 blog posts and on them there are possibly as many as 20,000 images. Then someone writes “To Whom it May Concern” or to “the creator” and says he or she wants, you know, that one “third down”. Almost instantly you realise they haven’t even bothered to read the post. In fact, they’ve come across the image in a Google image search. But they want you to go to the trouble of helping them. Reader, help thine self, I always say (well, MG Siegler sets the Google example, after all). Even when you do offer help, there’s often not a word of thanks anyway.
3.    “Hi. I have a … typewriter.” Yes. “It’s been in the attic for 70 years.” Yes. “It belonged to my grandmother.” Yes. “It’s in excellent condition.” Good. “And I’d like to know its value …” Stop! Stop right there! Go no further. It was your grandmother’s? You’re selling it? As Men at Work say in Down Under, “I don’t speak-a your language”. Sorry …
4.   Sellers who think anyone is taken in when they write in an eBay listing, “The top casing is missing but I think this only adds to its character. Perfect for the collector or vintage lover.” Like, yeah!?
5.    Books in the public domain being offered for sale online at ridiculous prices and with ridiculous covers such as these:
6.    Dwayne Fuhlhage drew my attention to this massacre. The seller’s excuse? “I couldn't get a bid on the entire machine so I sold the keys! Very nice old Burroughs electric typewriter was working OK until I cut the keys off this morning. It is now headed to the scrap pile unless you want some or all of it for parts.” Sounds really proud of myself, doesn’t he?
An empty typewriter ribbon tin reached $128. I never thought a tin would sell for that much.
In Sydney this Royal Junior fetched $134. Must have been the flowers someone painted on for good measure.
In the US a Salem Hall sold for $620.
This People's is for sale for $830.
In Australia this Royal QDL reached a staggering $352.
An in the US this Underwood fetched $363.

Putting an Underwood in the bath. Now why didn't I think of that?


Ted said...

Nice roundup of the news! We'll be looking forward to your reports of the big meeting in October. Take lots of pics! (:

Rob Bowker said...

Robert, your posts are exhaustive and exhausting - but I got there in the end, thanks. As a self-employed graphics type, I charge my time at £300 a day - that's on the basis that I may have gainful employment 100 days of the year. If I had to sell my new Graphika, serviced and in working condition - though not professionally ministered to - I'd have to sell it on at £400 plus if I was in the business. Maybe that's how the get rich quick merchants do it? my.typewriter was a great help when I started collecting in earnest, if only for the back stories. The prices of course are something else. The golden rule applies in all circumstances, caveat emptor.

Toronto guy said...

Great post! I've bought one machine from and one from On both occasions, I got excellent service and equally excellent condition machines. I also got the chance to pick up a Royal Quiet DeLuxe from Gramercy Typewriter in NYC last June and I recommend them just as highly. Every inch of that machine was in stunning condition: putting on (what appears to me as) brand new rubber feet and they even went to the trouble of making sure the ribbon spools were metal.

Bill M said...

Great full-of-news-and-views post.

I look at Ebay typewriters more often for laughs than to buy a machine.

Steve Snow said...

These monthly updates are something to look forward to and definitely a fine way to get up to speed on everything typewriters!

How much I would like to chop all the fingers off that guy who chopped the keys off his Burrough's....

Anonymous said...

As always, an encyclopaedic and highly enjoyable essay.

Thank you for the time and expense you put into your writing, Robert. It's rare treasure.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the welcome, Robert. I have a lot of catching up to do, but I don't stand a chance if you keep posting this much information!

Mark Adams said...

I've always wondered about Thanks for discussing it. Though the prices seem outrageous, there is much truth to the saying, you get what you pay for. I bought a Royal KMM typewriter from Los Altos Business Machines in Los Altos, California, and paid $250 for it. That's a lot more than I'd pay for nearly any typewriter on eBay. But, I got a great typewriter and life-time service on the machine. Once, when I brought it in for an adjustment, the owner noticed a missing part, which he replaced with one from a spare machine. I'd gladly by another typer from him.