From Jack the Ripper to the Queen of England
The most famous wax museum appeared in England in the mid-19th century. Today it is one of the main attractions of London, visited by almost 2.5 million visitors a year, and since its founding, Madame Tussauds has been visited by about 500 million people.
The famous Madame Tussauds, who founded one of Britain’s most popular attractions, was not English, but French. And if it hadn’t been for an unfortunate marriage, the museum would have been the calling card of Paris, not London.
Maria Grosholz, the most successful businesswoman of the 19th century, was born in 1761 in Strasbourg. Her mother was a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius, who made anatomical copies of human bodies in wax. Young Maria, unlike her peers, had little interest in drawing and playing the piano. She was more fascinated by the work of Curtius.
The doctor, noticing the girl’s talent for sculpture, began to teach her everything he knew himself. It was at this time that wax was becoming quite popular. This material was supposed to be easier than clay. That’s why this type of sculpture was considered mostly feminine. In contrast to other fields, the public favored and trusted female craftsmen.
However, the professionalism of Dr. Curtius was undeniable. It was under his direction that the first wax exhibition in Paris was held, which was a resounding success. The doctor also had the idea of displaying figures of famous criminals and imitations of executions. Thus was born the first “room of horrors,” which later became one of the most popular attractions among museum visitors.
Inspired by the success of her teacher, Maria realized that she was ready to dedicate her life to sculpture. Already at the age of 16, the girl created a wax figure of the writer and philosopher Voltaire.
And at 19, she was invited as an art teacher to the sister of the French king Louis XVI and moved to live in Versailles.
The French Revolution brought her back to Paris. Wax figures were very popular with revolutionaries. Wax heads in particular. They were attached to mannequins and installed in Parisian salons to recall the political situation in the country. Dr. Curtius himself was far removed both from politics and from the hostilities taking place near him. More and more often, therefore, he sent Marie to remove the mask of death from the next victim of the revolution.
In 1793 the girl was arrested and imprisoned. According to various sources, she ended up there either with her mother or with Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon’s future wife. Nevertheless, only her talent saved her from execution.
She was the best at waxwork, so it was Marie who was invited to remove the mask of death from the revolutionary leader Robespierre and his assassin. She also made a wax replica of the head of Queen Marie Antoinette just after she was beheaded.
A few years later, Maria married a French engineer, François Tussauds. The marriage was not saved by having two sons, her husband drank and lost all his money in cards. By that time, Dr. Curtius had died, leaving her his wax figures as a legacy. She had also accumulated a number of sculptures of her own.
Madame Tussauds realized, however, that all the money she earned from showing the figures would immediately be gambled away by her husband. So in the early 19th century, she left her youngest son in the care of his mother and left for Great Britain, taking her eldest.
The main attraction of her collection were the death masks. Tussauds did not invent them, but she was the first to start making money from them. The public was always interested in looking into the “face of death.” For more than 20 years she drove the wax exhibit around England and Scotland. Napoleon’s war finally put an end to Tussauds’ plans to return to France.
Mary was already 74 years old when, together with her sons, she finally decided to open a permanent exhibition in London. The Madame Tussauds opened in 1835 on the legendary Baker Street, covering 465 square metres. Chairs were set up in the salon so that visitors could quietly stare at the wax sculptures.
Marie Tussauds understood that the public was primarily interested in everything related to royalty and famous criminals – and a large part of the exhibit was devoted to them.
It included the coronation of George IV, Napoleon’s carriage, and a portrayal of Prince Albert’s wedding to Queen Victoria. With the Queen’s own permission, an exact replica of her wedding dress was created, which cost £1,000 ($1315).
The horror room was mainly dedicated to the French Revolution. Particular attention was paid to the life-size guillotine and the heads of executed Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre.
It also featured some of Britain’s most famous criminals, including Jack the Ripper.
One of Madame Tussauds’ important business ideas was to use original artifacts in the museum for authenticity. For example, in the horror room she installed a carriage on which the remains of victims were transported after the murders.
In 1850, Maria Tussaud died, leaving England’s most popular tourist attraction at the time to her sons. After her death, even the sarcastic magazine Punch wrote: “These days, no one can be considered popular until he or she is a figure in Madame Tussauds on Baker Street. The only way to leave a powerful, lasting impression on the public is to be made of wax.”
After her mother’s death, the business passed into the hands of her sons and grandchildren and remained a family business for a long time. Tussauds’ descendants were involved in both sculpting and running the company.
The number of wax figures grew along with the rent of the Baker Street space. So Maria Tussauds’ grandson moved the museum to Merilibon Road. The first exhibit opened there in 1884 and was a resounding success. The Madame Tussauds Museum has been located there ever since.
Despite its popularity with the public, money was constantly in short supply. New construction and the purchase of half of the museum’s stock from Cousin Louise led to the creation of a limited liability company in 1888 to raise capital. However, family disagreements among the shareholders led to its dissolution.
In 1889, the business was sold to a group of businessmen led by Edwin Poyser. The sale of the family business finally separated the descendants of Tussauds. One of the grandsons, John Theodore, remained with the company, taking on two positions at once – head artist and museum manager. Legend has it that the artist Edward White sent John a bombshell in retaliation for firing him from the museum in order to save money.
Unlike his brother, sculptor Louis Joseph Tussauds left the business after the deal. He left, but in 1890 he opened his own wax museum under his own name. However, good fortune did not greatly accompany the new endeavor. The museum moved many times from place to place, part of the exposition was destroyed by fire.
The heir was helped to open new branches by his famous family name. Many did not notice the difference in the name. So, wax museums of Louis Tussauds appeared in Copenhagen, Florida, St. Petersburg.
But they had nothing in common with his great-grandmother’s original exhibitions. One branch of the Louis Tussauds was even called the worst wax museum in the world, because the models created were completely unlike their prototypes.
For a long time, the basis of Madame Tussauds’ exposition remained the figures made by Madame Tussauds herself. But a fire in 1925 and a bomb dropped by the Germans in 1940 destroyed 352 models of the 400 that remained.
One of the surviving pieces is a sculpture of Marie Tussauds that she created herself shortly before she died. She now greets visitors at the entrance to the museum.
It is interesting that the Room of Horrors survived the destruction almost unscathed. Most of the surviving wax figures belong to the murderers and their victims.
In 1972 the owners of the museum decided to take the risky step of opening a branch exhibition outside England – in Amsterdam.
This went against the principles of the museum, which is valued for the uniqueness and uniqueness of its exhibits and is considered a national treasure. It is also a local landmark and attracts tourists.
The unique figures, created still by the founder herself, are not the main thing for which the public visits the exhibition. Every country has its local heroes who are of interest only to their audience.
The results of this experiment were not immediately satisfactory to the brand owners – more than 25 years passed between the appearance of the second and third branches. The next Madame Tussauds wax museum was opened only in 1999 in Las Vegas.
Today, branches can be visited in more than 20 cities around the world. In 2016, the corporation opened two new museums in Chongqing, China, and Istanbul, Turkey. The latter, according to a brand spokesman, cost about 10 million pounds ($13.5 million). The museum includes just under 60 wax figures on two floors of a two-thousand-square-meter building.
Each museum has its own collection of models, both world and national. For example, in Washington, D.C., the museum features figures of all American presidents. The only thing in common between the branches is the technique of making the figures. The craftsmen use the one invented by Maria Tussauds.
The next high-profile deal around the museum was made in 2005. The brand was bought by Dubai International Capital for $1.5 billion. Two years later, the new owners struck a deal to transfer the brand to the Blackstone Group for $1.9 billion.
The company was merged with Blackstone’s Merlin Entertainment. After the sale of the brand, Dubai International Capital received a 20% stake in Merlin Entertainment. Tussauds Group as a separate entity ceased to exist.
Each wax figure takes an average of four months to produce, employs about 20 artists, and costs 150,000 pounds ($198,000). Nothing has changed since the days of Marie Tussauds – the artists still use her techniques: wire mesh, newspaper, clay. To make a wig, they use real hair, which is then strand by strand inserted into an artificial scalp.
According to the rules of the brand, no one pays anyone to make a wax copy. The museum’s management itself decides who to offer to be the next model. And celebrities consider it an honor to pose for the masters. For about two hours, they take more than 200 poses to be measured and filmed.
The museum’s workshops are one of the few places where even female celebrities are allowed to take their measurements. Each sculpture exceeds the real size of the person posing by 2% as the wax melts, losing volume, and the figure comes close to the actual measurements.
It is not uncommon for stars to donate their own clothes to the museum. For example, as mayor of London, Boris Johnson, after all the measurements gave the masters his business suit, in which he posed. To this day you can still see a small cut on the pants from the bicycle, on which the politician liked to get to work.
Some stars put conditions on the use of their wax replicas. For example, Hollywood actors Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise do not allow the press to photograph their models or use any pictures of their figures for promotional purposes.
The only person who refused to pose for the Madame Tussauds was Mother Teresa. She reasoned that the time it would take her to do so could be more usefully spent.
The museum’s most controversial wax figure is a replica of Adolf Hitler. His model as Germany’s leader was first exhibited in the museum in 1933.
Since then, it has been constantly vandalized – visitors have spat on the figure, thrown eggs at it and stuck pins in its heart. Museum staff say that no other replica has been attacked to such an extent or attracted so much hatred and aggression.
In 1942, museum officials decided to put the wax figure of Hitler behind glass. The gallery staff now had to keep a close eye on the glass, which turned out to be spattered on a daily basis.
The museum staff also cautiously installed the figure of Saddam Hussein, which at first, as expected, caused scales of discontent. However, the excitement quickly died down. Unlike the copy of Hitler, which stood behind glass for 60 years, and only then was unveiled in the hall.
Another “punishment” for the figure was its location. For a long time the model was installed in the transition from the room with politicians to the horror room with murderers and criminals.
In 2008, on the opening day of Madame Tussauds in Berlin, a visitor decapitated the figure of Hitler in protest. The police apprehended the offender, who was fined. The model was repaired and put back on display in the museum. Hitler is now represented in a seated pose at a table in a bunker. The wax sculpture cannot be photographed because of its location.
The figure of Hitler is an exception – for the most part, copies of celebrities evoke positive emotions in the public. Museum staff say that at the end of the day they have to take the underwear out of the pockets of popular artists and scrub the lipstick off the faces of their favorite models.
One of the most popular figures in the London branch is the model of actor Robert Pattinson, star of the Twilight saga.
The most visited wax figure at the London Museum is still a replica of British Queen Elizabeth. Unlike most other models, she, like the entire royal family, can be photographed but not touched.
In 1993, Madame Tussauds opened the Spirit of London attraction, which allows you to see the history of the city from a legendary black cab. Little cars move through the streets of London to show the highlights of the British capital.
Despite its commitment to tradition, the museum keeps up with the times. Some wax figures can move, blush, blink and even speak. The museum responds to any change in the public’s interest, whether it’s the arrival of a new Hollywood star or a change of president.
It’s not uncommon for figures to be sent in for revisions or completely updated when a prototype has done something to its own appearance. The record holder here is the singer Michael Jackson – 13 different replicas of him have been on display in the museum over the entire period.
In 2012, wax figures of characters from the “Star Wars” saga appeared in Madame Tussauds. 180 sculptors presented 11 scenes from the film, the first such large-scale experience of the brand to recreate not a particular character, but the whole story. In total, the owners of the museum spent about 2.5 million pounds ($3.3 million) on this idea.
Heroes of the museum and themselves do not mind joking with their copies. In 2010 singer Ozzy Osbourne played a practical joke on New York’s Madame Tussauds. Pretending to be a wax sculpture, he frightened people who came up to him to be photographed. This action took place as part of the promotional tour of his new album Scream.
In 2015, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as “The Terminator” pranked visitors to Madame Tussauds in Hollywood to promote a charity event.
Masters of the museum say that with the growing popularity of plastic surgery and Botox, it’s getting easier for artists and sculptors to create wax doubles, of which there are already about two thousand around the world.
Few people know what happens to wax figures after their prototypes become uninteresting to visitors. Some say that such copies are sent to be melted down for new sculptures. There is a theory that there is a huge warehouse in Acton, west London, where all the scrapped “stars” are stored, just in case some of them become popular again.
In the summer of 2017, the first Madame Tussauds museum opened in India in Delhi, where 60% of the wax figures represented national celebrities and only 40% represented world celebrities. In total, Merlin Entertainment plans to spend about 50 million pounds in this region over the next ten years.
Today, Merlin Entertainment Corporation, in addition to Madame Tussauds, owns various theme parks and attractions, including Legoland in Windsor and the Ferris wheel in London. The company is the second-largest operator of entertainment venues after the Walt Disney Co. The corporation has a market value of 4.7 billion pounds.
According to the official website, the London branch of Madame Tussauds is visited by about 2.5 million guests a year. With a minimum price per ticket of 29 pounds, the corporation generates more than 75 million pounds ($99 million) annually from this alone. In 2016, the entire Merlin Entertainment group generated nearly 1.46 billion pounds ($1.92 billion) in revenue worldwide.
Madame Tussauds Museum in London
Madame Tussauds in London, located in the fashionable Marylebone district, is deservedly considered one of the symbols of the British capital along with Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and others. It is also called the “landmark with a human face.” More precisely, with a thousand faces – by the number of wax figures of famous figures of different eras, including those currently living, exhibited here. In the halls of Madame Tussauds there is always a place for rising political or art stars: no sooner has someone celebrated an election victory or the success of a premiere than there is already a figure installed to the delight of fans and admirers!
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Video: Madame Tussauds Museum in London
Every year, the famous London museum is visited by about 2.5 million people. This figure speaks for itself: the interest in the unique collection is enormous. The characters on display at Madame Tussauds are always relevant. They reflect our past and present while remaining above time and perceived as part of the world’s history. The collections assembled by Madame Tussauds and her followers teach us tolerance, the ability to evaluate different eras from the outside and to do so objectively and without bias.
Of course, the exhibition is not educational, and in this respect Madame Tussauds in London is inferior to the Louvre in Paris or the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. But visitors from all over the world come here not for the new knowledge, but to look at famous personalities and their idols. And for many people this is not entertainment, but the only opportunity to realize their deepest dream to see them, if not alive, then at least in copies as close to the originals as possible, to look them in the eyes. Man is so built that he always strives for the stars. And it doesn’t matter that they’re on Earth and made of wax…
Who is Madame Tussauds?
To talk about a museum without talking about its founder would be wrong. Who is she, Madame Tussauds? As it turns out, a personality with an original and rich biography.
Maria Tussauds, née Anna Maria Grosholz, was born on 1 December 1761 in Strasbourg, to a poor family. Her father was killed in the Seven Years’ War shortly before her daughter’s birth. In this city at the time lived and worked Dr. Philip Curtis, in whose house our heroine’s mother worked as a housekeeper. He was engaged in the manufacture of models of wax, giving himself entirely to his favorite business. The girl watched him, showed interest. He readily shared with her the secrets of skill, taught and instructed, seeing that she was not just a child’s curiosity.
In 1765, Monsieur Curtis produced a true masterpiece – a wax figure of Marie Jeanne Dubary, the mistress of the “Sun King” of Louis XIV. Five years later, Marie’s teacher presented his first collection to the public, which subsequently enjoyed great popularity. The following exhibitions were organized in Paris: in 1776 in the Palais Royal and in 1782 on the Boulevard du Templ. It was around that time that the future Madame Tussauds began to make a name for herself. Her first work was a wax replica of Voltaire, made in 1777. It was followed by models of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin.
She also created posthumous casts of members of the Bourbon royal dynasty deposed during the Great French Revolution of 1789. In 1794, a turning point in her fate occurred: Philip Curtis died suddenly and the rich collection of wax figures passed to her. This was a reward for thirty years of devotion, for her help in organizing the doctor’s exhibitions and managing his affairs. In 1795, Maria married the engineer François Tussauds. Two sons were born to the marriage: Joseph and François. However, this union was not a happy one. Her husband began to abuse alcohol and became addicted to cards, in which he lost practically everything she earned at exhibitions.
In 1802, having decided to leave her hopelessly derelict husband, Madame Tussauds moved to London with her collection. A year later, however, another Anglo-French war broke out, blocking her path to return to her homeland. Maria decided to tour her show around Britain and Ireland and this continued until 1835, when, on the urgent advice of her sons, she decided to “settle down” at a permanent address. The famous sculptor died in her sleep on April 18, 1850, at the age of 88, leaving behind a one-of-a-kind wax museum. Subsequently, branches of Madame Tussauds opened in cities such as Amsterdam and Washington, New York and Hong Kong, Las Vegas and Copenhagen, Berlin and Shanghai, Vienna and Los Angeles.
A Tour of the Museum’s History
In 1835, the authorities in London allocated Maria’s premises in the famous Baker Street, known from the works of Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes. One of the central places in the museum was occupied by the so-called “Cabinet of Horrors”, the forerunner of which was the already mentioned exhibition on the Parisian Boulevard du Templ. Adjacent rooms housed figures of those who fell during the French Revolution, as well as murderers and other criminals whose names were prominent at the time. Later the collection was enriched with models of other famous people. For example, the world-famous writer Walter Scott and the famous British Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (of course, wax figures) were permanently “registered” here.
Initially the total number of figures did not exceed three dozen, and they looked as if they were alive. But then the realism began to be lost as the quality of the material deteriorated over time. Finding a way to prolong the life of the models was the number one task. And it was found and patented. Since then figures did not feel threatened, if not to count the big fire which has happened in 1925 and destructive bombardments of the German aircraft in 1941. After that, the museum had to be restored from the ruins by Tussauds’ great-grandchildren. Then it was at a new address in the Marylebone district.
Madame Tussauds: What to see?
The first thing a visitor to the famous treasury of wax masterpieces will have to face is the queue. It is truly huge and seems endless. But you don’t have to wait too long: about 30-40 minutes and then you are at the cashier’s desk, where you can buy the coveted ticket. At the entrance, guests are greeted by the figure of a thin elderly woman in black, but with a kind face and round glasses on her nose. Meet Madame Tussauds herself. Or rather, the self-portrait sculpture that the museum’s founder personally sculpted in wax – don’t look so surprised! – at the age of 81. It’s like she’s inviting you in.
So, let’s go in… There are several thematic halls in front of us, where the exhibits are scattered. It is not possible to see everything in a short time, it takes two or three hours, or even more. All of the figures in Madame Tussauds are so remarkable that you want to take a picture of each one. You can also take your own picture against the background of this or that celebrity, so even before the tour, make sure you have enough battery power in your camera. And try not to use it up in the World Arena, the largest hall, where politicians and cultural figures, covering the period from the Middle Ages to the present day, are collected. The oldest of them are particularly awe-inspiring, as they were made by Madame Tussauds herself.
Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, Princess Diana and her sons Prince William and Prince Harry, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton – this is by no means a complete list of the famous people in the room. All the more so because the other half of it is home to the most important political and religious figures whose decisions have had a marked influence on the course of human history. Among them are the most famous British prime minister Winston Churchill and the odious Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Indira Gandhi, who died by the bullets of Sikh separatists, and former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy. Around the figure of the 44th U.S. President Barack Obama is even recreated the setting of the famous Oval Office in the White House. To the left of his American counterpart stands the figure of Russian President Vladimir Putin, maintaining a calm and poised demeanor.
The most famous room at Madame Tussauds in London is the “Terror Room”. The name alone suggests that children under 12 years old, expectant mothers and people with unstable psyche shouldn’t visit this room. The exhibits collected here show us the dark and frankly bloody pages of human history. Instruments of medieval torture are the most innocuous things you can see here. The severed heads of all eight wives of English King Henry VIII Tudor, figures of desperate murderers and maniacs, “famous” for horrible crimes to the whole world inspire real horror.
Adrenaline and thrills are added by the museum staff. They, dressed in black, suddenly emerge from the darkness and grab the hands of visitors. If they catch a woman, a loud scream is guaranteed. However, such “special effects” do not stop other tourists who in pursuit of thrills express a desire to … stay here overnight. £100 to the box office and the dream comes true. And they say there’s enough of the brave.
Distract yourself from politics and horror in another part of the hall, the World Arena. It is devoted to music and musicians. Here on the couch sits the famous Liverpool four, the Beatles. Robbie Williams and Freddie Mercury, along with Jimi Hendrix and Beyonce, seem to be staring into the audience, waiting for a round of applause. And there’s a flirty Christina Aguilera, ready to sign an autograph. Justin Timberlake, a nine-time Grammy winner, looks incredulous: Is it just an impression? Placido Domingo, as befits an operatic legend, sits aristocratically at a distance from everyone else.
Let’s look into the next room of Madame Tussauds. It’s called the A-List Party. The world’s top celebrities are gathered here as if in an elite club for the select few. Inseparable Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at one table with George Clooney. David and Victoria Beckham, the star couple, are next to each other. Fans of the sensational movie “Titanic” shake hands with Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the role of Jack Dawson. Lots of people want to get a picture with Robert Pattinson, who played Edward Cullen in the vampire saga “Twilight. There was also no shortage of people willing to get a closer look at the erotic forms of American actress Jennifer Lopez.
The “Premiere Night” is a mecca for film buffs; it is a room full of wax figures of American Hollywood stars. The eye immediately focuses on Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is presented in the image of his iconic hero Terminator. There are also copies of Michael Douglas, Jim Carrey and Harrison Ford. Not lacking in attention are the stars of the Indian “dream factory”. The famous Bollywood is represented by such actors as Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Shahrukhk Khan, Mathuri Dikshit, Salman Khan, Ritik Roshan. The latter, one of India’s sexiest actors, is among the ten most kissed sculptures at Madame Tussauds in London.
Next to sculptures of real actors are copies of cartoon characters: Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Shrek. In Madame Tussauds you can also see other Marvel Comics characters. They were filmed in a 10-minute 3D movie, which is loved by children and adults alike. Moving chairs, wind and even real splashes add realism to the animated action.
Features of the creation of the figures
The wax figures at the Madame Tussauds Museum are not just impressive – they are literally stunning in their realism. Celebrities are often photographed here with their look-alikes and post pictures on social networks. It is not always possible to tell a real person from a museum clone by looking at them. This semblance is the result of painstaking work of talented craftsmen who create real works of art.
They meticulously take all the measures beforehand. Political and artistic stars sometimes linger for hours at a sculptor’s studio. But they endure the routine, since it is considered an honor to be immortalized in wax.
But what if the prototype of the future model is no longer alive? Who should be measured? In such cases photographs can be of great help.
Directly making the sculpture begins with the choice of a pose and its fixation. This stage is done without wax: the legs are made of hard metal and the arms are made of pliable aluminum. A week later, when the frame is ready, it is covered with a layer of clay. Wax parts are then molded from the casts on its basis. The higher the quality of the cast, the more realistic the future exhibit.
Then in the clay molds poured cleaned and heated to 74 degrees beeswax, which is mixed with a dye to give it a natural shade of human skin. The final stage is called “cosmetic”: the roughness and burrs are removed from the cooled surface of the figure. It usually takes more than a month to create a model, which is why the collection at Madame Tussauds in London is replenished slowly, only 15-20 pieces a year. The cost of each is $50,000 or more.
Opening hours, driving directions, tickets
The location of Madame Tussauds has remained unchanged for nearly a century and a half, the Marylebone district being one of the most fashionable in the capital of Foggy Albion. The full address in English is Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LR.
The building houses the former Planetarium, and is located near Regent’s Park, which lies between the historic Westminster district and London’s borough of Camden.
The nearest tube station is Baker Street. You can take a bus to Baker Street. Route numbers are 3, 13, 18, 27, 30, 74, 82, 113 and 274.
Madame Tussauds Museum in London receives visitors every day. On weekdays it is open from 10:00 to 17:30, on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 to 17:30 and on holidays – until 18:00. In July and September it is open until 19:00.
The cost of admission varies and depends on many circumstances. On the official website www.madametussauds.com tickets can be purchased at a discount of 25%. If you pay at the box office, you will have to shell out the full price.
Substantial savings await those who choose to visit the museum in the evening. With what this is associated, hard to say, but the fact remains. A tour after 17:00 will cost only 15 pounds.