Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Regifting Necessary

I have a birthday coming up this week. Now, I'm not announcing this because I'm seeking well wishes from you. Actually, I don't like to make a big deal of it. (I swear.) It just seemed like an appropriate segue to a post about gifts.

Have you read the 1985 book
Only the Best: A Celebration of Gift Giving in America by Stuart E. Jacobson? It's a charming book which recounts gift giving amongst the rich and famous. Oh sure, there are anecdotes about gifts of largesse that will make your head spin (a Newport estate, anyone?) But, it's not really about that. It's more a celebration of the thought and meaning that has gone into some truly special gifts. Take, for example, the trash can below filled with daisies:

When Steve McQueen first fell for Ali MacGraw, he sent her daisies which she promptly threw into the trash can. Undeterred, McQueen sent her a very large bunch of daisies nestled in a galvanized trash can. It must have worked because after that, they both sent daisies in trash cans to one another until they ultimately married.

Marietta Tree gave her husband, Ronald Tree, renderings of items near and dear to his heart. This one, given in 1948, features his reading glasses and pipe, photos of their homes in Barbados as well as Ditchley (their English country house), and favorite magazines.

What has to be one of the most romantic gifts featured in the book. Mary Lee Fairbanks presented her husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., with a Cartier designed gold envelope that had all of his addresses engraved on it (Fairbanks had lived in quite a few homes) as well as the return address of Mary Lee. Inside the envelope was Mary's engraved message to her husband: "But at last I reached you, My Love."

Vincente Minnelli must have made his daughter Liza very happy with a gift of famous MGM costumes in a size fit for a child. This sure beats the prairie skirt that I used to play dress up in! If only I had had a feathered headdress...

I'm sure this vignette in the home of Tony Duquette looks familiar to you, but did you know that the dolphins flanking the sofa were given to the Duquettes by Frances Elkins? They once belonged to Misia Sert.

Leave it to Fleur Cowles to give Jerome Zipkin such a chic gift. While attending a luncheon at Zipkin's home, Cowles had admired his collection of Meissen leopards. She asked to borrow one, which was later returned with a thank you note. A few months later, Cowles sent Zipkin the small painting seen above which featured one of Zipkin's leopards. This leopard, though, held one of Cowles' signature roses in its mouth.

(All images from Only the Best: A Celebration of Gift Giving in America by Stuart E. Jacobson; Jesse Gerstein photographer.)


  1. i wonder if that trash can trick would work today???
    very sweet story.


  2. J --

    Happy birthday! Enjoy the week!

    The daisies in trash can thing has to be one of the coolest ideas I've ever seen. Perhaps it wouldn't seem as cool to me without the MacGraw-McQueen connection, but I do think it's terribly clever. And I agree with you, the Fairbanks envelope wins for most romantic.

  3. Clint8:56 AM

    great post. and happy, happy birthday!

  4. Thanks for turning us onto this book! I would enjoy reading it, and any updated version that might come along!
    I've often enjoyed parites where the conversation turns to the best gift ever given/received, it is as much fun as learning how proposals of engagement took place.

    (whispering an early birthday greeting - enjoy - celebrate well)

  5. Jennifer, I may be confusing that book on lavish gifts
    with another, but does it contain a photograph of
    one of John Fowler's chairs? Painted early 18c having
    the Old Rose fabric finished off in nail head trims.
    He left it in his will to the fashion designer Hardie
    Amies. Not that Mr Amies deserved it.

  6. Thanks for the birthday wishes!

    Toby, I don't remember seeing that gift in the book. It might be another gift book.

  7. That McQueen/McGraw trash can story is too funny. Glad to know about this book - always up for a new read. Happy early birthday - live it up!

  8. Charming and inspiring - nothing better than to hit on just the thing.

  9. It is the thought behind the gift-the thought and care to understand and grasp the essence of the person to whom the gift is given; which ensures a perfect gift. Thanks for reminding me

  10. Happy birthday!
    Warm wishes to you!

  11. How can I resist wishing you a very happy birthday whichever day it is, Jennifer.

    I have been known to write a special person a real cheque for a million pounds. It's a risky strategy as a love token but I got away with it, banking on them not clearing out my account.

  12. There's evidently a British edition of that book
    which includes the Fowler chair and some things
    from Cecil Beaton's collection.

  13. I saw this book at the Strand once but resisted. Have a good bday!

  14. This book is a thoughtful treasure and thank you so much for sharing your favorite gift ideas from it! Best wishes to you on your birthday

  15. wow! i love these photo!

  16. Happy Birthday!
    I have that book and love it too.

  17. do you know that rumor about liza being the real eloise? looking at the headress and stance, i can't help but think it's true. and i am with you & style court: i think the envelope wins.

    but the trash can daisies will now be popping up all over again, i think, thanks to you... what could be better? all purely marvelous!

  18. What a wonderful book; thank you for introducing me to it. Obviously most of these people could afford very lavish gifts. But best ones are those who have meaning.



  19. Oh, wow! These gift ideas are truly fabulous in every way! From sweet to thoughtful to creative. I love the one from Mary Lee Fairbanks the best! Who could not be blown away by that kind of devotion and thoughtfulness.... and persistence!? Thank you for bringing this book to my attention. :)

  20. What a cute and inspiring post!
    I love reading your blog, keep up the great work!

  21. To Toby:
    The book you mentioned is The Art of Giving, by Stuart E. Jacobson. I picked one up on Amazon for $1.59 It is a beautiful book