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The History of Classic Gifts

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

Neiman-Marcus may have started it, but I ran with it.

Who remembers all those exotic one-of-a-kind gifts that you can only dream about? Yes, I’m talking about the annual Neiman-Marcus catalog, featuring their famous His and Hers gifts.

Here is a little background I thought was interesting. Feel free to use it on your next trivia challenge.

Herbert Marcus Sr., and two of his friends, in 1907 had $25,000 from the successful sales-promotion firm they had built in Atlanta, Georgia, and two potential investments of funds. Rather than take a chance on an unknown "sugary soda pop business," the three entrepreneurs rejected the fledgling Coca-Cola company and chose instead to return to Dallas to establish a retail business. For this reason, an early company CEO was quoted in 1957 as saying in jest that Neiman Marcus was "founded on bad business judgment." They actually did pretty well for themselves, and this is what they became.

Purveyors of fine and exotic gifts. In 1952, Stanley Marcus introduced a new tradition of having extravagant and unusual gifts in each year's Christmas catalog, The Christmas Book. The idea was sparked when journalist Edward R. Murrow contacted Marcus to ask if the store would be offering anything unusual that might interest his radio listeners. Marcus invented on the spot an offering of a live Black Angus bull accompanied by a sterling grill.

At one point, the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog carried the distinction of being the item most stolen from recipients' mailboxes, prompting a Chicago postmaster to suggest the company switch to enclosing the catalogs in plain brown wrappers. That has a whole different meaning today.

Neiman's fantasy gifts in the Christmas Book have included a $20 million submarine, mummy cases that contained an actual mummy, seats from Ebbets Field, and a $1.5 million Cobalt Valkyrie-X plane; the most expensive item was a Boeing Business Jet for over $35 million. They did not all sell but it was fun to dream.

The first His and Her gifts, in 1951, were vicuña coats; customers passed. But later duos were doozies: a two-seater submarine (1963, $18,700), matching, pink-striped hot-air balloons (1964, $13,700), live camels (1967, $4,125), and ancient Egyptian mummy cases (1971, $6,000).

In 1962 the catalog offered a set of Chinese junks at $11,500 a pair, with the tongue-in-cheek headline “Junk for Christmas.” To the store’s astonishment, it received eight orders.

When I first paid any attention to them, it was probably in the late 80’s through the mid 90’s. Really cool stuff but, truth be told, I had been there and done that back in 1975.

His and Hers Private Pilots Licenses.

Snuggled in front of a nice wood fire in our cozy Cape Cod in the Falls, we saw a commercial for the Cessna Flight School, out by the Goodyer hangar. The $995 total cost for each was a perfect fit for my year end commission check from Brown and Graves Lumber. We didn't give it a second thought and drove to Akron Fulton airport and signed up.

It covered the cost, all the way through earning your single engine land, ASEL, private pilot’s license. Course work, flight school, plane rental, 40 hours of flight time, private instructor, immersive prep for FAA written exam, and final FAA certification, with a former Top Gun aviator. (I will link to the Blog I posted earlier.) The sun was shining in the commercial and a happy couple was flying to some generic local airport just to go to lunch. A Fly in restaurant. Pilots have always enjoyed the convenience of having fly in restaurants located on airport property, as airport restaurants make for a great place for pilots to stretch their legs, relax, and enjoy the company of others. And the food can be exotic, sometime gourmet, but not always, take the world renowned $100 hamburger.

It’s not the ingredients, but rather it is the full experience, the hamburger probably costs ten bucks, but the pilot will need to spend the remainder on the aircraft and fuel getting back and forth from the airport restaurant. Aircraft + Burger + Fuel = $100. The experience, priceless!

99 Red Balloons

Another over the top gift I perpetrated was in New Smyrna Beach, FL in 1982. Just up the coast from the Kennedy Space Center where the Space Shuttles were launched from. Very strict no fly rules, do not enter airspace regulations, violators will be shot down type of warnings.

The hit song 99 Red Balloons was popular and so I decided to impress my date with 99 helium balloons in obligatory red,

that we would launch from the back of my Plymouth Trail Duster 4x4 on the

beach at dawn.

The florist who supplied this contraband thought I was bonkers, as I crammed all of them in the back of my truck. I took them out of big green plastic bags, pushing and counting each floating bauble, into the back, eagerly anticipating the response I would get.

The fates were smiling on me that day and the ground wind was blowing North, the Sun was shining, and the beach was almost empty. Perfect, right? You remember I said ground wind? Well, the launch was beautiful, the balloons eagerly taking flight and we watched them rising higher into the sky, and finally catching a strong southern breeze aloft and now they were heading for the no-fly zone.

We fired up the truck and began to follow them, we finally saw them up in the distance and gave chase on US 95 south. We kept trying to convince ourselves it will be OK because surely, they will deflate as they reach the colder upper air currents. Not today, no such luck. We followed as long as we could see them and finally lost sight just south of Oak Hill, Fl.

They say any landing you can walk away from is a successful one.

We got off without being found out, but my uncle Ed who was actually in charge of the Vertical Assembly Building for the shuttle mentioned they did have an alert and a good laugh at the balloon flyby.

Never did tell that story until just now, I’m sure the statute of limitation has run out by now. But keep it to yourself just in case.

Pirates Gold

Many years and 2 grandkids later, Christmas was coming, and we wanted to do something different with their gifts. This year it was little wooden pirate chests in which we concealed 100 Sacagawea golden coins under some gold foil covered Chocolate silver dollar candy. Upon opening it was like, oh cool some candy in a fancy pirates’ box, Aargh! And then, deeper down, wait these are too heavy for candy and then an excited COOL, look at all the gold coins in a fancy pirates’ box. Yep, that was fun.

I guess the whole point is to think outside the box when deciding on your gifts. You will enjoy it as much, if not more, than your loved ones will.

Click this link to find joke gift boxes at Amazon. Click Here

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