The History of Classic Gifts

Updated: Dec 14, 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.