Yes, gifting someone a dozen fresh strawberries hand dipped in rich, dark Belgian chocolate is very thoughtful. But — and this is a biiiiig but — it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as presenting someone a rose-cut, 200-carat diamond. Or a white marble mausoleum (that would eventually become one of the New Seven Wonders of the World). Or a 305-foot statue representing freedom to all the world.
Still, those rich, luscious chocolate strawberries can garner many happy returns — love and gratitude that last forever. As for those over-the-top, expense-is-no-object, historic gifts, they may not always achieve the desired results: In the end, that diamond didn’t win the empress’ heart, for instance. Plus, there’s all those logistics: Do you really want to manage 20,000 workers? They’ll eventually want to unionize. And there’s probably taxes to pay at some point.
But people will always want to know about the greatest. So, here we present the 10 greatest gifts ever given (according to us).
Statue of Liberty
Ever receive a birthday gift so stunning, so generous, so over the top that your guilt reflex makes you insist, You shouldn’t have!
We imagine that’s how the United States felt on July 4, 1884, when France gifted us Lady Liberty. A universal symbol of freedom and democracy, it was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. This 305-foot-tall, neoclassical statue took nine years to build and arrived in the U.S. in pieces, taking four months to reassemble.
Rose Trellis egg
In 1907, Russian Tsar Nicholas II gave wife Alexandra Feodorovna a Fabergé egg to commemorate the third birthday of his son, Alexei Nikolaevich — quite the surprise, since the Russo-Japanese War resulted in the stoppage of Imperial Easter egg production for two years.
Hardly just any enamel Fabergé egg, this pink and green orb is also accented with gold and encrusted with diamonds. And since a Fabergé egg alone is hardly spectacular enough for a Tsarina, inside the egg she’d find a diamond necklace and miniature ivory portrait of Alexei framed in diamonds.
The egg has been on exhibit at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum since 1952.
Any Joe Schmo can send flowers to the love of his life — you don’t need to be Joe DiMaggio. But what makes the baseball hall of famer different from me and you is that he ordered blossoms for Marilyn Monroe after the movie star had already passed — along with one more twist: When Monroe died in 1962, DiMaggio ordered Parisian Florist in Los Angeles to deliver “six fresh, long-stemmed red roses to her Westwood crypt, three times a week…forever.”
Ultimately, “forever” ended in 1982, when DiMaggio finally cancelled the contract. Still, Monroe’s admirers continue the tribute, ordering flowers from the same Parisian Florist on special occasions, such as Monroe’s birthday, for instance. (It’s June 1, in case you want to send her a bouquet.)
There’s grief. Then there’s grief so profound it results in the creation of one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan dearly loved his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Heartbroken after she died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631, he commissioned 20,000 workers to build India’s Taj Mahal. A monument to her memory and the site of her final resting place (and, eventually, his), the mausoleum is built almost entirely of white marble.
Today, the Taj Mahal itself is in danger of becoming a memory, given the devastating effects of modern air pollution. The air in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, has become so toxic that the white marble had, at one point, turned hues of brown and green.
Hanno the White Elephant
What’s better than a white elephant party? Perhaps an actual white elephant.
In 1514, 4-year-old Hanno, a pale pachyderm, traveled from India to Rome in honor of a major event. A gift from King Manuel I of Portugal, the animal was presented to Pope Leo X to celebrate Leo’s coronation.
White elephants are a rarity, and, thus, were regarded as sacred and bearers of good fortune.
So smitten with the animal was Leo that it’s said he commissioned Italian Renaissance genius Raphael to paint his portrait.
Say it’s the 18th century and a Russian count (let’s go with Grigory Orlov) wants to win the heart of a Russian empress (Catherine the Great, for instance). (And let’s also say there was history between the two, and we don’t mean just the Russian kind.)
Imagine our hapless count tries to bestow upon the royal a rose-cut diamond weighing nearly 200 carats. And let’s say she, yet again, shuns him. Should she return the precious ornaments?
In this case, no. She, instead, mounts it in the Romanov imperial scepter for all of history to see. As a consolation, though, she does name the diamond after him.
Real estate as dowry
A dowry — a gift or payment bestowed by a bride-to-be’s family to the groom-to-be — is pretty much ancient history. Back when dowries were a thing, though, there were some good prizes to be had.
Back in 1640, the family of Catherine of Braganza (Bragança being a city in northeastern Portugal), in order to marry off their daughter, rewarded the groom with Tangier, Morocco and Bombay, India. The groom to be: 10-year-old King Charles II of England. (Catherine was only 2 at the time.)
Needless to say, these cities are no longer under Britain’s rule. And we’d tell you how much that land increased in value but, you know, math, so…
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Spoiler alert: If you want to adore this amazing gift in person, you missed your opportunity by about 2,500 years.
According to historians, the hanging (terraced) gardens of Babylon were a wonder (one of the Seven Ancient Wonders, actually) that rose hundreds of feet high. As the story goes, Nebuchadnezzar II built them for his wife, Amytis, who missed the lush mountains of her homeland, so he created a paradise in the desert.
Here’s the catch, though: There’s no evidence the gardens existed. And if they were a reality, they’re long, long, long gone, destroyed, some say, by an earthquake around 2nd century B.C.
A winning lottery ticket
Since the odds of getting struck by lightning are higher than winning Powerball, people can get a bit irrational when buying a lottery ticket. They make the purchase imagining that, for sure, they’ll beat the overwhelming odds. But if they need to leverage their ticket, say, as collateral, nah, they think — of course they won’t win. Except sometimes, they do. Enter Robert Cunningham.
Cunningham was a Dobbs Ferry, New York, police sergeant who, in 1984, joined some coworkers for a meal at Sal’s Pizzeria in Yonkers. After finishing his linguine and clam sauce, he offered waitress Phyllis Penza a choice: take a standard tip or half his winnings, should his lottery ticket hit gold. Penza chose the lottery, helping Cunningham pick the numbers. And then, just like some unbelievable Hollywood story, Cunningham actually won — 6 million bucks! A man of his word, Cunningham shared the bounty with Penza.
The couple’s story was adapted into the 1994 film It Could Happen to You, starring Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda. (Except the film veered far from reality when it turned Cunningham and Penza into a real couple. Didn’t happen.)
Bowling alley for President Truman
Assuming you keep everything above board, you need to follow certain rules when gifting anything to a politician. But we can only imagine the red tape and all the hoops you’d need to jump through should you want to gift something to the President of the United States. While (s)he’s in office. And your gift involves construction in the president’s actual residence.
In 1947, President Harry Truman opened a two-lane bowling alley in the White House, a birthday gift from some of the president’s fellow Missourian supporters. Ironically, Truman’s favorite pastime was poker — he hadn’t bowled since his teen years. But once the alley was built, well, Truman still didn’t use it much. He did, though, support its use, as staffers formed bowling leagues and played there.