Trump and Pence are receiving official inauguration gifts from “the American people”

Thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
Image: Reuters/John Sommers II
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Inauguration day is here and the festivities have begun. But what kind of hosts would the American people be without a housewarming gift for the newly sworn-in president and vice president?

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has it covered. After today’s three-course inaugural luncheon, committee chairman Roy Blunt, a senator from Missouri, will hand Donald Trump and Mike Pence personalized, engraved crystal gifts on behalf of the American people.

Who are the “American people” giving Trump and Pence these commemorative gifts? Symbolically, the whole US population. Technically, Lenox Corporation. Today marks the eighth consecutive inaugural partnership with Lenox, the oldest maker of crystal and fine china in the US, which has now made gifts for the last five sets of US presidents and vice-presidents.

Trump and Pence are getting two of the largest and most elaborate inaugural gifts Lenox has made to date, says Timothy Carder, vice president of design at Lenox.

Trump and Pence's crystal bowls are the most elaborate inauguration gifts Lenox has made to date.
Trump and Pence’s crystal bowls are the most elaborate inauguration gifts Lenox has made to date.

The main difference between the two: The president’s version has the White House engraved on it while the vice president’s shows a view of the Capitol.

The tradition of handing out gifts made by Lenox began with George H.W. Bush’s presidential inauguration in 1989. (Ronald Reagan’s inaugural gift was designed by Steuben Glass.)

Carder has always drawn the gift designs for Lenox but says much of credit should go to retired Lenox glass-cutter Peter O’Rourke, who is now commissioned every four years to hand-cut each piece. Unlike Lenox’s first gift bowl for Bush, Trump’s is straight-sided (instead of spherical), set on a black cherry wood base (instead of a crystal base), and has a compass rose etched on the bottom (a first).

The company hasn’t changed any of the technology used over the years to create the inaugural gifts, but Carder has changed the thickness of the glass used in the pieces, for more precise and realistic details.

“Each one has a unique point of view and a different story,” Carder said. “We tend to adhere to all of the traditional rules to glassmaking. It’s actually a very old world art and there are not a lot of people in this country that could do such a project.”

When a president gets re-elected—as was the case with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—they (and the vice president) get a new crystal gift in a different shape than the first.

George W. Bush's inaugural gift from Lenox.
George W. Bush’s bowl is similar to the one his father received on Inauguration Day.
Image: AP Photo/Stephen J. Boitano

Lenox petitions the inaugural ceremonies committee before each election to secure its gift-making role. But the company’s White House relationship goes back to 1918, when president Woodrow Wilson commissioned the company to make exclusive dinnerware for the White House and vice presidential residence.

A week before his inauguration, Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee had already raised $90 million-plus in private donations, almost as much as for Obama’s two inaugurations combined, AP reported. Given that all inaugural luncheons, dinners, and other related activities are funded though companies and individuals, the crystal gifts are a relatively small token, donated to the committee by Lenox, but they are meant to last their recipients well beyond inauguration day or even their term in office.

“It’s a gift to them personally and it goes with them when they leave office to live at home,” Carder said.