One of the most enjoyable duties of the President is accepting gifts from foreign heads of state on behalf of the United States of America. The First Family does not personally retain most of these gifts; in fact, the Constitution (Article I, Section 9) forbids US government officials from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State” without the consent of Congress. Currently, any gift worth over $350 is automatically the property of the people of the USA. The gifts end up in presidential libraries and the National Archives.
The first ever Presidential Gift was received by President Jefferson; a 1,235-pound block of cheese from the township of Cheshire, Massachusetts.
In 2003, President Bush received 300 pounds of raw lamb meat from the President of Argentina. A year later, he received a gift worth $45,000: original watercolor portraits of the forty-three Presidents of the United States, bound in a velvet book studded with precious gems, held in a wooden presentation case with an amber mosaic of the United States on the lid, from President Vladimir Putin.
The most expensive gift that President Obama received in 2011 was a $52, 000 mask sculpture from the small African country Gabon. On a lighter, less expensive note, President Obama also received some vodka from Polish Prime Minister Donald Franciszek Tusk. (Unfortunately, all food and drink items given to the President are disposed of by the Secret Service.)
President Nixon received some of the most amazing presidential gifts. S. Nabi Ahmed Rizvi of Pakistan sent President Nixon a magnifying glass and two grains of rice, upon which the incredible artist had painted portraits: one of Nixon as a president; the other, young Nixon in the Navy. These portraits were the star of the 1993 show “To the President: Folk Portraits by the People” presented by the National Portrait Gallery
Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing.
The most famous, and priceless, gifts ever given to the United States of America from a foreign head of state were the two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, which President Nixon and Pat Nixon accepted in 1972 following their historic visit to the People’s Republic of China. The government of China has been employing “panda diplomacy” as far back as the Tang Dynasty of the 7th century. In return for the pandas, the Nixon administration gifted the people of China two musk oxen, named Matilda and Milton, and four California redwood saplings. President Nixon also received a jade ewer—currently on display here, at the Nixon Library and Birthplace and everyone in his party received tea and a bottle of the unusual Mao tai wine that had been served at dinners throughout the goodwill visit. These drinks were apparently not disposed of by the Secret Service, because President Nixon had the Chinese tea served at his first cabinet meeting upon his return.