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A Peek Inside the Museum Archives

The Education and Public Programs Team at the Nixon Library is pleased to remind you that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) continues to be an excellent source for entertaining and historical content! Simply follow the links below for additional information.

A Peek Inside the Museum Archives

Presidential Libraries give visitors opportunities to dive into history with all their senses. The museum curators and archivists are charged with the maintenance and safekeeping of photographs, audio recordings, textual records, and artifacts all pertinent to a President's administration and the era surrounding it. The mission of the National Archives is to

provide public access to Federal Government records in our custody and control. Public access to government strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.” 

Many of the artifacts, photographs, and documents in this sneak peek pertain to gifts received during Richard Nixon's presidency both as diplomatic gestures and from private citizens.

Gifts of State

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During President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, Pat Nixon so admired the panda bears she was shown that the Chinese government gifted the United States with Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing. They arrived at the National Zoo in April 1972. First Lady Pat Nixon formally welcomed the pandas on April 16, 1972. (WHPO-8931-15 and 33)

Gift exchanges between heads of state date back to ancient civilizations on every continent. These expressions of goodwill “capture the essence of a nation, chosen for its ability to exhibit pride in a unique culture and people.” Our nation’s founders initially viewed these gifts negatively believing them to be representative of the aristocracy. Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution prohibited anyone in the U.S. Government from receiving a personal gift from a foreign head of state without the consent of Congress believing “a bribe in betrayers' hands could topple a government.” Modern day diplomacy has embraced the tradition and since 1928, a Chief of Protocol Officer and Protocol Gift Unit has been charged with the task of receiving and maintaining records of all diplomatic gifts. The extravagance of some gifts of state prompted the creation of the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act of 1966 initially capping the dollar amount of gifts received. As of January 2020, anything over $415 “is automatically the property of the people of the USA. The gifts end up in presidential libraries and the National Archives.” If the President wishes to purchase a gift from the government, they may do so at the appraised value of the item.

Past diplomatic gifts have included live animals; Giant Pandas were a gift to President Richard Nixon from the People's Republic of China and a Komodo Dragon was given to President George H.W. Bush from Indonesia. A jewel encrusted sword valued at $8,000 was a gift given to President Obama from Malaysia. He was also the recipient of crocodile insurance from the Chief Minister of Australia's Northern Territory. In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes received the Resolute Desk as a gift from Queen Victoria of England, a gift still used in the Oval Office today. Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres gifted President Gerald Ford a 1st or 2nd century CE Roman wine/water vessel. Three hundred pounds of raw lamb was gifted to President George W. Bush from Argentina and a Louis Vuitton golf bag valued around $8,000 was given to President Donald Trump during a visit to France. Many diplomatic gifts received during the Nixon Administration (pandas not included) are on display and held in the collection at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

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During Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev's visit to the Presidential Retreat Camp David, President Nixon presented him with a Camp David windbreaker jacket and a brand-new Lincoln Continental in dark blue with black velour upholstery. Nixon wrote about their harrowing spin around the camp with Brezhnev behind the wheel. 6/20/1973. (WHPO-E1046-26A)

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During President Nixon’s February 1972 visit to China, he was gifted this Chinese motif artwork with a bird perching on a branch. In Chinese culture, it symbolizes auspiciousness, a suggestion for future success. Gift of the Government of the People's Republic of China to President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon, HS.1972.29

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The glass peacock symbolizes beauty and dignity. It was given during President Nixon's February, 1972 visit to China. Gift of the Government of the People's Republic of China to President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon, HS.1972.137

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Cloisonné liqueur set. Cloisonné, a difficult technique of soldering and enamel painting–and a specialty of Russian craftsmen–is a favorite gift of Russian leaders. In May 1972, the two leaders of the world's most powerful countries met to sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreement. By restricting missile production in the United States and the Soviet Union, Nixon and Brezhnev hoped to reduce the threat of war between the two nations. Gift of Leonid Brezhnev to President Richard Nixon, HS.1974.59.1-.8

Gifts from Private Citizens

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Blind Vietnam veteran Michael Naranjo presented a bronze sculpture titled Dance of the Eagle to President Nixon. They both reportedly knelt on the floor of the Oval Office so Mr. Naranjo could “see” the Presidential Seal on the carpet with his hands. 9/24/1971. (WHPO-7353-04A)

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Dance of the Eagle. Gift of Michael Naranjo to President Richard Nixon, D.1971.2020

Gift giving is not limited to ambassadors and foreign dignitaries. The museum and archives are chock full of interesting and personal gifts given from private citizens across the United States and abroad. Artifacts include works of art, furniture, Christmas decorations, and jewelry given by both established artists and novice school children. These gifts are often representative of an era and the pertinent issues of the administration. The President is generally free to accept unsolicited gifts from private citizens, family, and friends but is required by law to disclose gifts of a certain financial amount on annual financial disclosure reports.

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A puppet figure of Richard Nixon with movable arms. Gift of Larry Frost to President Richard Nixon, D.1972.4386.a

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A hand carved rocking chair made by the donor, from local Kentucky wood using pegs instead of glue. Gift of Chester Cornett to President Richard Nixon, D.1973.2739

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Presentation of rocking chair by Chester Cornett and Congressman Don Clancy. 5/17/1973. (WHPO-E0808-06)

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Oil painting depicting President Richard Nixon as The Modern Gladiator. Gift of Jack Wisenhunt to President Richard Nixon, D.1973.2168

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A first edition printing of the artwork book titled Walter Keane containing images created by Big Eyes artist Margaret Keane. Inscribed “The President and Mrs. Nixon, Much happiness to you, Walter Keane.” Gift of Walter Keane to President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon, D.1969.1704

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Page one of Elvis Presley’s handwritten letter to President Nixon requesting an audience; White House Central Files: Subject Categories: Health (HE): Folder EX HE 5-1 1/1/72-1/31/72: Box 19

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On December 21, 1970, musician Elvis Presley met President Richard Nixon at the White House after requesting an audience with the President through a hand-delivered note. It was his intention to give a “World War II era pistol and obtain for himself the credentials of a federal agent in the war on drugs.” (WHPO-5364-14)

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Elvis brought this gun as a gift for President Richard Nixon during his December 1970 visit to the White House. The gun, in its original presentation case, is on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Gift of Elvis Presley to President Richard Nixon, D.1970.2883.1.a-h,.2.a-b

Interested in Seeing More?

Learn more about the life and legacy of our 37th president in person at The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California.