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U.S. presidents have spotty record on gifts for royal births

By Jessica Yellin, CNN Chief White House Correspondent
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Wed July 24, 2013
  • Gifts for William and Catherine's baby must honor special U.S.-UK relationship
  • William got a gift from Reagans when he was born; brother Harry got nothing
  • Truman sent telegram for Charles' birth; Coolidge did even less for queen's birth
  • Protocol expert suggests American-made crafts -- but no silver spoons

Washington (CNN) -- What will the Obamas get the royal wee one? Sources tell CNN they're planning a special gift but just what that will be is a topic of animated debate inside the White House and the State Department.

Judging by the secrecy around the process, you'd think they were guarding state secrets.

No baby buggy will do. The president and first lady must find a special gift to honor the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.

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Presidents have a spotty history when it comes to giving gifts for the births of British royals. When Prince William was born in 1982, the Reagans gave him a child-size Chippendale-style corner chair with a needlepoint seat. But when his younger brother, Harry, was born two years later, they gave nothing. According to the Reagan Library, there was some criticism over the cost of William's chair, though it was less than $1,000, according to reports.

Harry Truman was president when Prince Charles was born in 1948. The United States had recently fought World War II by Britain's side, but still all Harry and Bess sent to mark the occasion was a telegram. They received a polite reply in return.

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Calvin Coolidge did even less for the birth of the current queen in 1926: he sent nothing.

So the pressure is on the Obamas to improve the record.

Nancy Mitchell of the Washington Center for Protocol says a gift is meant to help in "building or cementing relationships," and she believes the Obamas should send two: an official one from the American people and a personal one from them as a couple.

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For the official gift she suggests a piece of moon rock because the new prince was born under the full moon; an American-made teddy bear, as the toy's namesake is Teddy Roosevelt; or a sapling from a great American tree to plant on palace property. Says Mitchell, "Wouldn't it be lovely when the prince is 80 years old and King of the UK, and he looks out the window and says, 'This tree and I are the same age. This tree was presented by the United States the day I was born.'"

For a more personal gift from the Obamas, Mitchell would endorse American crafts such as a rocking chair or a quilt made of 50 squares, one for every state in the union.

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Another option on her list: a hobby horse, though she emphasizes it must be made of American wood, from a tree "that fell by natural causes. We don't want to be accused of chopping down a tree to make a gift for the prince." She also suggests original art from the book "Where the Wild Things Are," because both the president and first lady have said it's one of their favorite books, and Max, the main character, is crowned king in his fantasy.

Just as important as what to give is what not to give. In this category: no political gifts, obviously, especially no "silver spoons" -- too many opportunities for puns. And Mitchell suggests no gender-specific gifts because the royals just went through the process of changing the rules of succession to allow for a female heir, so this wouldn't be the right time to highlight the fact that the heir is a boy rather than a girl.

Finally, Mitchell says, "I pray that the Obamas don't pop down to the gift shop of the White House ... I noticed there is a bib, a blanket, a onesie with the White House seal on it."

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