- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

LONDON Buckingham Palace is once again open for the annual summertime tour of its art-bedecked hallways and ornate staterooms. But visitors are enduring long lines this year for a glimpse at a different kind of treasure a hockey puck, a whale tooth and a grasshopper drink cooler.

The items, among 200 assorted gifts presented to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip during the past 50 years, are on display in the Ball Supper Room to commemorate the monarch's Golden Jubilee. The exhibit is an amalgam of world cultures, from the American cowboy boots to the Ghanaian fertility throne.

"It was like having a nosy look in the queen's closet," said London resident Samantha Flanders, 28, who fought the crowds last Saturday for a look at Japanese vases, African wood carvings and paintings of all sizes. "I found it fascinating what some countries had given the queen."

Some gifts, like the silver boomerang from Australia, can fit in the palm of your hand. Others, like the inlaid desk, chair and desk set from Iran, occupy the better part of a typical room.

The hockey puck, provided by the Montreal Canadiens hockey club in 1955, is the one used by Maurice "Rocket" Richard to score his 325th goal. The whale tooth, given by the people of Fiji in 1963, is considered a gift of great honor.

A steel, brass and Sevres porcelain wine-bottle cooler in the form of a giant grasshopper was offered by President Georges Pompidou of France in 1972. The back of the five-foot insect opens to store ice while the head opens to store glasses.

When "someone gives a grasshopper, it's quite something," said assistant curator Gemma Entwistle, commenting on the purposeful, eclectic nature of the assembled treasures. "We could have put a lot more gold things out."

These gifts are just a fraction of the 1,500 presented to the royals, as a custom of friendship, during 76 state visits and 149 trips to Commonwealth countries. The queen also has received 75 foreign heads of state throughout the years.

About half of the presents are normally kept in storage well cataloged, according to staff in Windsor. The other half come from museums such as the National Maritime Museum, or from another part of the palace itself.

A drawing from surrealist Salvador Dali is usually kept in a private room in Windsor Castle when not on show in the palace's 147-year-old Ball Supper Room. The grasshopper is usually out in the entrance to the castle, Miss Entwistle said.

What couldn't go on display were the agricultural gifts such as pineapples, eggs and a grove of maple trees. One long tradition that has continued into the current reign but also cannot be represented in the exhibition is the giving of live animals.

Henry VIII bestowed hounds to Emperor Charles V of Spain, a cheetah was sent from India to George III in 1764, and George IV received a giraffe from Mehmet Ali, the pasha of Egypt, in 1827. The queen has been presented with many horses from around the world.

Other such gifts have been placed in the care of the London Zoo, among them a canary from Germany (1965), jaguars and sloths from Brazil (1968), and an elephant called Jumbo from Cameroon (1972). Prince Andrew, as an infant, received a baby crocodile in 1961 from the people of Berending in Gambia.

The exhibit is open through Sept. 29.

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