LONDON – Buckingham Palace is open for the annual tour of its art-bedecked hallways and ornate state rooms. But this year visitors will glimpse different kinds of treasures: 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 American cowboy boots to a Ghanian fertility throne.
"It was like having a nosy look in the queen's closet," said London resident Samantha Flanders, 28, who fought the crowds for a look at Japanese vases and African wood carvings. "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 chair and desk set from Iran, occupy the better part of a typical room.
The hockey puck, provided by the Montreal Hockey Club in 1955, is the one used by 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 Sèvres 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 goodies. "We could have put a lot more gold things out."
These are just a fraction of the 1,500 gifts presented to the royals over the course of 76 state visits and 149 trips to commonwealth countries, given by custom of friendship.
The queen has never really indicated whether she likes one item over another, Entwistle said. But she does have a good memory, and remembers what was given to her back in the 1950s.
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, for example, is usually kept in a private room in Windsor Castle when not on show in the palace.
Among the items that can't be displayed are 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 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.