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Patriotic Gifts Stacking Up This Season

For those who plan to infuse their holidays with a little "God Bless America," they might want to consider stuffing a stocking with a pocket Constitution, decorating with a White House ornament or piling up Library of Congress calendars under the Christmas tree.

Though the array of American-pride gifts has dwindled a little this holiday compared to last -- when the memory of Sept. 11 was so fresh -- there are still plenty to choose from for the patriotic of heart.

The White House, Library of Congress, U.S. Mint and both houses of Congress all have gift shops, and by some accounts, sales this year have been record-breaking.

"We’ve done twice what we did last year at this time," said Rita Muldoon, manager of the White House Gift Shop, which is run by the Uniformed Division Benefit Fund. Most of the shop’s proceeds go toward charity.

Muldoon said the most popular items this season are the White House ornaments that commemorate each year. They sell for $15 apiece.

"We have sold close to 12,000 of the 2002 ornament and we ran out of 1994 ornaments," she said.

Glassware with the presidential seal or the White House on it is also a hit. Muldoon said she’s sold 100 items each of the $35 wine glass set and the $35 rocks glass set. The shop even has cuddly presents like red-white-and-blue beanie bears and gifts for kids like the Air Force One play set -- complete with the plane, motorcade vehicles and other pieces.

"We can’t keep them in stock," said Muldoon of the toy plane sets, which sell for $11 for the small version and $17 for the large.

Muldoon attributes the jump in sales to the fact that patriotism is still "in."

"I don’t know that it’s just a carryover from Sept. 11," she said. "A lot of our gifts are unique. I don’t know what did it, but since GW [Bush] was inaugurated, our sales have increased significantly month after month."

Department of Education employee Susan Aspey said she thinks gifts bearing a government logo are particularly appealing during this period of trial and triumph.

"With the war on terrorism and the potential war on Iraq, it's something special with the White House and president in mind," said Aspey, who scooped up a bunch of White House Christmas ornaments.

"Given this time in U.S. history, they’re really treasured by my friends and family," she said.

The White House shop isn't the only store doing well. Sales are hopping at the Library of Congress Gift Shop, though the patriotic-themed gifts aren’t the hottest items, according to the store's head of operations.

"The things that are patriotic really haven’t sold that well since last fall," said Anna Lee, the Library's retail marketing officer who runs shop operations. "By May, a lot of those products were gone. It was flooded last year, but too many people came out with patriotic products that weren’t tastefully done and a lot probably lost money."

Among the most popular gifts at Lee's shop, she said, are a $16 ballerina jewelry box for children; a Library of Congress Christmas ornament for $19.95; a $28 "book lovers sleep shirt" and $10 matching socks; wall calendars for $19 and a $52 American flag afghan.

She attributes the growth to the new Web site, www.locstore.com, which just launched this year, and to the expansion of the product line to more than 500 items.

"We have been so busy selling everything," said Lee. "We are getting bombarded. It’s been a really, really strong Christmas for us."

She also thinks many Americans are buying her products because they want to support the Library of Congress.

"There’s a tremendous love for the Library," Lee said.

The U.S. Mint shop offers commemorative coins – rolls or bags of golden dollars, for instance, for $35 to more than $2,100 – Christmas ornaments for $18.95; golden dollar chain pendants for $23; and paperweights for $29.95.

The libertarian Cato Institute think tank has even gotten into the act, selling a pocketbook version of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence together for just $4.95 through its Web site, www.cato.org, and at mainstream stores like Restoration Hardware, Borders Bookstore and on Amazon.com. More than 30,000 copies have been sold in the past few months.

"There’s always been a strong appeal in the United States to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and the founding principles," said Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz. "Americans are concerned about the rights protected in the Constitution."

M.C. Keegan-Ayer, whose husband has been a congressional staffer for 25 years, said it’s a tradition in her family to buy the White House and Congress commemorative ornaments and give them to people for Christmas. But she doesn’t usually go in for other sorts of patriotic presents at this time of year.

"We do buy flag shirts, but usually for the Fourth of July," said the Frederick, Md., resident. "We don’t do that so much for Christmas."