July 29, 2011
Christopher Baker

No one seems to know who dreamed up the year-by-year gift register that matches particular materials to wedding anniversaries -- such as paper for the first, iron for the sixth, silver for the 25th -- but the list has been around for more than a century.

The inventor was most likely of the Victorian era, when the passion for celebrating all things domestic knew no limits. By 1905, anniversaries as social events were so popular in the United States that one women's magazine described in detail how to throw a party for every year from the first to the 75th, or diamond, anniversary (after the 15th, observances jump to every five years), with menu, decorations, and elaborate party games all centered on the appropriate emblem. Even the invitations were to be inscribed on the material of the year, whether wood, tin, or gold; presents were, of course, to be made of it.

In 1937, an association of jewelers created a new list, featuring ready-made presents for all 75 years -- clocks instead of paper for a first anniversary, desk sets instead of wool for a seventh, and so on, through the low point of groceries for the 44th year. The modern list never completely pushed the traditional one aside, although the two have coexisted ever since.

The ideas on the following pages nod to the traditional gifts but often with a twist: Mark a sapphire anniversary (45th) with a balloon trip into a perfect blue sky rather than with a gemstone. Or let the desires of the moment dictate your holiday. Early in marriage, couples may prefer private celebrations; older pairs usually treasure being surrounded by loved ones. The best observances recall a day of joyful union and renew the bond that has deepened the meaning of two joined lives.

In other words, let the occasion inspire you to do something that honors in a highly personal way a very public institution. Buying presents for the person you love most is by no means the only way to impart value. Wrapping a gift with a little imagination is what creates the shared, special memories that support a lasting marriage.

The Anniversaries

Paper: 1

Cotton, Leather, and Linen: 2, 3, 4

Wood: 5

Iron, Wool, Bronze, and Pottery: 6, 7, 8, 9

Tin: 10

Steel, Silk, Lace, and Ivory: 11, 12, 13, 14

Crystal: 15

China: 20

Silver: 25

Pearl: 30

Coral: 35

Ruby: 40

Gold: 50


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