Ireland's Enda Kenny gave Barack Obama a crystal presentation bowl filled with shamrocks in 2016.

Ireland's Enda Kenny gave Barack Obama a crystal presentation bowl filled with shamrocks in 2016. Jacquelyn Martin/AP file photo

Camel Sculptures and Kazakh Booze: The Best Gifts Government Employees Couldn’t Keep

Joe Biden didn't get to take home that custom made Arabian horse head in bronze with black ruthenium finish, a gold-plated mane, and sterling-silver bridle and reins

Presidents receive a lot of gifts from foreign dignitaries; they keep hardly any.

Federal law bars government employees from accepting any gift from a foreign government valued at more than $390. The number derives from a 1966 law barring gifts above “minimal value” to halt the flow of luxury cars and prize horses from favor-seeking foreign governments. A 1978 revision set that minimum at $100, with inflation-adjusted increases every three years.

Even if the Obamas wanted to hold on to the more luxurious items presented to them on official visits—the $42,000 sculpture of a Bedouin and camels presented by the Emir of Kuwait, say, or the engraved cufflinks from the Minister-President of Bavaria—they couldn’t.

The prohibition on expensive gifts is well known, but the gifting goes on anyway, with heads of state, ambassadors, and government representatives lavishing all manner of goods upon presidents, members of Congress, and other government dignitaries. In October, the US state department released a list of gifts declared in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.

The gifts were all accepted at the moment of presentation (to refuse, the state department notes, would cause “embarrassment to donor and US government”) and then handed over to the appropriate authorities for archiving. Gifts to the president and his family go to the National Archives, and eventually to their presidential libraries, which are managed by the same agency. The Secret Service disposes of food and perishable items.

Highlights from the 2015 haul—including mechanical birds, foie gras, and a few thousand dollars worth of Kazakh booze—are below.