History of Anniversary Gifts

History of Anniversary Gifts

The complex, romantic, and surprisingly long history of wedding and anniversary gifts 

Man surprising his girl with a anniversary gift

There are two types of people in the world. Ones that think there is nothing more romantic than themed anniversary gifts. And the ones that are running around the night before the big day wondering how on earth they are going to make a romantic gift made out of tin. 

Having gone through the traditions of proposing and having a formal wedding ceremony, many couples decided to stick with the traditions and give each other wedding anniversary presents. 

Weddings feel like timeless events, but many people are surprised when they learn that most of our wedding traditions only date back a few hundred years. 

While the concept of giving gifts before and after weddings has been around since weddings first began, the idea of themed anniversaries is a relatively new concept. The earliest evidence of which dates back to the late Victorian period

Today, we are going to talk you through the history of giving anniversary gifts, the traditions behind them, and how themed gifts evolved to be the way they are today. We also have plenty of advice about what types of gifts you should be giving on each major anniversary. 

Let's start by looking at the history of anniversary gifts. 

History‌ ‌of‌ ‌Anniversary‌ ‌Gifts‌ ‌

Wrapped anniversary gifts with balloons behind them

You may be surprised to learn that the idea of giving anniversary gifts dates back as far as the middle ages. It may date even further back but we have yet to find compelling evidence of this. 

Our journey into the history of anniversary gifts begins in ancient Rome. 

Ancient Rome and the Middle‌ ‌Ages‌ ‌

Parts of the Holy Roman Empire were very keen when it came to celebrating dates of the year. From this sprung the idea of celebrating wedding anniversaries

The two main anniversaries that were celebrated were the 25th and 50th. On the 25th wedding anniversary, the wife would be given a silver wreath by her husband and a golden one on their 50th anniversary. 

The use of these two metals is where the Silver (25th) and Gold (50th) wedding anniversaries get their names from. At the time these were the only anniversaries that were celebrated with gifts. 

Victorian‌ ‌Period‌ ‌

"The Victorians, so fond of cataloging and classifying, were likely the first to adapt ancient customs into a prescribed list of gifts for each wedding anniversary." - Gretchen Scoble and Ann Field, in The Meaning of Wedding Anniversaries 

In the Victorian era, we see the assignment of three major wedding anniversary gifts. 

Firstly, we see wood being assigned to the 5th wedding anniversary, in around 1875. Wood was chosen as it was a long lasting and tough material. 

The 75th anniversary was labeled the Diamond Anniversary during this time. As people began to live longer, and the concept of a 75th wedding anniversary became more plausible. 

Then we see Queen Victoria declaring her 60th year on the throne her Diamond Jubilee. After this, 60th wedding anniversaries were associated with Diamonds as well as the later dates. Diamonds then start being combined with other precious materials to distinguish between later anniversaries. 

20th‌ ‌Century‌ ‌ ‌

It was in the 20th century that we saw the true rise of anniversary gifts. 

At the turn of the century, we saw the introduction of different themes for each of the first 15 anniversaries. Later, themes for the subsequent 5 years were also given a theme. 

In the Blue Book of Social Usage (1922), Emily Post published a list of these themes. Many of the themes in her book are still used today. 

In 1937, The American National Retail Jeweler Association published their own comprehensive list. This list contained unique themes for every anniversary up to the 20th. Then a gift for every 5 years up to the 75th anniversary.* 

*For some unknown reason the 65th anniversary was skipped. 

Since this list was released, many other Associations have released their own list, based around their own industry. None of them have been as culturally impactful as the list from the American National Retail Jeweler Association. 

That being said, many people have now assigned other items -  like flowers, foods, and colors - to important anniversaries. It is now seen as acceptable to pick and choose from many different lists. 

Now that we know the history of anniversary gifting, let's look at how gifts and commendations are given around the world. 

Wedding‌ ‌Anniversary‌ ‌Gifts‌ ‌by‌ ‌Region‌ ‌ ‌

Man and Woman giving each other anniversary gifts

Now, in modern times, wedding anniversaries are celebrated differently all over the world. As life expectancy is growing in nearly every country in the world, it is becoming more common for governments and monarchies to recognize the special anniversaries of their citizens. 

In this section, we will cover the different places in the world that offer special commendations to their citizens celebrating special wedding anniversaries. 

USA‌ ‌

In the USA, if you reach your 50th wedding anniversary you will receive a congratulations from the President. You will also receive one every following year. 

There are a few states that also celebrate this on a more local level, with state governors and mayors reaching out personally to the couples. 

Commonwealth‌ ‌Countries‌ ‌

When it comes to the list of anniversary gift themes, the Commonwealth Nations tend to follow the British list, if they follow any at all. 

However, members of Commonwealth nations can apply for something a little bit special. 

On their 60th, 65th, and 70th wedding anniversaries couples can apply to receive a special memorandum from the reigning British monarch. They will also receive a yearly message after the 70th anniversary. 

The message includes a signed picture of the monarch and well wishes from them. 

If a couple is interested in receiving this honor, they should get in contact with an official at Buckingham Palace (this can be done online or by post), or they can get in touch with the Governor General’s office within their own country. 

Members of the Commonwealth and the British Isles are also able to apply for a similar commendation from the monarch when they reach 100 years of age. 

Australia‌ ‌

As well as being able to apply for a congratulatory message from the reigning monarch, citizens of Australia have other options open to them. 

On the year of their 50th wedding anniversary, Australian couples will receive a letter of congratulations from the current Prime Minister. They will also receive one in every following year of their marriage. 

Then, depending on the state that the couple is living in, they may also receive commendations from other members of the federal and local government. Including the State Governor and members of their local parliament.  

It is not uncommon for the leader of the Federal Opposition to also send letters or messages of congratulations. 

Canadians‌ ‌

As well as being able to apply for a congratulatory message from the reigning monarch, citizens of Canada also have other options open to them.

On their 50th wedding anniversary and every five years following, the couple will be written to by the Governor General. 

In some regions, this achievement is also recognized on a more local level, with local parliaments, and sometimes even Mayors making a special effort to celebrate the achievement.  

The Governor General is representative of the British Monarchy within Canada. For bigger anniversaries, the Canadian government may also wish to send the couple a congratulations card or letter. 

Roman Catholics

Roman Catholics all over the world are able to apply for a blessing from the Pope during many of their key wedding anniversaries - 25th, 50th, 60th, and all afterward.  

Couples can apply for this blessing through their own church, or others can apply for it for them. 

Traditional‌ ‌Gifts‌ ‌vs‌ ‌Modern‌ ‌Gifts‌ ‌

Man giving flowers on the left and man giving big gifts on the right as their anniversary gifts

Before we jump into the anniversary gift ideas, let's take a look at the different types of anniversary lists that are currently popular. 

Traditional‌ ‌Gifts‌ ‌

When it comes to traditional gifting, there are two lists you can turn to - the British list and the American list. 

The lists are fairly similar until you reach the 10th anniversary. After that, they begin to deviate from each other. 

Something that is quite interesting is that wool features much more regularly in the British list, possibly because wool was such a key part of British industry when these lists were first being written. 

The key feature of both of these traditional lists is that the items gain value as you make your way through the list. They do this for two reasons, to show the value of the relationship, and to celebrate the achievement more with each gift. 

These lists are pretty much the same as the list that was released by the American National Retail Jeweler Association in 1937. The jewelers chose to make a lot of the later anniversaries linked with precious stones, metals, and gems. Getting more valuable as time goes on. 

The combination of metal and gems for the later dates suggests that the ANRJA has jewelry in mind when they wrote this list.  

Modern‌ ‌Gifts‌ ‌

The list of modern gifts differs greatly from the Traditional lists until you reach the later dates (post 25th celebrations). 

The modern list offers ideas for every year up until the 50th anniversary, and therefore has a lot more items in it. It also has gift ideas ranging up to the 100th wedding anniversary. 

The modern list is a lot more specific than the traditional one - a real lifeline for struggling spouses. 

The list: 

First – Clocks

Second – China

Third – Crystal/Glass

Fourth – Appliances

Fifth – Silverware

Sixth – Wood Objects

Seventh – Desk sets

Eighth – Linen, Lace

Ninth – Leather Goods

Tenth – Diamond

Eleventh – Fashion jewelry

Twelfth – Pearls, Colored gems

Thirteenth – Textiles

Fourteenth – Gold jewelry

Fifteenth – Watches

Sixteenth – Silver holloware

Seventeenth – Furniture

Eighteenth – Porcelain

Nineteenth – Bronze

Twentieth – Platinum

21st – Brass, Nickel

22nd – Copper

23rd – Silverplate

24th – Musical instruments

Twenty-Fifth – Sterling Silver

26th – Original pictures

27th – Sculpture

28th – Orchids

29th – New furniture

Thirtieth – Diamond

31st – Timepieces

32nd – Conveyances (e.g., automobiles)

33rd – Amethyst

34th – Opal

Thirty-Fifth – Jade

36th – Bone china

37th – Alabaster

38th – Beryl, Tourmaline

39th – Lace

Fortieth – Ruby

41st – Land

42nd – Improved real estate

43rd – Travel

44th – Groceries

Forty-Fifth – Sapphire

46th – Original poetry tribute

47th – Books

48th – Optical goods (e.g., telescope, microscope)

49th – Luxuries, any kind

Fiftieth – Gold

Fifty-fifth – Emerald

Sixtieth – Diamond

80th – Diamond, Pearl

85th – Diamond, Sapphire

90th – Diamond, Emerald

95th – Diamond, Ruby

100th – 10-carat Diamond

Flower‌ ‌Gifts‌ ‌

Some couples choose to celebrate their wedding anniversaries with floral arrangements or by planting flowers together. 

It is often the method of celebration chosen by people sending gifts to the happy couple - family members, friends, and bosses for example. 

The flowers chosen for the list have been picked as they represent the different stages of love. For example, Carnations represent young and tender love that thrives when nourished and looked after. 

The list of flowers covers every anniversary until the 15th, and then the 25th, 28th, 30th, 40th, and 50th anniversaries too. 

The List:

1st Anniversary – Carnation

2nd Anniversary – Cosmos Flower

3rd Anniversary – Fuchsia

4th Anniversary – Geranium

5th Anniversary - Daisy flower

6th Anniversary – Calla Lily

7th Anniversary – Jack in the Pulpit

8th Anniversary – Clematis

9th Anniversary - Poppy

10th Anniversary – Daffodil

11th Anniversary - Morning Glory

12th Anniversary – Peony

13th Anniversary – Hollyhock

14th Anniversary - Dahlia

15th Anniversary – Rose

20th Anniversary – Daylily

25th Anniversary – Iris

28th Anniversary – Orchid

30th Anniversary – Lily

40th Anniversary – Gladioli

50th Anniversary – Yellow Rose/Violet

Jewelry Gifts 

As we mentioned above, the most 'influential gifts by year' list was written by the American National Retail Jeweler Association. Therefore many of the gifts are themed around jewelry. 

Over the years, another list has been developed that is entirely themed around jewelry and precious stones. 

The list: 

1st Mother of Pearl

2nd Garnet

3rd Moonstone

4th Blue Topaz

5th Rose Quartz

6th Amethyst

7th Onyx

8th Tourmaline

9th Lapis Lazuli

10th Crystal or Green Tourmaline

11th Turquoise

12th Jade

13th Citrine

14th Opal

15th Rhodolite

16th Peridot

17th Carnelian

18th Cat’s Eye

19th Aquamarine

20th Platinum

25th Tsavorite or Silver

30th Pearl

35th Emerald

40th Ruby

45th Sapphire

50th Gold

55th Emerald

60th Diamond

65th Sapphire

List‌ ‌of‌ ‌Traditional‌ ‌Gifts‌ ‌(and ideas to go with them) 

Man holding a wrapped anniversary gift

Below you will find a complete list of Traditional anniversary gifts, as well as a gift-giving guide for those of you who are struggling to come up with ideas. 

The List (US): 

1st – Paper

2nd – Cotton

3rd – Leather

4th – Linen (Silk)

5th – Wood

6th – Iron

7th – Wool/Copper

8th – Bronze

9th – Pottery (China)

10th – Tin/Aluminum

11th – Steel

12th – Silk

13th – Lace

14th – Ivory

15th – Crystal

20th – China

25th – Silver

30th – Pearl

35th – Coral/Jade

40th – Ruby

45th – Sapphire

50th – Gold

55th – Emerald

60th – Diamond

75th – diamonds, diamond-like stones, gold

1st – Paper

Many couples like to theme their first anniversary around journeys and adventures - to celebrate the first year of their joint lives: 

  • Scrapbook - put together a paper scrapbook of all your favorite memories together and don't forget to leave space for future memories 
  • Adventure passport - make a passport inspired adventure diary, each page dedicated to an adventure you'd like to go on together over the next year 
  • Treasure map - make a treasure hunt themed around your favorite moments from the last year 

2nd – Cotton

Couples often chose to theme their cotton anniversary gifts around their homes and creating cozy moments together 

  • A thick woolen blanket with monogram - this is the perfect place to snuggle up with each other 
  • Personalized cotton socks - which not make one of your inside jokes into a pair of socks 
  • Repair one of their broken items of clothing - nothing says I love you like a thoughtful favor 

3rd – Leather

When leather is treated well, it can last for decades - just like a good relationship: 

  • A leather shaving kit 
  • A leather diary - why not fill the first, last, and random pages in between with love letters. 
  • A nice leather watch - this makes a great gift to later pass down to children and grandchildren 

4th – Linen (Silk)

Silk pops up again for the 12 anniversary, but there are so many great choices you don't have to worry about: 

  • A set of silk underwear - who would be disappointed with that 
  • A silk dressing gown - you could go the extra mile and have it monogrammed
  • A set of silk bed sheets - these are good for skin and make it easier to sleep 

5th – Wood

If you have some woodworking skills, you could hand make this year's gift, otherwise: 

  • Wooden love spoon - inspired by Celtic myths 
  • A wooden photo frame - filled with your favorite memory together (you could even make it out of driftwood from a time you went to the beach together 
  • A personalized cheese board- and break it in with a selection of fine wines and cheeses 

6th – Iron

Iron may not sound very romantic but it is a long wearing metal that can survive anything that's thrown at it, sound familiar?  

  • Cast iron cooking pots - if your other half is a fan of cooking then getting them a top of the range pan with having you in the good books until next year 
  • An iron initial pendant - hung on a silver chain 
  • A cast iron teapot - with a selection of tea samples for you to try together 

7th – Wool/Copper

Having two materials to pick from makes the 7th anniversary one of the easiest to plan for 

  • Copper cafertiere - coupled with breakfast in bed 
  • Fluffy woolen socks and a hot chocolate tasting set (with marshmallows of course) 
  • Personalized whisky glasses - with copper dipped bases and matching copper placemats. If you don't like whisky wine glasses or champagne flutes also make a great option.  

8th – Bronze

There is no such thing a third place at a bronze wedding anniversary - everyone's a winner with these gifts: 

  • Bronze cufflinks - have them thinking about you even when you can't be at home together 
  • Bronze wood scented perfume/aftershave - this is a fun play on the bronze theme 
  • A bronze statue - may be a replica some somewhere you have visited together during your marriage 

9th – Pottery (China)

Most people jump to teapots and teacups for this anniversary - but there is so much more you can do: 

  • A voucher for high tea together - at a fancy restaurant or hotel near you 
  • A Kintsugi repair kit - based on the Japanese art of using gold leaf to repair pottery, making it more beautiful than before 
  • A trip to China together - why not make the most of this theme 

10th – Tin/Aluminum

Again, this is another metal that doesn't sound very romantic, so you will need to put your thinking caps on: 

  • Tin of compliments - spend the months leading up to the anniversary writing down every compliment you can think of for your partner. Pop them in a tin and they'll be more than pleased with you 
  • A personalized compass (maybe with another treasure hunt?) 
  • A tin of their favorite tea, coffee, or hot chocolate - maybe you could add a tin of biscuits to that too 

11th – Steel

Time to steel their hearts away again… Okay, we're sorry, no more puns: 

  • Personalized Swiss Army multi-tool - these are so unbelievably useful in day to day life 
  • A personalized bottle opener - you could add a name, date, or even a location, inspired by the special moments in your relationship 
  • A personalized throwing ax - and a date to use it together (sign us up to come too!) 

12th – Silk

This is the second silk anniversary, but Silk is a great material, from which you can make a wide range of things: 

  • Silk-screen printed art - why not gift your partner a finely made print of some of their favorite artwork 
  • A set of silk underwear - yes, we said this last time, but you can never have too many nice sets of underwear 
  • A silk scarf or tie - maybe even a matching set 

13th – Lace

Lace has a romantic air that is unmatched by most fabrics, there are some great gift possibilities for this year: 

  • A personalized lace dressing gown - great to wear and great to look at 
  • A lace tie - it's difficult to get lace looking masculine, but ties do the trick 
  • A lace clutch or handbag - most people could do with another handbag, so this makes a great gift. It is also more practical than most other things made of lace 

14th – Ivory

Ivory is a little tricky as trading ivory is now illegal in most countries, however, it does create some room to have fun with this theme: 

  • Two tickets to the nearest drive-through zoo - spend the day watching the elephants and the other amazing beasts 
  • A pair of ivory (colored) heels - remember to check what size you need before you buy them  
  • A selection of ivory-colored roses - you can never go wrong with roses 

15th – Crystal

Celebrating your crystal wedding anniversary is a huge achievement. Time to celebrate it with lots of sparkly gifts: 

  • Crystal wine or whiskey decanter - and obviously fill it to the brim with the good stuff 
  • A bottle of champagne that you wouldn't normally spend that much money on 
  • An etched glass picture - with one of your wedding photos or favorite holiday snaps in 

20th – China

Yes, China is back again, but don't worry, he has some more ideas: 

  • If you didn't take a trip to China 11 years ago, then now is definitely the time to do so 
  • A personalized china plant pot - you could even fill it with a plant your partner loves, or something that reminds you of them 
  • A china teapot - and lots of tea to drink together (from China, if you want to go the extra mile for the theme) 

25th – Silver

This is where the anniversaries start to get a little more expensive - but why not, 25 years together is something worth celebrating!  

  • A silver locket with your names carved into the inside and one of your favorite pictures together 
  • A silver pocket watch - pocket watches are so in right now 
  • Silver laurel - a throwback to the very first anniversary gifts 

30th – Pearl

30 years is celebrated with pearls, you don't just have to stick with the gem, there are many other things that come in pearl colors: 

  • A pearl necklace - that you bought on your last trip away, it takes some advanced planning but will go down a treat 
  • Personalized pearl champagne bottle - include your names, the wedding date, and any other details important to your relationship 
  • A standing mixer with pearlized stand finish - for some people, this would make them happier than jewelry  

35th – Coral/Jade

35 is another year where you get a choice of two materials. Both of these stones are gorgeous but Jade is slightly easier to get hold of. 

  • A boating or diving trip to see a coral reef (or a trip to an aquarium to see one) 
  • A Jade vase 
  • A Jade face massager - helps to reduce swelling and leaves skin looking younger 

40th – Ruby

When you reach the Ruby anniversary, you may feel like your only option is a ruby ring, well, here are three more: 

  • A ruby pendant - a classic, but it's a classic for a reason 
  • Ruby Chocolate - in recent years a new type of chocolate has been discovered, it is naturally sweet and has a pink tint (why not try this new treat together) 
  • Ruby Oolong - a type of semi-fermented tea from Chiang Rai, Thailand. This type of tea is sweet, rich, and warms the soul

45th – Sapphire

Again, buying a sapphire ring can seem very tempting for this anniversary, but you do have other options: 

  • A sapphire pendant - again, this is a classic choice, but it will put you in the good books for at least a decade 
  • Swizz watch - sapphires feature heavily in the making of lots of high end watches 
  • A trip to Sapphire in North Carolina - if you and your partner love kinking, then this might just be the perfect place for you to visit 

50th – Gold

Celebrating your golden wedding anniversary is a huge deal, and you will most likely be doing it surrounded by friends and family: 

  • A gold laurel - as a throwback to the original anniversary gifts in Ancient Rome 
  • A gold pendant - something to remind you of some of your favorite moment in your relationships (maybe trips, births of children or grandchildren, or something special that the two of you share) 
  • A golden record - a framed, golden record of your first dance song, or another song that means a lot to you 

55th – Emerald

Now, we're not saying there's anything wrong with an Emerald ring, but if you went that way for silver, gold, sapphire, and ruby anniversaries then your partner is probably running out of fingers to wear rings on: 

  • Emerald cufflinks - these are so useful, that you can't really go wrong with a set of cufflinks 
  • Tickets to see Wicked - where you can witness the drama in the Emerald city 
  • And of course, an emerald pendant - you really can't go wrong with gems in pendants 

60th – Diamond

Diamonds are a girl's best friend, so it only makes sense that you celebrate 60 years of being married to your best friend with diamonds: 

  • A diamond wedding rose bush - a breed of rose that has been bred to celebrate diamond wedding anniversaries 
  • A diamond ring or pendant 
  • Make an up to date version of a gift you gave each other on your first wedding anniversary 

75th – diamonds, diamond-like stones, gold

You may think that you'd have run out of ideas by the 75th wedding anniversary, but we know you're still full of great gift ideas: 

  • Screen a film about diamonds or with diamonds in the title with your friends and family. Make popcorn and your other favorite snacks. 
  • A diamond tennis bracelet 
  • An oil painting of your favorite photo from your wedding day 


Man and woman celebrating their anniversary with anniversary gifts

Giving themed gifts is a great way to celebrate your anniversary with your partner. Whether you are celebrating your paper or your sapphire wedding anniversary, these gifts can put a smile on your partner's face for the next year. 

The idea of giving anniversary gifts dates back to Ancient Rome where brides were given silver and gold laurels on their 25th and 50 wedding anniversaries. This list was then added to by the Victorians who loved celebrating and was added to again by the American National Retail Jewelers Association in the 1920s. 

The list has remained pretty unchanged since then, although alternative lists themed around flowers, food, gems, and much more have since appeared.

Madeline Blackwell
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