What do you give the couple who have everything?
How about a decorated Victorian chimney pot or a purple and blue hand-knitted camel wearing a flower an its head?
These were just two of the 1,000 wedding presents given to the prince and princess of Wales that went on exhibition at St. James's palance yesterday.
Gifts from the rich and not-so-rich shared the limelight, from a shriveled, heart-shaped potato dug in Chesire to a sumptuous coral, onyx and gold necklace given by the heir-apparent of Qatar.
It is hard to imagine what the newlyweds will do with a seven-foot-high thatched birdhouse, but many of the gifts are of a more practical nature. There are food processors, microwave ovens, pots and pans and enough china on which to feed the whole of London. There was even a handsome white vacuum cleaner. "I don't suppose she's ever seen one of those before," said one tourist.
The engraved crystal bowl was given by President and Mrs. Reagan was displayed in the throne room along with other gifts from heads of state.
By far the most lavish came from officials of Arab states who vied with each other magnificent.
There was a solid gold, two-foot-long model of an Arab dhow with a diamond and ruby encrusted flag from Bahrain. Saudi Arabia came up with the most valuable gift of all -- a profusion of diamond and sapphire encrusted jewelry, including a necklace, cuff links and earrings, with a malachite jewel-studded box. The gift is said to be worth about pound750,000 (about $1.5 million) and was guarded almost as heavily as the royal couple were on their wedding day.
Regretfully, officials decided not to exhibit an enormous stone table from the king of Swaziland -- they were nervous it might go crashing through the floor.
There was, however, a huge and rather obscure (but vaguely erotic) woodcarving from Uganda and a beautiful brown and white quilt, hand-sewn by the queen of Tonga. Even the king and queen of Spain, who had declined to attend the wedding because the honeymoon included a stop at Spanish-claimed Gibraltar, sent some chic gray luggage and a bronz polo player bearinga distrinct resemblance to Prince Charles.
One of the most beautiful gifts is a painting by Raoul Dufy from President Francois Mitterrand of France.
Rear Admiral Sir Hugh Janion, who is in charge of the display, said the exhibit was just a selection of the 6,000 wedding presents that Prince Charles and his bride received.
They have all been stacked -- from floor to ceiling -- in Buckingham Palace's cinema room, and yesterday's display alone was valued cautiously at pound4 million, or about $8 million.
The couple even had to turn down certain gifts -- such as shares in an oil well near Holdenville, Okla., from a local millionaire, and two streamlined cars. There was also a veto on domestic animals and livestock, said Sir Hugh: "You eithe have a herd of livestock or you don't have anything -- no one wants one long-haired, short-tailed Welsh bull."
Although the organizers were expecting a crowd, nobody was prepared for the massive public response on the exhibit's first day. More than 4,000 people filed into St. James's palace, some of them waiting for more than five hours for a glimpse of what a royal couple needs to set up home.
"It lets us know a bit about their private lives," said Hannah Feld of Golders Green in London. "It makes you feel closer to them."
For some, viewing the presents was an extension of the wedding itself -- a chnce to prolong the fantasy atmosphere of the wedding day for just a little longer.
May Cronan, 60, had traveled from Liverpool in northern England just for the exhibition. "I was here for the wedding too -- camping out," she said. "I love every bit of this, and I was here for Princess Anne's presents after her wedding and for the jubilee. It's all part of something you never forget."
On one of London's hottest days this year, the line outside St. James's was 1 1/2 miles long by lunchtime and police tried to persuade those at the back to try another day.
"It's on until October," said one bobby, "why not come back next month, we might have some room by then."
Many of those waiting in line were most interested in seeing the princess of Wales' wedding dress, displayed in a glass case, complete with her daintily embroidered satin shoes and blue and white garter. Also on display was a bridesmaid's dress and a page's outfit.
Some of the most moving gifts were those made by the old and the handicapped, such as a ribbon bag made by a 96-year-old blind woman.
Mandy Brooks, from Sussex, gave a set of six hand-embroidered placemats. She is suffering from spina bifida and worked at a rate of three stitches an hour. A hand-carved grandmother clock was painstakingly produced by Tommy McKay, a blind and disabled Londoner.
Children also gave presents they hoped the royal pair would enjoy. Among the candies and cuddly toys was a red, white and blue teddy bear.
An infants school in Leicestershire sent an enormous college with drawings of every child in the school. The London kindergarten where the princess of Wales used to teach sent a college of the pre-wedding fireworks made by the children.
Among the more lighthearted presents was a book called "Happiness and How to Find It." And a doll made from dust cloths, tea towels and wooden spoons called a "spoon dolly."
One of the gifts most likely to succeed with Princes Charles was a set of video cassettes of shows by his favorite British comedians, "The Goons," a zany group, popular in the 1950s, that included the late Peter Sellers.
Surviving Goons Harry Becombe and Spike Milligan gave their own presents -- stereo headsets from Becombe and a poem written by Milligan.
Bizarre gifts also abounded in the collection. An American woman sent a silver key for a tube of toothpaste and a company sent a door chime that has 24 ways of saying "welcome."
Youngest bridesmaid Clementine Hambro, 5-year-old great-granddaughter of the late Sir Winston Church, who almost stole the show on the wedding day, came up with an eye-catching present. She chose his and her bathrobes inscribed with the names "Charles" and "Diana."
The biggest gift on display was a huge wind-surfing board and the smallest was a silver thimble.
Where will it all go?
The prince and princess will divide their time between Highgrove House, a stately mansion in Hampshire, and an enormous apartment in Kensington Palace.
"They hope to use all the gifts," a Buckingham Palace spokesman said optimitically. "After all, they do have two homes."
Perhaps a lot of the bric-a-brac can be placed on top of two pianos and a green and battleship-gray organ that were given to the couple.