These gifts aren't exactly the last things one would expect to receive.
An Italian racing bike, absolutely handmade. A pedigreed St. Bernard puppy, suitably spayed. An Olde English Christmas pudding, thoroughly aged. And brandied. Et cetera.
The oddity is, they're being bought at just about the last places you expect to find Christmas shoppers.
Forest Lawn. The County Museum of Art. Los Angeles animal shelters. The Queen Mum's favorite shop. And the Los Angeles Police Department. Et cetera.
"In fact, our Christmas auctions are the biggest of the year," said Philip Barton, a civilian employee with LAPD's public affairs office. "There will be one Saturday at Piper Tech (C. Erwin Piper Technical Center, 555 Ramirez St.) and another on Dec. 21 at the rear of Valley Police Headquarters (6241 Tyrone Ave., Van Nuys).
"We do note a lot of people there who wouldn't otherwise afford presents but are looking to pick up a bike or some toys for the kid."
Or a rabbit coat for mother. A Bulova for Buddy. A Nikon for Nicole. Just about anything, Barton said, that has been lost and found, burgled and recovered but not claimed, or confiscated from some "illegal activity" (that's polite police talk for crime) within city limits. Six hundred items in all. At both sales. But nothing reeeeally expensive, you understand.
The Westwood swag, the gold, silver, diamonds, minks and Waterford crystal, explained Barton, are unloaded at higher and mightier city auctions where there are viewing days and heavy dealer attendance. Just like Sotheby's.
But the Piper Tech sale will offer a Cellini.
Something by Benvenuto Cellini, the 16th-Century Italian sculptor? "Something by Cellini the Italian bicycle maker," Barton said. "It's handmade, has wooden spokes, gold trim, weighs 17.5 pounds and we've been told it's worth about $3,600.
"I'm sure every bike dealer in town will be there."
The presence of such high rollers in search of a quick bargain on a fast ride, Barton said, should not dissuade followers of Schwinn and Raleigh.
"At our Christmas auctions, a used bicycle worth $40 might go for $5. Especially if there's a kid standing there wide-eyed. These guys (policemen-auctioneers) have hearts too.
"We'll also have a lot of scales for sale." The scales of justice? "Scales from drug busts."
Abundance of Cash Buyers
Traffic at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, reported a spokesman, has undergone its annual transition from lookie-loos to hundreds of cash buyers--at the museum gift shop. "It's absolutely packed, a mob scene from the proverbial day after Thanksgiving," Pam Leavitt said. "There are lovely old Indian and Chinese necklaces, combs and hairpins, jade, turquoise, lapis, amber, garnet . . . one-of-a-kind, not reproductions, not quite antiques, but old pieces of jewelry that are less than 100 years old . . . as novel things that fit into the mood and the collection of the museum."
For Christmas, Leavitt added, the gift shop has stocked up on cards reproducing Liechtenstein, Van Gogh, Matisse and others "with or without a sentiment." There's arty wrapping paper and 35 different calendars. More than 170 museum posters, framed and unframed, from $5 to $250. Pop-up books for the kids. Coffee table books (especially the spectacular "Day in the Country" featuring French Impressionists) for the adults. "What makes the museum shop unique is that we offer different gifts, particularly jewelry, that you're just not going to find in every department store," Leavitt said. "And it's boutique quality."
For some Californians, Yule planning began when there were still 330 shopping days left to Christmas. In January and February, that's when the dollar was up and the pound was down, wiser buyers were commuting to London to shop at Harrod's.
Once there, a representative said, charge accounts were opened. Now, with the pound somewhat harder but still a bargain, shopping by catalogue and transatlantic telephone has been brisker than a December morn on Hampstead Heath.
"Glass and chinaware are very popular," said Mister Robertson in Harrod's export office. ("Before you put me through, ma'am, what is Robertson's first name?" "It's Mister Robertson, sir.") "Our gift boxes containing the traditional items of a British Christmas, pudding, candied fruits, are doing rather well in America."
Any shipment from Harrod's, of course, comes labeled by Harrod's. There are sweaters bearing the Harrod's logo. To say nothing of the labels on store brands. All of which raises the ogre of snootiness. Do Californians buy at Harrod's for quality or snob value?
"A combination of both," Robertson said, "depending on the individual."
Humans often see Christmas as a sentence. For dogs and cats at the county's animal shelters it's a reprieve.