Gifts of friendship: What Saudi founder King Abdul Aziz gave to US President Roosevelt

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Gifts of friendship: What Saudi founder King Abdul Aziz gave to US President Roosevelt

Col. William A. Eddy, the US diplomatic representative to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who arranged the historic 1945 meeting between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ibn Saud, and served as interpreter, left a fascinating record of the gifts given to the US president by the Saudi king.

In his 1954 account of the meeting, Eddy told how, after the two men had parted company on the USS Quincy, he was asked by the president’s daughter, Anna Roosevelt Boettiger, “to come below and explain to her the contents of several enormous parcels” that had been delivered to the ship addressed to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mrs. Boettiger.

“I went down to find a royal parade of gifts on view in a cabin,” he wrote. “There were several complete full-dress harim costumes, beautifully embroidered in many colors of silk.”

Arabian women, Eddy noted, were “limited in their opportunities to impress others with these beautiful gowns since they are worn only indoors and seen only by the husband, father, sons and other ladies.”

In addition to the clothes, “the gifts included several vials of rarely tinted glass, others of alabaster, containing the perfumes of Araby, including the favorite of all-attar of roses. Also there were large pieces of uncut amber, the like of whose size I have never seen, from the bottom of the Red Sea.”

From the eastern coasts of Arabia “there were pearl rings, pearl earrings, pearl-studded bracelets and anklets, and belts woven of gold thread with cunning devices, the skill which has reached its highest perfection in Saudi Arabia, the crowning achievement in handiwork.”

The principal present from the king to the president, “a beautiful diamond-encrusted sword, had not been delivered to me at the airplane in time for me to take to Alexandria,” where Eddy was scheduled to rejoin the president. “The king, however, directed that it be entrusted to me and that I be made responsible for seeing that it reached Mr. Roosevelt.”

In the end, a special military courier flew with the sword to Algiers, the next stop on the president’s journey back to the United States.

Many of the gifts given by Ibn Saud to the US president and his wife and daughter are in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York state.

They include a beautiful steel dagger that has a hammered-gold hilt inset with two large and eight smaller diamonds, which was created by jewelers at Hofuf and is identical to one owned by Ibn Saud.

Craftsmen at Hofuf were also responsible for the sword, which has a decorated gold handle and a leather scabbard partially covered with chased and filigreed gold and set with 33 diamonds.

Among the clothing is an elaborately embroidered black and gold abaya made from camel hair and metallic thread, and trimmed in gold, red and green.

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