In the spirit of the season, here’s an experiment in holiday shopping: Where is the happy medium between “shop local” and buying all of your gifts on Amazon.com? What do you do if you want a gift that screams “Princeton” — but you also don’t want to leave the comforts of your soft, warm couch?
First up, a visit to the online auction site Ebay.com, formerly headed, appropriately enough, by Princeton University alumna Meg Whitman. This is the place for collectors and fans to find second-hand items to fit niche hobbies and interests — a true repository of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure. A search for “Princeton” in early November yielded thousands of results, many of which are variations on the Princeton amplifier and other musical accessories manufactured by Fender under the Princeton name in the mid-20th century. They are some of the higher-ticket items available, but bear no relation to the town.
But a number of the other more expensive items available at the time of our search represent unique pieces of Princeton history. The single most expensive item on the site — listed with a “buy it now” price of a whopping $12,000 — is the sculpture “Pieta, 1944 A.D.” by Joe Brown. The 11-inch square bronze sculpture depicts a referee cradling a fallen boxer and is emblematic of the artist’s dual career. Brown was a legend at Princeton University, where he served both as the boxing coach beginning in 1938 and later as a professor of art from 1962 to 1977.
Another Princetonian who mixed art and sport is Frank Stella, a 1958 Princeton alumnus who was part of the wrestling team as an undergraduate while also honing his skills as an artist. He is now known worldwide for his sculptures, paintings, and prints, but his Princeton days are reflected on Ebay in the form of a poster he designed in 1997 for the Princeton wrestling team. A signed print of that poster is offered at $4,500.
Also available on Ebay is a print by noted American painter Gregorio Prestopino, who lived in both Princeton and Roosevelt before his death in 1984. On auction is a signed 1968 lithograph titled “Nude Ladies.” The buy-it-now price? $4,975.
Of course, most shoppers don’t have $5,000 lying around to spend on their favorite uncle. If that uncle happens to be a fan of Princeton sports, they would be in luck. A wide range of Princeton athletics-related apparel and other paraphernalia is available. A No. 42 football jersey for Princeton’s Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier can be had for $49.99. All manner of tickets and programs from long-ago football and basketball games are on offer, most for under $20. A vintage postcard of Palmer Stadium? $9.89.
For the university history buff, there are old prints of buildings and maps — a framed 1836 view of Nassau Hall was listed at $125 — as well as funky trinkets that were likely acquired at a past Reunions celebration or purchased years ago at the U-Store. Recent search results included a tiger watch fob, a Princeton-themed German-style beer stein, various class rings, and vintage Princeton shield cufflinks.
The second stop in the experiment was Etsy.com, a repository for one-of-a-kind creativity featuring handmade and vintage items.
There a different sculpture by Joe Brown is the most expensive item on offer. “Monument to Freedom of Expression — Detail” was sculpted from bronze and white stone in the 1970s. The 20.5-inch tall piece is listed for $9,500. Also outside of most people’s holiday shopping budgets is a first edition of “The Bluest Eye,” the 1970 debut novel by Toni Morrison, a Nobel laureate and emerita professor of creative writing at Princeton. Cost? $2,500.
(The cheapest item on Etsy — not recommended as a gift to anyone — is an instant digital download of a neon-tinted photograph of Albert Einstein, available for 50 cents.)
Similarly to Ebay, an array of gently used Princeton sweatshirts, t-shirts, and other apparel is for sale, mostly in the $20 to $30 range.
For the philatelist in your life multiple sellers are offering sheets of the three-cent stamps created in 1956 in honor of the 200th anniversary of Nassau Hall for under $10.
Also in the vintage category is a turn-of-the-century Princeton football-themed pillow cover. The seller notes that the slightly stained pillowcase depicts “an elaborately dressed gibson girl sporting Princeton colors, flanked by a Princeton pennant and a melon football … This early pillow cover has a great look and is an outstanding piece for any Princeton alum or football collector.” The asking price: $350.
But most of the Etsy items are more modern creations. Black and orange-hued prints with a map of the town of Princeton are available for $25 each. There are multiple paintings and photographs depicting Princeton landmarks such as Nassau Hall, various university eating clubs, the Princeton Theological Seminary, and others. Copies of a commemorative poster created for the March 2018 McCarter Theater concert by Blues Traveler — which had its beginnings at Princeton High School — are on sale for $40.
The results are pretty overwhelming: a little digging in the wide world of e-commerce uncovers a treasure trove of orange, black, and tigers. Of course if you can’t find the perfect Princeton present there or lack the patience to sift through the thousands of results, there’s always the old-fashioned way: shop local.
For those who do take the traditional shopping route, there are several spots downtown for authentic Princeton merchandise. Landau, at 102 Nassau Street, as well as a U-Store, 114 Nassau Street, carry university apparel and other trinkets. Labyrinth Books, at 122 Nassau Street, has Princeton notecards. And Homestead Princeton, at 43 Hulfish Street, has Princeton and New Jersey-themed pillows, dishes, and other items.
This article was originally published in the December 2018 Princeton Echo.