You might be wondering who came up with the idea of assigning each year of marriage with the gift of a particular material. If so, join the club! Plenty of theories abound, but they're difficult to verify with any certainty. The most likely guess is that the gift list made its debut during the Victorian era in the United Kingdom during the 1800s, and then jumped across the pond to the United States in the early 20th century [source: Martha Stewart]. Elaborate anniversary celebrations were fashionable back then, so gift-giving thrived as a result.
To this day, both regions have their own list, although they're almost identical in content. For example, cotton is the material of choice for revelers in the United Kingdom following the first year of marriage, whereas the American list saves this material for couples' second anniversary. The traditional list covers anniversary gift needs each year up until the 15th, after which it acknowledges only every fifth anniversary, up to the 60thcelebration.
In 1937, a jeweler's association realized that the list was neglecting major sales opportunities by slighting so many perfectly good anniversary years (people celebrating their 16th anniversary still need presents, right?). To remedy the problem, they established a modern list of annual gifts for 75 years' worth of marriage [source: Martha Stewart]. Some of the old-fashioned gifts were replaced with more practical items, like silverware, desk sets and clocks. Although these new gifts were assumedly created with the best intentions, we can't imagine there are many modern brides who will be thrilled with the gift of a desk set -- unless it also happens to be diamond-encrusted or made of chocolate. The traditional list allows more room for interpretation (it's pretty difficult to re-interpret the aforementioned desk set), so that could be one of the reasons why the modern version is less well-known than the classic list.