I’ll admit it – I’m a history geek. And these history buff gift ideas are exciting to me.
Note I don’t say I’m a history buff, because I forget at least half of what I read. But I’m happy to confess that I really enjoy history, whether it’s reading a biography that could double as a paperweight, watching a costume drama set in a bygone era, or playing a history trivia game.
So I think I might have an inside scoop on some great gift ideas for history enthusiasts if you’re in need of a few suggestions.
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History Buff Gift Ideas
Below are 21 gifts for history buffs, which I’ve sorted into several categories. These categories are:
Nerdy History Gifts – These are oddball items such as games, historical inside jokes, and geeky toys for the history enthusiast.
Actual History Gifts – Like, you know, books and stuff from the past.
Back-in-the-Day Gifts – These are old-fashioned items that a history buff would appreciate, loving (as they often do) everything that is more difficult than driving down to the store and just buying the darn thing.
Pop History Gifts – Films, miniseries and other history-related things from pop culture that may be of interest to the history buff – if only to pick them apart for their inaccuracies and conflations.
Oh, and if none of these floats your boat, we’ll end with a fun trick to find the perfect history gift in 7 easy steps.
So here you go: 21 History Buff Gift Ideas, by a self-professing history geek.
Nerdy History Gifts
Let’s start off with a few geeky history buff gift ideas to add a spark of fun to your gift-giving. These are perfect when you’re just simply too tired to give the history buff in your life yet another 600-page tome.
(However, speaking from experience, we can’t get enough of those 600-pagers. So keep giving them to us.)
1. History Buff T-Shirt
It might be sad but then again it might also be true. But you won’t be sad when you see how much the history buff in your life loves this shirt.
Probably the only shirt I would like more than this is the Clever Girl Jurassic Park t-shirt. I know, random.
2. If Anyone Khan, Genghis Khan Coffee Mug
You don’t really have to know much about Genghis Khan to think this Genghis Khan Coffee Mug is funny. But the more you know, the funnier it gets.
3. Marie Antoinette T-Shirt
You know the quote. Of course, she really didn’t say it. But this t-shirt is still a great gift for your history buff.
4. Historical Finger Puppets
Finger puppet versions of Alexander Hamilton, Frida Kahlo, Freud, Shakespeare, and many more at The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild.
5. Axis and Allies 1942 – 2nd Edition
There are many popular and oft-played variations of Axis & Allies including Europe, 1941, and even Axis & Allies Zombie Edition.
But you won’t go wrong with the 1942 Second Edition, which is probably the consensus favorite among those who care.
Other fun history-related board games:
- 7 Wonders – A mega-hit (as far as board games go), in which you are the leader of one of the 7 great cities of the ancient world. Build your city and army, gather resources, expand trade routes, and cap it off by constructing on of the ancient wonders of the world.
- Agricola – This is a favorite in our house. Not history per se, but the game pits you as an old-world farmer trying to sow and harvest crops, bake bread, manage your flocks and – slowly – expand your tiny shack into a livable cottage. But the seasons pass quickly, and your family must be fed. Will you have enough resources to last the winter?
- Timeline Card Game – This looks like a fun stocking stuffer. I haven’t played this one, but it comes highly reviewed. The game is played by arranging each card – which has an historical event on it – in the correct order on the timeline.
Actual History Gifts
OK so here are the “actual” history gift ideas.
As in, like, books.
(And one non-book bonus, which is really, really cool….)
These are the ones I can personally recommend as top-notch, so hopefully this will provide a good starter list for you.
I’m sure you can find tons more based on the specific interests of the history buff in your life, but you certainly can’t go wrong with any of these.
The past couple years I’ve been reading biographies of American presidents and their contemporaries, so that’s what will be featured heavily below. Each book is highly readable and presents a fascinating story from the past – nothing dull or dry here!
6. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
With all the Hamilton fanfare these days, you may be interested in the book that inspired it all.
Alexander Hamliton by Ron Chernow is a richly detailed portrait of a complex and endlessly energetic immigrant who vaulted into positions of incredible influence during the formation of the United States.
An enjoyable and fascinating read.
7. John Adams by David McCullough
A contemporary classic of the biography genre, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and inspiration for the hit TV miniseries.
John Adams by David McCullough is written with brilliance and understatement in a way that lets the words of Adams and his contemporaries shine through. An all-time favorite by one of the most popular and critically acclaimed historians of our day.
McCullough’s work is highly recommended by all, so you can’t go wrong with any of his books. I’ve read several of his books, and each has been incredible.
8. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Probably my favorite historical work of all time. (Update 3/18/20 – yep, still my fav. History just doesn’t get much more fascinating and entertaining than this.)
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin weaves together the stories of Abraham Lincoln and the powerful members of his cabinet: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. Each of the four men were in the running for the Republican nomination for President, and Goodwin balances their stories perfectly and with captivating prose.
Get this along with a copy of Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln (which was based on a section of this book) for a fun book and movie history gift combo.
OK, two more shout-outs then we’ll move away from Presidents and Founding Fathers: A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent, and Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. These two books about slightly less well-known Presidents read like a breeze while painting brilliant pictures of each man and his times.
I highly recommend both books. These are great gifts for the history buff who likes reading something a little more obscure than the “big boys” of history.
9. The Devil in the White City
Here’s the full title: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. It’s an engrossing story that alternates between the intricate planning of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect in charge of designing and building the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and H.H. Holmes, one of the first modern serial killers. Each time the scene changes, you’re left wanting more.
Get it ahead of the upcoming TV series, which has been rumored to star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Erik Larson is a gifted writer. Any book he has written will make a good choice:
- Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
- In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
- Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
10. In the Heart of the Sea
While it doesn’t quite compare to the American literature classic Moby Dick (nothing does, IMO), this true-life yarn tells the events that inspired Melville’s iconic novel. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick tells the story of the sinking of the whaleship Essex.
I didn’t know much about the original story before picking this up, so I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say that there is much more to this book than the famous battle between whale and ship.
Read it yourself, or give it to someone who loves history, and this book will not only engage the reader but provide plenty of surprises as well.
Once you’ve read the book, you can then check out the movie version, which is pretty good.
Bonus: History By Mail
This is a brilliant gift idea for any history enthusiast.
History By Mail is a subscription service that will, once a month, send your history buff a reproduction of an actual historical document along with a mini-history lesson on the background behind the document.
To give you an idea, let me tell you about one I got.
I received a gorgeous reproduction of a letter that Annie Oakley wrote (on one of her own advertising playbills, no less) to President McKinley at the onset of the Spanish-American war.
Now, why was she writing to the President? I’ll tell you.
She was writing to offer her services, along with “a company of fifty lady sharpshooters” to serve in the war effort.
Can you picture that?
A gung-ho, super-famous, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better Annie Freaking Oakley and 50 of her BFFs, volunteering to go to war exactly fifty years before women were allowed in the military.
It came with a transcript (Annie’s writin’ was kinda hard to read) and a 2-page historical background about the Spanish-American War with a mini-biography of Annie Oakley.
I’m telling you, this is a great gift for a history buff. Get it here.
Here we have some old-world items that hearken back to days gone by. Many people who are interested in history are also interested in the way things were way back when.
11. Home Brewing & Distilling Equipment
It was common for people to make and age their own beer, wine, and spirits. From George Washington’s commercial distillery up to the present with Barack Obama’s White House Honey Porter, a vast number of historical figures have participated in home brewing, home distilling, or winemaking in some way.
So help your history buff connect with his or her favorite historical figures by getting them in the game. Try an authentic custom engraved oak aging barrel, which includes a personalized label etched onto the barrel head along with a charred interior, oak wood stand, spigot and bung, and complete instructions.
Many additional designs are available like the Bourbon Still, above, and the popular Whiskey Distillery Label. Others include Vineyard Grapes, Scotch Whiskey with Bagpipes, or a “Build Your Own” design.
Or you could go all the way with an actual moonshine still kit, a craft brew making kit, or a wine making kit. Any of these can then be aged in an oak aging barrel so that the history buff in your life can develop their own label suited to their tastes.
12. Personalized Vaudeville Signs
There are plenty of old-school signs and posters out there, but these ones are super cool because you can personalize them.
Made in the USA from furniture-grade wood and customized per order, there are several themes including the Quack Science plaque pictured above, a vintage Boxing Marquee Fight of the Century sign that allows you to personalize the names of the champion and challenger, and Wine Bar & Tasting Room edition.
13. Knitting Kit
It’s a picturesque scene: In the olden days, the family sits by the fire and the ladies knit and the men whittle, while someone reads a book or sings songs.
Try this modern take on a time-honored tradition: the Learn to Knit Kit, which includes instructional book, needles, and yarn.
14. Bullet Making Kit
Some people knit, others make bullets. You can get the knitting kit for a guy history buff, and I know plenty of women who would be interested in this bullet making kit.
15. Aviator Hat
Old fashioned yet still hip. Get the history buff in your life a daring Aviator Hat with Goggles.
For the ultimate in aviator-themed history buff gift ideas, wrap it in tandem with a copy of Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, which tells the story of billionaire, recluse, and Spruce Goose creator Howard Hughes.
16. Personalized Cigar Humidor
A long, slow smoke on a quality cigar inexplicably connects one with the past. The history buff in your life will sure appreciate this premium old-fashioned Personalized Cigar Humidor, which includes a Spanish cedar lined interior, hygrometer, and humidifier.
More personalized cigar humidors are available here.
17. Train Depot Sign
If your history geek has an old-fashioned den, man cave, home bar, or study, you won’t go wrong with an old-fashioned personalized plaque.
Here are some of the themes, all of which can be personalized:
18. Old Books by Historical Figures
Many of the major players in history have written books. Influential works like these are an important part of history.
Martin Luther King Jr. had many essays and speeches that are still impactful today.
Teddy Roosevelt was a best-selling author in his day, and his telling of the story of the Rough Riders (with himself as the star, of course) is far more entertaining than many of the dusty books about the same subject.
Julius Caesar pretty much wrote his own history.
And the spiritual memoirs – The Confessions – of the famous theologian and philosopher St. Augustine are still read popularly to this day.
If you can find an old, antique copy of one of these types of books, or even an autographed original, it will be an heirloom gift treasured by any history enthusiast.
Pop History Gifts
Here are some more trendy, pop-culture gifts for the history buff. These might even be enjoyed by the non-history enthusiast!
19. Hamilton Soundtrack & More
Nothing is more popular in the history realm these days than Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Hamilton. If you can get tickets to the show, by all accounts you should. If you can’t, here are the next best things:
- Hamilton Soundtrack – The music from the show. (See here for the edited version)
- Hamilton: The Revolution – The story of the creation of the musical, with commentary and notes by the author and a noted theater critic.
- Hamilton Adult Coloring Book – Just like it sounds, the two most popular crazes for adults rolled into one.
20. The Men Who Built America
Produced by the History Channel, this miniseries is part documentary, part dramatic reenactment and manages to enthrall viewers of all types and stripes.
The Men Who Built America presents the economic expansion and industrialization of America through the lives of Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbuilt. Fast paced and beautifully filmed, this is a great gift idea for a history buff.
21. John Adams
Paul Giamatti absolutely nails John Adams in this epic miniseries. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and buy this for your history buff friend, then binge the whole thing together.
What Do You Give to a History Buff?
So… are you still unsure? Here’s a simple process to help you find the perfect gift.
History enthusiasts are known for liking obscure things. We read obscure things, know random facts about obscure things, joke about obscure things in obscure ways, and generally enjoy being obscure.
So how do you find the most perfectly obscure gift for a history lover? You want something that they won’t roll their eyes at (e.g., most of those coffee-table books always on sale at Barnes & Noble) or that they’ve already read (every David McCullough book ever).
Almost inevitably, any history lover gift you find will be overdone, like jokes about Henry VIII’s wives.
Trust me, everyone knows about Henry VIII’s wives.
We’re going to bypass this whole conundrum with an easy history lover gift idea generator that you can do right now. It just takes a few minutes of research, which I’ll show you how to do in seven simple steps.
Go to OnThisDay.com.
Search the calendar for the day before (or two days before, or the day after, etc.) your history buff’s birthday. I’ll explain why later. For instance, I put in May 16th, the day before my wife‘s birthday.
Choose a special and unique event.
For my chosen date, May 16th, two events sounded like they had interesting possibilities: In 1763, Samuel Johnson and future biographer Thomas Boswell met for the first time, and in 1770 Marie Antoinette married future king Louis XVI of France.
Since my wife is, as you might suspect, a woman, I’m leaning towards the event involving Marie Antoinette.
Go to your favorite online bookstore.
Type the subject of your fun history fact into the search bar. For instance, “Marie Antoinette.”
Choose one of the highest-rated book, perhaps the one that sounds the most interesting to you.
Take a few minutes and really read some reviews. There are thousands of fascinating, well-written, yet little-known history books out there waiting to be discovered. There are also plenty of boringly dry books, too.
(Despite what you may think about us history nerds, we don’t love dry, old books just because they’re dry and old. We like books that other people find dry, but we find fascinating. The books you’ll be looking at in this step will have been read by other history lovers, so you should be able to quickly see whether a book is dry and boring even to a history lover.)
So it will be worth it to dig in a little and find the right book. People who have actually read the book will let you know pretty quickly.
BTW, here is what I would pick for my interesting and fashionable wife.
Buy it, then give it to your friend/spouse/family member/etc on the day of your fun history fact. You can celebrate together the little-observed and obscure holiday “Marie Antoinette’s Anniversary Day!”
(Come up with your own fun holiday title.)
Of course you could choose an event that happened on your history buff’s birthday, but I’m betting that, as with all my nerdy friends, they already know the main events that happened on their birthday.
Plus, they’ll love the idea of you inventing a nerdy holiday in their honor. Trust me, they’ll remember it each year.
The history buff’s internal monologue goes something like this: “My birthday is tomorrow… which means that today is Al Capone Indictment Day! That really was a good book that my spouse got me a few years back…”
So stick with a day or two off. This is especially handy for late presents!
Appendix: More History Buff Gift Ideas
No list of history buff gift ideas would be complete without an appendix. So here are some more suggestions.
- Professor Noggin’s History of the American Revolution Card Game
- Way Back When in History Board Game
- Personalized map of the world
- 16th Century Italian Replica Globe
- James Madison: A Life Reconsidered [Book]
- Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors [Book]
- The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics [Book]
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration [Book]
- Black Hawk Down [Book]
- Black Hawk Down [Film]
- Gettysburg / Gods and Generals [Film]
- Make & Age Your Own Bourbon Kit
- Make & Age Your Own Whiskey Kit
- Make & Age Your Own Scotch Kit
- Make & Age Your Own Rum Kit
- Vintage Professional Signs