Apparently, the original gift that keeps on giving was the phonograph
or "talking machine".
An intrepid researcher on the newsgroup alt.usage.english discovered
that the phrase "The Gift That Keeps on Giving" was first used in
commerce to promote "talking machines", "talking machine records",
etc. in 1924, and was registered as a trademark in the United States
"Re: Gift that keeps on giving", message by Donna Richoux (2001-10-25)
If you search for "the gift that keeps on giving" on the U.S.
government's trademark database, you will indeed find this
information, along with a graphic showing what the words looked like
in the initial promotion. I cannot provide a link to this
information, because the database treats every search as unique. Here
is the homepage for trademarks -- you can click on "SEARCH trademarks
(TESS)" to get started:
United States Patent and Trademark Office
In Canada, the phrase is still under trade-mark protection. The
phrase was first used in Canadian commerce in 1926, and was registered
in 1927 by the Victor Talking Machine Company for phonographs,
phonograph records, etc. The trade-mark is currently owned by
Thompson Multimedia Inc.
"Canadian Trade-Mark Data - The Gift That Keeps on Giving"
Canadian Intellectual Property Office
Presumably the UK trade mark database would say something similar to
the other databases. I can't check at the moment, because the
database is down for maintenance.
"Trade Marks - Availability"
The UK Patent Office
I've also found another reference to the use of the slogan by the
Victor Talking Machines Company.
"Marsha Siefert, from James S. Ettema & D. Charles Whitney,
Audiencemaking: How the Media Create the Audience" [see the block
quote about halfway down the page]
Mark Andrejevic, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication,
A follow-up on alt.usage.english notes that this phrase was used in
other advertisements in the 1940s and 1950s.
"Re: Gift that keeps on giving", message by Ben Zimmer (2001-10-25)
Thank you for this interesting question; it was fun to research!
Search terms used on Google and Google Groups:
"gift that keeps on giving"