On November 6, the Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti ran a brief story about a new commemorative coin for sale by the White House Gift Shop. The coin is dedicated to last June’s meeting in Helsinki between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"On one side of the coin are the leaders of the countries against the backdrop of flags, on the other - the Helsinki Cathedral, next to which the meeting was held," the article stated, describing the coin. It correctly noted that the Russian text contained several errors.
There are three errors in the Russian text on the reverse side of the coin. First, the phrase Helsinki Summit, which would be transliterated “Khelsinkskii Sammit,” is rendered in Russian as “Khelpinnskii Sammit.“ In addition, the Russian phrase meaning “a new era” uses incorrect Russian grammar: the correct phrase would be transliterated as “novaya era,” using the feminine adjective, but it was written as “novoye era,” using the neuter gender. Finally, the phrase “diplomatic history” is written “ddiplomaticheskaya istoriya” -- with a double D.
Russian speakers on social media quickly spotted the errors when the coin first went on sale the day before.
On November 6, the executive director of the White House Gift Shop, Anthony Giannini, issued a communique about the mistaken translation on the product’s web page.
“Sales of this 5,000 issue Helsinki commemorative are nearly crashing our servers at the gift shop because of high global perceived collection value consequent of the translations,” the statement reads.
“My Russian language ability harkens to the Reagan and Gorbachev era, and I am solely responsible for the translation. I apologize for the awkwardness of the translation.”
The statement also says that the coin will have historical value because no more of this type will be made after the initial 5,000 run with the translation mistakes, indicating the gift shop has no intention of withdrawing the coin because of the errors.
The gift shop appears online with a “.com” address, but the “about” section states it was established by President Harry S. Truman more than 70-years-ago. We asked what relationship it now has with the White House, whether is a government-financed entity. For several days, the gift shop did not answer our inquiry.
When Executive Director and CEO Giannini provided his own e-mail address online, he quickly responded to another Polygraph.info query with a brief statement explaining the ownership of the White House Gift Shop.
"I appreciate your inquiry," Giannini wrote.
"The White House Gift Shop® is now a private entity and recognized by over 5 million people worldwide as the 'only original official' White House Gift Shop in history consequent of its seamless rights of succession and now its exclusive trademarks," wrote Giannini. "In fact, my entities own exclusive rights to the names the White House Gift Shop® and the White House Gift Shop, Est. 1946®."
Polygraph.info is not the first news organization to face what Talking Points Memo called a “fascinating mystery,” in regards to the gift shop's official status. The TPM reporter wrote in May the he called the number on the Web site and asked similar questions.
“The answer I got wasn’t totally clear. I was told that it used to be housed within the actual White House but that now it was only a website,” wrote Josh Marshall.