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Museum catalogs offer artful gift ideas

Count on museums and a few high-creative-end companies to put together catalogs with a broad selection of options for holiday gift-giving. They offer not only the convenience of shopping at home, but also some off-beat and unusual items that are functional and decorative, time-honored and contemporary.

Not all art catalogs are alike. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) tend to offer reproductions and decorative art items based on originals of other periods, while the Museum of Modern Art and Chiasso present contemporary designs destined to be classics. Most of the catalogs have exceptional choices for children.

While catalog companies will deliver merchandise close to Christmas, it's a good idea to order early. Overnight shipping is available, but it comes at a price, and you risk finding that a specific item is sold out _ without much time to find a substitute.

The Art Institute of Chicago, (800) 621-9337.

+ Catalog sent free on request.

+ Number of copies sent out: 2,000,000.

+ Price range: $10 to $6,000, averaging around $40-50.

+ Items are selected with the object of furthering mission of the Art Institute, which is to enhance the public's appreciation of the visual arts.

+ Current offerings: scarf, tote, umbrellas, paper products in conjunction with exhibit, "Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an Age."

+ Holiday order deadline: Not yet set; last year's was Dec. 21.

Chiasso, (800) 654-3570

+ Catalog sent free on request.

+ Number of copies sent out: 100,000.

+ Price range: $6 (rubber photo album) to $375 (clock table).

+ Modern design for home and office, essentially a gift store, though many people shop for themselves.

+ Popular item: Lilliput salt and pepper set, playful shakers that stand on table or adhere magnetically to thin wire, $55.

+ No holiday order deadline; turnaround time is 24-48 hours plus 10 days for UPS.

Flax, (800) 343-FLAX (3529).

+ Catalog sent free on request.

+ Number of copies sent out: 7,000,000 year-round with more than half for Christmas.

+ Price range: $2 (ball-point pens with metallic ink) to $399 (spiral-based stool)

+ Eclectic gifts not available elsewhere for audience that appreciates art and enjoys good aesthetic; children's gifts.

+ Hot sellers: "Cool Fonts" for computers ($24), 3-D jigsaw puzzles of famous buildings $26-89).

+ Holiday order deadline: Dec. 19.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (800) 468-7386.

+ Catalog sent free on request.

+ Number of copies sent out: 6- to 7-million at Christmas.

+ Price range: Under $10 to $695.

+ Main market: Middle to upper income houses with higher education and appreciation of the arts.

+ New and popular: Silk "shoe" scarf, decorated with evening slippers from the Museum's Costume Institute; $78.

+ Holiday order deadline: Dec. 22.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, (800) 225-5592.

+ Catalog sent free on request.

+ Number of copies sent out: Several million.

+ Price range: $5 to $2,500; average $35.

+ Likely buyers: "Mature woman, well-educated, reasonably affluent; might live anywhere in the country but primarily in major metropolitan or suburban areas."

+ Eye-catchers: Celestial suncatchers, $29 for set of five; scarves, jewelry.

+ Holiday order deadline: 10 days.

Museum of Modern Art, New York, (800) 447-6662.

+ Catalog sent on request for $2.

+ Number of copies sent out: 2,000,000.

+ Approximate price range: $12.95 (engagement calendar) to $4,850 (Alvar Aalto zebra lounge chair).

+ Likely buyers: From people just discovering the museum to the design-conscious and lovers of 20th century classics.

+ Typical item: Contemporary stainless steel flatware by designer/sculptor Takenobu Igarashi, 5-piece place setting $85.

+ Allow 10 days for delivery.

Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Fla., (800) 442-3254, ext. 3038 or 823-3767, ext. 3038.

+ Catalog sent free on request.

+ Number of copies sent out: 70,000.

+ Price range: $6.95 (Mad Mug with Dali quote) to $160 ("Burning Giraffe" pitcher by artist Kevin Goehring).

+ Likely buyers: Men. Dali tends to appeal to a male audience; his art does not lend itself as well to decorative reproductions as does other art.

+ Popular items: Posters ($15), CD Roms ($19.95), screensaver ($24.95), jewelry.

+ Allow at least a week for delivery.

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.(800) 322-0344

+ Catalog sent free on request.

+ Number of copies sent out: 6,000,000 (holiday edition only; distributes four catalogs a year).

+ Approximate price range: $25-$1,000, average $85.

+ Eclectic mix of decorative items, reproductions, crafts, all related to Smithsonian Institution's varied collection. Typical shopper is mature woman.

+ Popular items include jewelry set with semi-precious stones and Murano glass.

+ Holiday order deadline: at least 10 days.

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