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Tulipmania

 

By the 17th century, horticultural experimenting created many new breeds of tulips. Available only to the rich, these exotic and expensive mutations were coveted for their beauty, rarity and status. When the middle classes began to realise how much money the upper classes spent on tulip bulbs and how much money they made selling them they sensed a "fool-proof" get-rich-quick opportunity. Thus "Tulipmania" was born.

Bulbs were sold by weight, usually while they were still in the ground. All one had to do to become rich was to plant them and wait. The buying and selling of a product as invisible as un-sprouted flowers came to be called the "wind trade."
Traders could earn as much as 30.000 Euros (today approx. £21.000) in a month. Not a bad commission even by 21st century standards! People were desperate to cash in on the bulbtrading frenzy! Small businesses were sold and family jewels were traded. Local governments tried unsuccessfully to outlaw this commerce. But like any profit boom, trade was legislated by economics, not government.

The bottom fell out of the market during 1637, when a gathering of bulb merchants could not get the usual inflated prices for their bulbs. Word quickly spread, and the market crashed.
Thousands of Dutch businessmen, many among the country's leading economic powerbrokers, were ruined in less than two months. Extremely rapid deployment of bad news for 1637!

How the bulbs came to Holland

Bulbs have been synonymous with The Netherlands for ages. ‘tulips from Amsterdam’ is an unequalled evergreen. Keukenhof display gardens and the bulb district are phenomena known all over the world. Yet the cradle of the tulip is Turkey.
Under Süleyman II this flower was extremely popular. Tulips were not missing in any palace garden. The great interest for this bulb was also observed by the Flemish nobleman Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq (1522 – 1592), the ambassador of Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I. He mentioned these flowers in a letter to Carolus Clusius in Vienna in 1555. Clusius was at that time the prefect of the Imperial Herb Garden in the Austrian capital. In Western Europe botanist Conrad Gesner witnessed the bloom of the first Turkish tulip in 1559. The first early blooming tulip, Tulipa schrenkii, was originally from the area of Kaffa at the Black Sea in the Crimean peninsula. It bears the characteristics of a ‘Duc van Tol’ tulip and can be seen as the precursor of the Single Early tulip and the oldest – still existing – cultivar tulip. When Clusius came to the city of Leyden, he allegedly planted the first tulips in the Leyden Hortus in Holland in 1593. Having been a prefect for a long time he could easily obtain tulips and seeds.