The U.S. Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center provides the starting point to this week’s story. It goes to great lengths to detail the thievery and skullduggery that accompanied the introduction of the tulip to Holland. In 1593, botanist Carolus Clusius brought tulips from Constantinople to the University of Leiden in Holland, planting the bulbs in a small garden for purposes of medicinal research. He was a right stingy gardener and refused to give or sell any to the locals. Some of his neighbors, looking to make a buck (or florin, or guilder, or whatever) on the exotic new flower from Turkey and disappointed with Clusius’s lack of capitalistic fervor, broke into his garden, stole some bulbs, and started the Dutch tulip trade.
Soon enough, a few of the more well-to-do Dutch had tulip bulbs in their gardens with which to impress the ladies. Fads being what they are, the wealthy in Holland subsequently developed a rather inexplicable taste for them and for the next seventy years or so, tulips increased dramatically in popularity and price. As Charles MacKay notes in his Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (written in 1841), “Many persons grow insensibly attached to that which gives them a great deal of trouble… upon the same principle we must account for the unmerited economia lavished upon these fragile blossoms.” Before long, the normally judicious Dutch found themselves going into hock to populate their boudoirs and studies with little clumps of vegetable matter (the bulbs were quickly regarded as being far too valuable to actually plant). Vast amounts of property changed hands to procure tulip bulbs to display in one’s home, much to the befuddlement of outsiders. A speculative bubble ensued, and tulip bulbs, while fairly ordinary in the eyes of flower mongers today, were wildly overvalued. Indeed, MacKay tells us
One would suppose that there must have been some great virtue in this flower to have made it so valuable in the eyes of so prudent a people as the Dutch; but it has neither the beauty nor the perfume of the rose….
For some fiscal perspective, another contemporary writer, Munting, outlines a transaction between two merchants for one (1) Viceroy tulip:
Two lasts of wheat
Four lasts of rye
Four fat oxen
Eight fat swine
Twelve fat sheep
Two Hogsheads of wine [commonly, a hogshead = 63 gals.]
Four tuns of beer [commonly, a tun = 252 gals. That’s 15 kegs per tun, for you frat boys]
Two tuns of butter
[One partridge in a pear tree -HH]
One thousand lbs. of cheese
A complete bed
A suit of clothes
A silver drinking-cup
Other than this list, MacKay offers an explanation of the price of tulips in Dutch florins, a rather dry notation which we here at History House will endeavor to replace. Noting that in 1636 one thousand lbs. of cheese cost 120 florins, we will use a price notation consisting of cheese tonnage. That makes the above Viceroy tulip worth about ten tons of cheese (2500 florins). MacKay notes “even an inferior bulb might command a price of 2000 florins,” and that “a Semper Augustus was thought to be very cheap at 5500 florins [23 tons].” That’s a lot of cheese. Today, the Netherlands exports 1.2 billion tulip bulbs annually (12 billion tons of cheese!). For the sake of completeness, we’ll also note that the U.S. Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center purports that a Semper Augustus cost the equivalent of $2,250 contemporary U.S. dollars in 1636. That means, with their figures, you ought to be able to purchase all of the items on the above list for $1,250 (twelve fat sheep!). Perhaps they ought to use the cheese method.
Fortunately, for our amusement, MacKay also notes that, “People who had been absent from Holland, and whose chance it was to return when this folly was at its maximum, were sometimes led to awkward dilemmas by their ignorance.” He goes on to tell a story of a merchant who received good news of a shipment from a sailor, and, delighted, offered him breakfast in the form of a red herring.
The sailor had, it appears, a great partiality for onions, and seeing a bulb very like an onion lying upon the counter of this liberal trader, and thinking it, no doubt, very much out of place among silks and velvets, he slily seized an opportunity and slipped it into his pocket, as a relish for his herring. He got clear off with his prize, and proceeded to the quay to eat his breakfast. Hardly was his back turned when the merchant missed his valuable Semper Augustus, worth 3000 florins [12.5 tons!] … the sailor, simple soul! Had not thought of concealment. He was found quietly sitting on a coil of ropes, masticating the last morsel of his “onion”.
He went to jail for months, of course. Fortunately, MacKay also puts this whole scene in perspective for us:
Anthony caused pearls to be dissolved in wine to drink the health of Cleopatra; Sir Richard Whittington was as foolishly magnificent in an entertainment to King Henry V; and Sir Thomas Gresham drank a diamond dissolved in wine to the health of Queen Elizabeth… but the breakfast of this roguish Dutchman was as splendid as either. He had an advantage, too, over his wasteful predecessors: their gems did not improve the taste or the wholesomeness of their wine, but his tulip was quite delicious with his red herring.
The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower
By Mike Dash
Crown Publishers 288pp $23
Long before anyone ever heard of Qualcomm, CMGI, Cisco Systems, or the other high-tech stocks that have soared during the current bull market, there was Semper Augustus. Both more prosaic and more sublime than any stock or bond, it was a tulip of extraordinary beauty, its midnight-blue petals topped by a band of pure white and accented with crimson flares. To denizens of 17th century Holland, little was as desirable.
Around 1624, the Amsterdam man who owned the only dozen specimens was offered 3,000 guilders for one bulb. While there’s no accurate way to render that in today’s greenbacks, the sum was roughly equal to the annual income of a wealthy merchant. (A few years later, Rembrandt received about half that amount for painting The Night Watch.) Yet the bulb’s owner, whose name is now lost to history, nixed the offer.
Who was crazier, the tulip lover who refused to sell for a small fortune or the one who was willing to splurge? That’s a question that springs to mind after reading Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by British journalist Mike Dash. In recent years, as investors have intentionally forgotten everything they learned in Investing 101 in order to load up on unproved, unprofitable dot-com issues, tulip mania has been invoked frequently. In this concise, artfully written account, Dash tells the real history behind the buzzword and in doing so, offers a cautionary tale for our times.
The Dutch were not the first to go gaga over the tulip. Long before the first tulip bloomed in Europe–in Bavaria, it turns out, in 1559–the flower had enchanted the Persians and bewitched the rulers of the Ottoman Empire. It was in Holland, however, that the passion for tulips found its most fertile ground, for reasons that had little to do with horticulture.
Holland in the early 17th century was embarking on its Golden Age. Resources that had just a few years earlier gone toward fighting for independence from Spain now flowed into commerce. Amsterdam merchants were at the center of the lucrative East Indies trade, where a single voyage could yield profits of 400%. They displayed their success by erecting grand estates surrounded by flower gardens. The Dutch population seemed torn by two contradictory impulses: a horror of living beyond one’s means and the love of a long shot.
Enter the tulip. ”It is impossible to comprehend the tulip mania without understanding just how different tulips were from every other flower known to horticulturists in the 17th century,” says Dash. ”The colors they exhibited were more intense and more concentrated than those of ordinary plants.” Despite the outlandish prices commanded by rare bulbs, ordinary tulips were sold by the pound. Around 1630, however, a new type of tulip fancier appeared, lured by tales of fat profits. These ”florists,” or professional tulip traders, sought out flower lovers and speculators alike. But if the supply of tulip buyers grew quickly, the supply of bulbs did not. The tulip was a conspirator in the supply squeeze: It takes seven years to grow one from seed. And while bulbs can produce two or three clones, or ”offsets,” annually, the mother bulb only lasts a few years.
Bulb prices rose steadily throughout the 1630s, as ever more speculators wedged into the market. Weavers and farmers mortgaged whatever they could to raise cash to begin trading. In 1633, a farmhouse in Hoorn changed hands for three rare bulbs. By 1636 any tulip–even bulbs recently considered garbage–could be sold off, often for hundreds of guilders. A futures market for bulbs existed, and tulip traders could be found conducting their business in hundreds of Dutch taverns. Tulip mania reached its peak during the winter of 1636-37, when some bulbs were changing hands ten times in a day. The zenith came early that winter, at an auction to benefit seven orphans whose only asset was 70 fine tulips left by their father. One, a rare Violetten Admirael van Enkhuizen bulb that was about to split in two, sold for 5,200 guilders, the all-time record. All told, the flowers brought in nearly 53,000 guilders.
Soon after, the tulip market crashed utterly, spectacularly. It began in Haarlem, at a routine bulb auction when, for the first time, the greater fool refused to show up and pay. Within days, the panic had spread across the country. Despite the efforts of traders to prop up demand, the market for tulips evaporated. Flowers that had commanded 5,000 guilders a few weeks before now fetched one-hundredth that amount.
Tulipomania is not without flaws. Dash dwells too long on the tulip’s migration from Asia to Holland. But he does a service with this illuminating, accessible account of incredible financial folly.
Tulip mania differed in one crucial aspect from the dot-com craze that grips our attention today: Even at its height, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, well-established in 1630, wouldn’t touch tulips. ”The speculation in tulip bulbs always existed at the margins of Dutch economic life,” Dash writes. After the market crashed, a compromise was brokered that let most traders settle their debts for a fraction of their liability. The overall fallout on the Dutch economy was negligible. Will we say the same when Wall Street’s current obsession finally runs its course?
Sometime in the year 1637, a Dutch farmer was in the market for a tulip. Upon finding a bloemist who carried the specific variety of flower that he desired, the farmer entered into negotiations with the flower-seller. When an agreement had been reached, the farmer acquired his flower-bulb. The purchase price that the farmer apparently deemed reasonable for a single tulip-bulb of the Viceroy variety included “two [loads] of wheat and four of rye, four fat oxen, eight pigs, a dozen sheep, two oxheads of wine, four tons of butter, a thousand pounds of cheese, a bed, some clothing and a silver beaker.”1 Such a high price, estimated at approximately 2,500 guilders, for a single tulip was not unusual. During the height of the Dutch ‘tulip mania’ in the seventeenth century, a Semper Augustus, considered to be even more precious than the Viceroy tulip, could bring in close to 6,000 guilders. In fact, tulip prices and the practice of tulip speculation became so excessive and frenzied that in 1637 the States of Holland passed a statute curbing such extremes.
Widely available at modest prices today, tulips are still closely associated with the Netherlands. However, the tulip is not a native Dutch flower. Like many other products in western Europe, such as the potato and tobacco, tulips came to the Netherlands from another part of the world. Not introduced to the Netherlands until 1593, the tulip was first seen by Europeans in Turkey. It was there in 1556 that Busbeq (A.G. Busbequius), the ambassador sent by the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, witnessed the flowers growing in the gardens of Adrianople and Constantinople. Scholars now believe that the Turks had been cultivating tulips as early as AD 1000. Most of these tulips probably originated in areas around the Black Sea, in the Crimea, and in the steppes to the north of the Caucasus.
Soon after Ambassador Busbeq noticed the flowers in the Ottoman Empire, tulips became one of the most sought after luxury items in Europe. At first, in the 1560s, trade and diplomatic interaction with the Ottoman Levant allowed for a small number of tulips to be imported into Hapsburg Europe. In this early stage, tulip ownership was primarily limited to wealthy nobles and scholars. Antwerp, Brussels, Augsburg, Paris, and Prague are among some of the cities where such tulips first began to circulate.
A key figure in the history of European tulip interest is the famous botanist Carolus Clusius. Clusius, who had achieved great recognition for his work with medicinal herbs in Prague and Vienna, accepted a position as head botanist of the Dutch university in Leiden in the year 1593. Previously, he had met with former Ambassador Busbeq in Vienna and accepted several tulip bulbs and seeds. At Leiden’s innovative hortus botanicus, or botanical garden, Clusius cultivated the bulbs and seeds and thus introduced the flower to Holland.
Through botanical experimentation, Clusius and other horticulturists produced new color variations in tulips. This breeding of tulips with new color combinations had two important effects on the European — primarily Dutch — tulip market. The most elegantly and vividly colored of the new tulips, such as the Semper Augustus, which was white with red flames, became exorbitantly priced. Only the wealthiest aristocrats and merchants could afford these striped hybrid varieties. By the early 1630s, however, flower growers had begun to raise vast crops of more simply-colored tulips. These flowers, such as the Yellow Crown tulips, could be purchased cheaply by even the poorer segments of society. With an ever-growing number of varieties and an ever-widening price range, tulips became one of the few luxury goods that could be purchased by members of all classes.
The popularity of the tulip in the Dutch Republic reached its pinnacle in the years 1636-37 during the craze known as ‘tulip mania.’ At this time, the practice of tulip speculation — only relevant to prized varieties of the flower — emerged. Because the flower-growers had to cultivate the bulbs and could not sell them until they were ready, these bloemisten began selling promissory notes guaranteeing the future delivery of the tulip bulb. The buyers of these pieces of paper resold the notes at marked-up prices. In this way, the promissory notes changed hands from buyer to buyer until the tulip became ready for delivery. The key was to be able to resell the note before the tulip could be delivered; the unlucky gambler was the person who could no longer resell the note because he now owned the actual tulip. This Dutch trade in the future promise of tulips became known as the tulpenwindhandel, literally ’tulip wind trade,’ because transactions involved nothing more than air. Many Dutch citizens, angry at such a corruption of the flower market, voiced their opinions on the matter in pamphlets.2 The Dutch government was also concerned and ended the tulpenwindhandel and the era of ‘tulip mania’ by enforcing economic controls in 1637.
Growing trade with non-European economies, the rise in new learning and scientific experimentation, and a boom in the market for luxury goods are all aspects of early modern Europe that are demonstrated in the history of the tulip. Thus, the tulip truly stands out as a cultural symbol of Europe during the time of the flower’s heyday.
Quis furor o cives! — Lucan.The tulip,–so named, it is said, from a Turkish word, signifying a turban,– was introduced into western Europe about the middle of the sixteenth century. Conrad Gesner, who claims the merit of having brought it into repute,–little dreaming of the extraordinary commotion it was to make in the world,–says that he first saw it in the year 1559, in a garden at Augsburg, belonging to the learned Counsellor Herwart, a man very famous in his day for his collection of rare exotics. The bulbs were sent to this gentleman by a friend at Constantinople, where the flower had long been a favourite. In the course of ten or eleven years after this period, tulips were much sought after by the wealthy, especially in Holland and Germany. Rich people at Amsterdam sent for the bulbs direct to Constantinople, and paid the most extravagant prices for them. The first roots planted in England were brought from Vienna in 1600. Until the year 1634 the tulip annually increased in reputation, until it was deemed a proof of bad taste in any man of fortune to be without a collection of them. Many learned men, including Pompeius de Angelis and the celebrated Lipsius of Leyden, the author of the treatise “De Constantia,” were passionately fond of tulips. The rage for possessing them soon caught the middle classes of society, and merchants and shopkeepers, even of moderate means, began to vie with each other in the rarity of these flowers and the preposterous prices .they paid for them. A trader at Harlaem was known to pay one-half of his fortune for a single root–not with the design of selling it again at a profit, but to keep in his own conservatory for the admiration of his acquaintance.
One would suppose that there must have been some great virtue in this flower to have made it so valuable in the eyes of so prudent a people as the Dutch; but it has neither the beauty nor the perfume of the rose–hardly the beauty of the “sweet, sweet-pea;” neither is it as enduring as either. Cowley, it is true, is loud in its praise. He says–
“The tulip next appeared, all over gay, But wanton, full of pride, and full of play; The world can’t show a dye but here has place; Nay, by new mixtures, she can change her face; Purple and gold are both beneath her care- The richest needlework she loves to wear; Her only study is to please the eye, And to outshine the rest in finery.”
This, though not very poetical, is the description of a poet. Beckmann, in his History of Inventions, paints it with more fidelity, and in prose more pleasing than Cowley’s poetry. He says, “There are few plants which acquire, through accident, weakness, or disease, so many variegations as the tulip. When uncultivated, and in its natural state, it is almost of one colour, has large leaves, and an extraordinarily long stem. When it has been weakened by cultivation, it becomes more agreeable in the eyes of the florist. The petals are then paler, smaller, and more diversified in hue; and the leaves acquire a softer green colour. Thus this masterpiece of culture, the more beautiful it turns, grows so much the weaker, so that, with the greatest skill and most careful attention, it can scarcely be transplanted, or even kept alive.”
Many persons grow insensibly attached to that which gives them a great deal of trouble, as a mother often loves her sick and ever-ailing child better than her more healthy offspring. Upon the same principle we must account for the unmerited encomia lavished upon these fragile blossoms. In 1634, the rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade. As the mania increased, prices augmented, until, in the year 1635, many persons were known to invest a fortune of 100,000 florins in the purchase of forty roots. It then became necessary to sell them by their weight in perits, a small weight less than a grain. A tulip of the species called Admiral Liefken, weighing 400 perits, was worth 4400 florins; an Admiral Von der Eyk, weighing 446 perits, was worth 1260 florins; a shilder of 106 perits was worth 1615 florins; a viceroy of 400 perits, 3000 florins, and, most precious of all, a Semper Augustus, weighing 200 perits, was thought to be very cheap at 5500 florins. The latter was much sought after, and even an inferior bulb might command a price of 2000 florins. It is related that, at one time, early in 1636, there were only two roots of this description to be had in all Holland, and those not of the best. One was in the possession of a dealer in Amsterdam, and the other in Harlaem. So anxious were the speculators to obtain them that one person offered the fee-simple of twelve acres of building ground for the Harlaem tulip. That of Amsterdam was bought for 4600 florins, a new carriage, two grey horses, and a complete suit of harness. Munting, an industrious author of that day, who wrote a folio volume of one thousand pages upon the tulipomania, has preserved the following list of the various articles, and their value, which were delivered for one single root of the rare species called the viceroy :– florins. Two lasts of wheat………….. 448 Four lasts of rye…………… 558 Four fat oxen………………. 480 Eight fat swine…………….. 240 Twelve fat sheep……………. 120 Two hogsheads of wine……….. 70 Four tuns of beer…………… 32 Two tons of butter………….. 192 One thousand lbs. of cheese….. 120 A complete bed……………… 100 A suit of clothes…………… 😯 A silver drinking cup……….. 6O —– 2500 —–
People who had been absent from Holland, and whose chance it was to return when this folly was at its maximum, were sometimes led into awkward dilemmas by their ignorance. There is an amusing instance of the kind related in Blainville’s Travels. A wealthy merchant, who prided himself not a little on his rare tulips, received upon one occasion a very valuable consignment of merchandise from the Levant. Intelligence of its arrival was brought him by a sailor, who presented himself for that purpose at the counting-house, among bales of goods of every description. The merchant, to reward him for his news, munificently made him a present of a fine red herring for his breakfast. The sailor had, it appears, a great partiality for onions, and seeing a bulb very like an onion lying upon the counter of this liberal trader, and thinking it, no doubt, very much out of its place among silks and velvets, he slily seized an opportunity and slipped it into his pocket, as a relish for his herring. He got clear off with his prize, and proceeded to the quay to eat his breakfast. Hardly was his back turned when the merchant missed his valuable Semper Augustus, worth three thousand florins, or about 280 pounds sterling. The whole establishment was instantly in an uproar; search was everywhere made for the precious root, but it was not to be found. Great was the merchant’s distress of mind. The search was renewed, but again without success. At last some one thought of the sailor.
The unhappy merchant sprang into the street at the bare suggestion. His alarmed household followed him. The sailor, simple soul! had not thought of concealment. He was found quietly sitting on a coil of ropes, masticating the last morsel of his “onion.” Little did he dream that he had been eating a breakfast whose cost might have regaled a whole ship’s crew for a twelvemonth; or, as the plundered merchant himself expressed it, “might have sumptuously feasted the Prince of Orange and the whole court of the Stadtholder.” Anthony caused pearls to be dissolved in wine to drink the health of Cleopatra; Sir Richard Whittington was as foolishly magnificent in an entertainment to King Henry V; and Sir Thomas Gresham drank a diamond, dissolved in wine, to the health of Queen Elizabeth, when she opened the Royal Exchange: but the breakfast of this roguish Dutchman was as splendid as either. He had an advantage, too, over his wasteful predecessors: their gems did not improve the taste or the wholesomeness of their wine, while his tulip was quite delicious with his red herring. The most unfortunate part of the business for him was, that he remained in prison for some months, on a charge of felony, preferred against him by the merchant.
Another story is told of an English traveller, which is scarcely less ludicrous. This gentleman, an amateur botanist, happened to see a tulip-root lying in the conservatory of a wealthy Dutchman. Being ignorant of its quality, he took out his penknife, and peeled off its coats, with the view of making experiments upon it. When it was by this means reduced to half its original size, he cut it into two equal sections, making all the time many learned remarks on the singular appearances of the unknown bulb. Suddenly the owner pounced upon him, and, with fury in his eyes, asked him if he knew what he had been doing? “Peeling a most extraordinary onion,” replied the philosopher. “Hundert tausend duyvel,” said the Dutchman; “it’s an Admiral Van der E. yck.” “Thank you,” replied the traveller, taking out his note-book to make a memorandum of the same; “are these admirals common in your country?” “Death and the devil,” said the Dutchman, seizing the astonished man of science by the collar; “come before the syndic, and you shall see.” In spite of his remonstrances, the traveller was led through the streets, followed by a mob of persons. When brought into the presence of the magistrate, he learned, to his consternation, that the root upon which he had been experimentalizing was worth four thousand florins; and, notwithstanding all he could urge in extenuation, he was lodged in prison until he found securities for the payment of this sum.
The demand for tulips of a rare species increased so much in the year 1636, that regular marts for their sale were established on the Stock Exchange of Amsterdam, in Rotterdam, Harlaem, Leyden, Alkmar, Hoorn, and other towns. Symptoms of gambling now became, for the first time, apparent. The stockjobbers, ever on the alert for a new speculation, dealt largely in tulips, making use of all the means they so well knew how to employ, to cause fluctuations in prices. At first, as in all these gambling mania, confidence was at its height, and everybody gained. The tulip-jobbers speculated in the rise and fall of the tulip stocks, and made large profits by buying when prices fell, and selling out when they rose. Many individuals grew suddenly rich. A golden bait hung temptingly out before the people, and, one after the other, they rushed to the tulip marts, like flies around a honeypot. Every one imagined that the passion for tulips would last for ever, and that the wealthy from every part of the world would send to Holland, and pay whatever prices were asked for them. The riches of Europe would be concentrated on the shores of the Zuyder Zee, and poverty banished from the favoured clime of Holland. Nobles, citizens, farmers, mechanics, seamen, footmen, maidservants, even chimney-sweeps and old clotheswomen, dabbled in tulips. People of all grades converted their property into cash, and invested it in flowers. Houses and lands were offered for sale at ruinously low prices, or assigned in payment of bargains made at the tulip-mart. Foreigners became smitten with the same frenzy, and money poured into Holland from all directions. The prices of the necessaries of life rose again by degrees; houses and lands, horses and carriages, and luxuries of every sort, rose in value with them, and for some months Holland seemed the very antechamber of Plutus. The operations of the trade became so extensive and so intricate, that it was found necessary to draw up a code of laws for the guidance of the dealers. Notaries and clerks were also appointed, who devoted themselves exclusively to the interests of the trade. The designation of public notary was hardly known in some towns, that of tulip notary usurping its place. In the smaller towns, where there was no exchange, the principal tavern was usually selected as the “showplace,” where high and low traded in tulips, and confirmed their bargains over sumptuous entertainments. These dinners were sometimes attended by two or three hundred persons, and large vases of tulips, in full bloom, were placed at regular intervals upon the tables and sideboards, for their gratification during the repast.
At last, however, the more prudent began to see that this folly could not last for ever. Rich people no longer bought the flowers to keep them in their gardens, but to sell them again at cent. per cent. profit. It was seen that somebody must lose fearfully in the end. As this conviction spread, prices fell, and never rose again. Confidence was destroyed, and a universal panic seized upon the dealers. A had agreed to purchase ten Sempers Augustines from B, at four thousand florins each, at six weeks after the signing of the contract. B was ready with the flowers at the appointed time; but the price had fallen to three or four hundred florins, and A refused either to pay the difference or receive the tulips. Defaulters were announced day after day in all the towns of Holland. Hundreds who, a few months previously, had begun to doubt that there was such a thing as poverty in the land, suddenly found themselves the possessors of a few bulbs, which nobody would buy, even though they offered them at one quarter of the sums they had paid for them. The cry of distress resounded everywhere, and each man accused his neighbour. The few who had contrived to enrich themselves hid their wealth from the knowledge of their fellow-citizens, and invested it in the English or other funds. Many who, for a brief season, had emerged from the humbler walks of life, were cast back into their original obscurity. Substantial merchants were reduced almost to beggary, and many a representative of a noble line saw the fortunes of his house ruined beyond redemption.
When the first alarm subsided, the tulip-holders in the several towns held public meetings to devise what measures were best to be taken to restore public credit. It was generally agreed, that deputies should be sent from all parts to Amsterdam, to consult with the government upon some remedy for the evil. The Government at first refused to interfere, but advised the tulip-holders to agree to some plan among themselves. Several meetings were held for this purpose; but no measure could be devised likely to give satisfaction to the deluded people, or repair even a slight portion of the mischief that had been done. The language of complaint and reproach was in everybody’s mouth, and all the meetings were of the most stormy character. At last, however, after much bickering and ill-will, it was agreed, at Amsterdam, by the assembled deputies, that all contracts made in the height of the mania, or prior to the month of November 1636, should be declared null and void, and that, in those made after that date, purchasers should be freed from their engagements, on paying ten per cent. to the vendor. This decision gave no satisfaction. The vendors who had their tulips on hand were, of course, discontented, and those who had pledged themselves to purchase, thought themselves hardly treated. Tulips which had, at one time, been worth six thousand florins, were now to be procured for five hundred; so that the composition of ten per cent. was one hundred florins more than the actual value. Actions for breach of contract were threatened in all the courts of the country; but the latter refused to take cognizance of gambling transactions.
The matter was finally referred to the Provincial Council at the Hague, and it was confidently expected that the wisdom of this body would invent some measure by which credit should be restored. Expectation was on the stretch for its decision, but it never came. The members continued to deliberate week after week, and at last, after thinking about it for three months, declared that they could offer no final decision until they had more information. They advised, however, that, in the mean time, every vendor should, in the presence of witnesses, offer the tulips in natura to the purchaser for the sums agreed upon. If the latter refused to take them, they might be put up for sale by public auction, and the original contractor held responsible for the difference between the actual and the stipulated price. This was exactly the plan recommended by the deputies, and which was already shown to be of no avail. There was no court in Holland which would enforce payment. The question was raised in Amsterdam, but the judges unanimously refused to interfere, on the ground that debts contracted in gambling were no debts in law.
Thus the matter rested. To find a remedy was beyond the power of the government. Those who were unlucky enough to have had stores of tulips on hand at the time of the sudden reaction were left to bear their ruin as philosophically as they could; those who had made profits were allowed to keep them; but the commerce of the country suffered a severe shock, from which it was many years ere it recovered.
The example of the Dutch was imitated to some extent in England. In the year 1636 tulips were publicly sold in the Exchange of London, and the jobbers exerted themselves to the utmost to raise them to the fictitious value they had acquired in Amsterdam. In Paris also the jobbers strove to create a tulipomania. In both cities they only partially succeeded. However, the force of example brought the flowers into great favour, and amongst a certain class of people tulips have ever since been prized more highly than any other flowers of the field. The Dutch are still notorious for their partiality to them, and continue to pay higher prices for them than any other people. As the rich Englishman boasts of his fine race-horses or his old pictures, so does the wealthy Dutchman vaunt him of his tulips.
In England, in our day, strange as it may appear, a tulip will produce more money than an oak. If one could be found, rara in tetris, and black as the black swan alluded to by Juvenal, its price would equal that of a dozen acres of standing corn. In Scotland, towards the close of the seventeenth century, the highest price for tulips, according to the authority of a writer in the supplement to the third edition of the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” was ten guineas. Their value appears to have diminished from that time till the year 1769, when the two most valuable species in England were the Don Quevedo and the Valentinier, the former of which was worth two guineas and the latter two guineas and a half. These prices appear to have been the minimum. In the year 1800, a common price was fifteen guineas for a single bulb. In 1835, so foolish were the fanciers, that a bulb of the species called the Miss Fanny Kemble was sold by public auction in London for seventy-five pounds. Still more astonishing was the price of a tulip in the possession of a gardener in the King’s Road, Chelsea. In his catalogues, it was labelled at two hundred guineas! Thus a flower, which for beauty and perfume was surpassed by the abundant roses of the garden,–a nosegay of which might be purchased for a penny,–was priced at a sum which would have provided an industrious labourer and his family with food, and clothes, and lodging for six years! Should chickweed and groundsel ever come into fashion, the wealthy would, no doubt, vie with each other in adorning their gardens with them, and paying the most extravagant prices for them. In so doing, they would hardly be more foolish than the admirers of tulips. The common prices for these flowers at the present time vary from five to fifteen guineas, according to the rarity of the species.