110,000 EURO FOR ONE TULIP | The tale of Tulip Mania


Once upon a time… Isn’t that how all good fairy tales start? Only this one isn’t fiction but actually happened all the way back in the 17th Century.


There was a time when tulips were two-hundred-times more expensive than… gold! That in itself seems entirely crazy.


Almost unimaginable is that the highest demand was for ‘infected’ tulips – but more on that later.


These days, seeing tulips poke their little heads through frosty soil, announcing that spring has arrived, is an entirely ‘normal’ occurrence. Just as if they’d always been around in our gardens.


"Danceline" – not quite as scarce as tulips back then but still rare today.


But: that’s not quite true. Tulips came a long way before they made themselves at home in our flower beds. The ancestors of today’s bulbs made their way West all the way from Asia, via the Silk Road, on the backs of camels and carried by donkey carts.


From Lâle to Tulip

In fact, so long and slow was their journey that they made a pit stop in Turkey for a few centuries. This strange little onion from the Far East became famous as early as the 12th Century, where she bloomed in the gardens of High Society, and adorned anything from decorative tiles and letterheads to clothes and even weaponry. Tulips became the symbol of power and wealth of Ottoman rulers.


It’s assumed that it is this period that also gave the tulip its name. Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, a French diplomat visiting the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century, was surprised by the omnipresence of the flower. With limited knowledge of the Turkish language, de Busbecq mistakenly referred to it as ‘Tülbent’ in his travel chronicles – the word for turban, an item of clothing many men decorated with tulips. So, the Turkish ’Lâle’ (the original Turkish name for tulip) became ‘Tulipa’ and, today, Tulip.


With a few seeds and bulbs in his pockets, de Busbecq set off back to Europe where he placed them into the professional hands of Dutch botanist Professor Carolus Clusius, who then brought them to Holland at the end of the 16th Century.


And then, the madness began

Little did Clusius know that these precious plants would be the cause of a veritable mania. Stunning and rare, they quickly became a coveted collector’s item. But not everybody who wanted tulips was able to get their hands on them. Even though they flourished in the sandy Dutch soil (the perfect growing conditions), it could take up to seven years for plants to grow from seeds.


Tulips became a status symbol, often stolen from gardens in the middle of the night, and prices for bulbs rose astronomically. In 1624, one bulb sold for 1,200 Dutch guilders – a pure luxury few could afford, bearing in mind that the average annual income was 150 Dutch guilders.


"Crunchy Cummins" would have let hearts & prices beat/climb higher.


But that was merely the beginning. Prices doubled and, although there was meanwhile plenty of stock, demand kept going up. Many saw an opportunity to make a quick buck, and speculation in ‘tulip futures’ became a big deal. And it wasn’t just actual bulbs that were being traded – even future seedlings that wouldn’t exist for another few years were up for sale. You guessed it: all of this led to the so-called ‘Tulip Mania’ in 1635.


At the height of this speculation-insanity, the price for one single tulip bulb was an unbelievable 10,000 Dutch guilders. In today’s money, that’s around 110,000 Euro. In 1633 an entire house sold for the price of three bulbs. Utterly flabbergasting – today, you can buy a pretty and inexpensive bunch of tulips in your local supermarket.


Prices were set by weight but depended on the location of individual tulip futures markets. Some bulbs exchanged hands (metaphorically speaking) multiple times a day.


Interestingly, some of the most highly sought-after tulips were those with multi-colored petals and almost flame-like streaks. Little did they know that this effect was actually caused by the ‘mosaic virus’ disease.


"Marit" – classic shape, beautiful color.


Just as quickly as trade exploded, the boom abruptly ground to a halt in 1637. Nobody quite knows why but the exorbitant prices were no longer accepted and the bubble burst. ‘Tulip Mania’ left behind shattered livelihoods and debts that were impossible to repay. And tulips returned to what they were meant to be: wonderful flowers in all shapes and colors.


And to this day, Holland remains famous as the land of the tulips.


"Dream Touch" and "Mariage"


Love from the Cottage Garden,


Sarah





Sources:

”Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age“ {Anne Goldgar}

"Tulpen 50 Sorten im Porträt" {Jane Eastoe}

Photos: Seila Malo, FAM Flower Farm, Sarah Stiller

RECENT POSTS