Tulip Mania: The history of the tulip market

Tulips are a fantastic and inexpensive way to add color to your spring garden; learn how they gained popularity.

Tulips inexpensively add color to spring gardens. You can typically purchase tulip bulbs for about 50 cents. Some fancy varieties are slightly more. This is still a bargain for the happiness they will bring to your spring.

Tulips were introduced to Europe by the Emperor to the Sultan of Turkey, who sent the first bulbs to Vienna in 1554. Its popularity grew especially after 1593 when the Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius planted a collection of bulbs and they proved to tolerate very harsh conditions, soon the tulip grew in popularity throughout Europe.

The tulip soon became a luxury item and many varieties were introduced. The varieties were classified into groups and the most sought after prized tulip was the streaked tulips, especially yellow or white streaks on red, brown or purple background. These flame-like tulips were highly sought after. What is interesting is that the streaks or “flames” of the tulip petals were actually caused by a virus.

Prices for the tulips with the prized virus rose steadily. By 1634, the demand for the tulips along with speculators and tulip traders were in a tulip frenzy, known in the botany world as “Tulip Mania.” Tulip mania reached its peak in the winter of 1636 and 1637 when bulbs were changing hands at an increasing rate, but no delivery of these precious bulbs were ever fulfilled.

Before the collapse, many people gained and loss tremendous amounts of wealth due to tulip trading. There is one report in 1635 of a sale of 40 tulip bulbs bought for 100,000 florins; by comparison, a ton of butter cost around 100 florins. A skilled laborer might earn 150 florins a year; eight fat swine cost 240 florins. Many people would invest a whole year’s earning or more on a few prized tulip bulbs, and like any market when the market falls it falls hard. Tulip Mania left many tulip traders with unsold tulip bulbs and mounting debt.

Fortunately for us, tulips are still popular and there are new varieties being developed and marketed every year to keep our gardening in the most up to date tulip style. For a fraction of the cost of a cup of coffee, you can enjoy these magnificent bulbs in your own spring garden.

For more on the subject of Tulip Mania there are several good books and you can also use a resource from The University of Chicago, “Tulipmania,” to learn more about this fascinating story about tulips.

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