From tulips to chrysanthemums, our series “The Language of Flowers” explores everything from flower care tips to flower symbolism and meaning. This article explores the fascinating history of Tulip Mania.
You may have heard of Beatlemania, but have you ever heard of tulip mania? In 17th century Netherlands, tulips were so valuable and in demand that they actually caused a craze known as “tulip mania.” For years, people were so obsessed with tulips, that they actually traded their valuables and paid thousands of guilder (their previous form of currency) for the flower. Below is a brief history of what we think might just be the most beautiful form of currency ever to hit Europe.
Leading up to Tulip Mania
In the Netherlands, the 1600s were known as the “Golden Century.” Amsterdam, a once average-sized fishing community, became the hub of all international trade. As china, jewelry, silks, and seeds came into the harbor, Amsterdam quickly became the richest city in all of Western Europe. In the late 1500s, tulip bulbs were among the many goods sent to Europe from Turkey.
Tulips Cost How Much?!
In 1637, “tulip madness” struck the people of the Netherlands. In just six months, tulip prices rose to more than 20 times their previous worth. At the time, a bouquet of tulips cost roughly the same price as an average home or ten years of a craftsman’s salary. At the height of the craze, tulips were even traded on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. That’s like walking down Wall Street in Manhattan and seeing financial investors carrying tulip bulbs!
At the height of tulip mania, tulip prices were based on their classification. Typically, solid-colored tulips were the least expensive (though still thousands of dollars in today’s market), while multi-colored tulips were some of the rarest and most expensive. In the 1600s tulips were labeled as:
- Couleren: Solid-colored red, white, or yellow tulips.
- Rosen: Multi-colored tulips.
- Violetten: Tulips that had a hint of purple or lilac in them.
- Bizarden: Tulips that had a yellow background with swirls of red, brown, and purple.
Jailed for Destroying a Tulip
One sailor visiting the Netherlands (and seemingly unaware of the current tulip madness) made a costly mistake when he ate a rare Semper Augustus tulip, thinking it was an onion. The Semper Augustus was so valuable that had it been sold, its profits could have fed his entire crew for a year. If knowing that wasn’t bad enough, the sailor was also imprisoned for almost a year. Another traveler suffered a similar fate when he unknowingly peeled an Admiral Von der Eyk tulip, thinking it was a rare onion (who knew 17th-century tulips resembled onions so much?). After a passersby saw the man desecrating the flower, he was chased through the town by an angry mob and sentenced to jail until he was able to pay for the flower – needless to say, he was never able to.
The First Economic Bubble
Like all bubbles, the tulip bubble eventually “popped” and widespread panic ensued. After a default on a major tulip bulb contract, the tulip market imploded. In just a few days, prices dropped to less than 10 percent of what they were worth a month before. Since “economist” and “financial investor” weren’t exactly common job titles back in the 1600s, records about tulip mania may be a bit skewed, but this is still considered the first financial bubble in recorded history.
Could the Bubonic Plague be to Blame?
The flowers were in no way endangered and the cost of production hadn’t changed, so why did they suddenly become so valuable? Researchers believe that a sudden outbreak of the black plague made people less concerned with their future and more interested in living every day to its fullest – just in case it was actually their last.
Thankfully, tulip prices of today make them affordable for everyone. And though their prices may have gone down, tulips have remained just as lovely throughout the years!