Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Great British Tulipmania

Ha ha ha, well I couldn't resist a bit of a nod to the frenzy of excitement that always comes with the final of The Great British Bake Off, (yes it's tonight and I can't wait). Tulipmania! Yes, it really is a real word and captures a strange period in history when tulip bulbs where a mega craze with some worth more than gold. 

'How can you be content to be in the world like tulips in a garden, to make a fine show, and be good for nothing.'

Mary Astell

Well, they were good for a lot more than just a good show, and how!!

 History time 

So how did this all come about? Well, it would seem that the Dutch were not the first ones to go bonkers for these alluring specimens. Long before the flowers were known popularly in Europe they could be found in Bavaria - 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 and the trade boom took off, big time. Amsterdam merchants were at the centre 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 vast flower gardens. All to display their wealth and success. The Dutch population seemed torn by two contradictory impulses: a horror of living beyond ones means and the love of a long shot. Hmm, nothing much has changed there then.

'Flowers heal me. Tulips make me happy. 

I keep myself surrounded by them...'

Rebecca Wells

Enter the tulip. It is impossible to comprehend the tulip mania without understanding just how different the new tulips were from every other flower known to horticulturists in the 17th century. The colours they exhibited were more intense and more concentrated than those of ordinary plants. Despite the extremely high prices commanded by the rarest bulbs that bore the most stunning blooms, ordinary tulips were sold by the pound. Around 1630, however, a new type of tulip fancier appeared, lured by tales of big 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  unappealing or poor quality 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 absolute peak of the mania 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.

Ouch! That's not a graph anyone wants to see on a stock market.
How the mighty do fall 

Enough said I think!

What goes up of course, must eventually come down and 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. (based on 'When the Tulip Bubble Burst' - Bloomberg Business Week, April 2000)

And so ended what was one of the most outrageous boom and spectacular markets ever to have existed.

All very interesting, but what has this to do with today's post. Well, dear reader I have been painting a tulip. Nothing outrageous, rare or fancy I hasten to add but a somewhat small, faded specimen that I photographed earlier this year for no other reason than I liked the colour. I guess that's no different to those earlier nutcases who spent their fortunes on a bulb! Cheers thanks, but I'd rather have the house!

Making a start

Taking shape

Just a little way to go now


Limner said...

This! This, is my very favorite. :) It's couldn't be any more beautiful if I'd painted it myself.

And who won The Great British Bake Off??? I've watched too many episodes, then forget to watch because of other things. :) Some of the results were laughable, and the bakers didn't seem to mind. I like that about them.

I read lots and lots about tulip mania, watched documentaries, and still find the subject fascinating.

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Hi Limner and many thanks for your kind comments. Yes, I'm pretty pleased with this one too. Ha ha ha, you know me so well. The winner of Bake Off was the lovely Nadia, my favourite by a mile. If you can watch it, do. Her final words are so poignant.