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Tulipomania by Mike Dash

Tulipomania (1999)

by Mike Dash

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed reading Mike Dash's "Tulipmania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions it Aroused." The book follows the 1630's Dutch mania for tulip flower varieties, which became a national obsession for a short time.

Dutch citizens became enriched on paper in a sort of futures market where they traded for tulip bulbs that weren't going to be harvested for months. Then, prices dropped out and chains of buyers were left without the money to pay for flowers, some of which sold for more than the cost of a house.

This is a well-written book about a fascinating time. I was disappointed that the book did not have any photographs of the flowers to help illustrate the story -- however, I somehow accidentally ordered a large print copy of the book from the library, so maybe it's just that edition. If so, it's still disappointing that pictures couldn't be included. ( )
  amerynth | Mar 16, 2014 |
This book was a slow start for me, but worth the read. It's all about the tulip craze that occurred in the Netherlands in the early 1600's. The book establishes a solid groundwork by introducing the flower- where it came from, why it was so unique and sought-after, all the little particulars about the Dutch economy, customs, and the flower itself that made it possible for so many people to suddenly bid crazily on the bulbs. Staggering fortunes were spent, rapidly changing hands, all for flower bulbs that couldn't be examined because they were in the ground until a certain period of time usually months in the future! The nature of how tulips grow made them relatively scarce to begin with, the treasured vivid streaking of colors called "breaking" was unpredictable (actually caused by a virus), and so valued even more. Prices continued to rise steeply until they suddenly crashed, and the last few chapters cover the aftermath- how people recovered or didn't, how the tulip steadily remained a gardener's flower, even after its heightened popularity had abated. Interestingly, the author also mentions a few other tulip crazes that occurred in different countries- a hundred years later- and with other flowers as well for brief periods- hyacinths, dahlias, red spider lilies- although none of those quite as astounding as the tulip mania, they show the same phenomenon. It was a very interesting read and I learned a lot, not only about one particular flower, but also about the rudimentary workings of a stock market (that's basically how the bidding and exchanges of bulbs were carried out- as far as I understand- because they were mostly intangible objects, some people selling didn't even own any bulbs!) The only thing I wished for was a few illustrations showing the gorgeous colors and patterns that once had people trading an entire estate for a single flower.

from the Dogear Diary ( )
  jeane | Feb 27, 2014 |
Learnt a lot about futures trading reading this book, however there were sections of the financial side that I found a hard slog - but the historical info about the tulip and some of the early botanists was fascinating. ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Tulips originated in the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains of Asia, were carried across the steppe by Turkish nomads, and achieved a “position of eminence” in the Ottoman Empire. It was probably in the Istanbul gardens of Suleyman that European ambassadors encountered tulips. By 1559 tulips had definitely arrived in Europe, and over the next few decades they spread, thanks in part to the enthusiasm of Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius, and the convenience of mailing bulbs. In 1593, Clusius accepted a position at the University of Leiden, and arrived with his collection of tulip bulbs to establish a botanical garden. Clusius classified nearly three dozen types by color and shape and bloom time, a mixture of wildflowers and cultivars.

Tulips can be grown from seeds or bulbs. Seeds are iffy; they may not bloom for six or seven years, and may not especially resemble the parents. Offsets from bulbs are essentially clones and may bloom within a year or two, but at this rate, even under ideal circumstances, new varieties remain rare for years. With different species unnaturally packed together and hybridizing in gardens, hundreds of varieties appeared, in colors more intense and distinct than other available flowers such as lilies and carnations. Tulips with simple coloring, like the wild ancestors, were considered “rude”. The most valued varieties were patterned. Strangely and unpredictably, single color “breeder” bulbs might or might not produce “broken” offsets, though seeds always produced breeders, and broken bulbs always produced more of the same. The reason, not discovered until the 20th century: the mosaic virus, transmitted by aphids.

By 1600, the United Provinces (or Dutch Republic) had become the richest country in Europe. The tulip was a status symbol throughout Europe, exotic and rare and expensive, but in the United Provinces the tulip connoisseurs were businessmen and merchants with country homes and gardens, not aristocrats. Initially tulips came from elsewhere, and were bought and sold by not always reputable rhizotomi “root cutters”, but by 1630, nearly every town in the United Provinces had professional horticulturists. This led to a marketing problem: tulips bloom for a mere few days each year, so had to be sold as bulbs, and bulbs do not reveal what they will become. The solution: illustrated catalogs, filled with varieties of Admiraels and Genereals and Generalissimos, named by their creators. As the local supply of tulips increased, prices of the more common varieties dropped. Tulips now were bought by artisans and tradesmen, or by peddlers who sold them at country markets to farmers and laborers. It became an attractive prospect to buy a few bulbs, plant them in pots or small garden plots, and turn them into money.

The tulip trade was necessarily tied to the calendar, with bulbs exchanged in the summer, after the flowers were gone and before the bulbs had to be returned to the ground. This though was a system for people who cared about the flowers for aesthetic reasons. The new “florists” did not. The unit of exchange shifted from the tangible bulb to the abstract promissory note. Now trade could occur year round, and middlemen could get involved. Thus arose a futures market, chains of speculation tied to bulbs not yet available, commitments made on the untested assumption that the next link was financially solvent and honorable. Prices peaked in late 1636, and crashed in early 1637. The bulb growers proposed a plan for recovery: pay the promised amount for the actual bulb, or pay 10% to annul the contract, but they lacked authority to enforce it. The Court of Holland wanted nothing to do with the mess, and recommended temporary suspension of contracts pending an investigation that never happened. So growers and traders were left to settle disputes among themselves, and mostly did; money that didn’t exist wasn’t worth pursuing through the legal system. In the end, the rise and fall of tulip mania had little effect on the economy as a whole.

This is a short, engaging, informative book, with chapters on boom and bust set in the cultural context of the United Provinces and the Ottoman Empire. It might have benefited from a few illustrations of tulips and a map or two, but the descriptions and anecdotes do a more than sufficient job of painting a detailed picture.

(read 17 Jan 2013)
2 vote qebo | Jan 26, 2013 |
Tulipomania is a book concerning the economic mania associated with tulips in the Netherlands, c. 1630. The book traces the origin of tulips from the steppes to what is modern day Turkey to the Netherlands. It also recounts the speculation centered on the price of tulip bulbs.

The writing is clear, if not inspirational. The author has spent time gathering sources and thankfully provided those sources in a well organized note section. The first several chapters, concerning the origin of the tulip, were fascinating.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the book was lacking and resulted in a book that I struggled to finish. One problem is that while there are notes in the back of the book, there are not asterisks, numbers, etc to indicate in the text that there is a note. Another problem is the lack of illustration. One of the key parts of the speculation dealt with the types of tulips available, yet, other than rather poor descriptions of these special tulips, the reader is left to imagine what they might have looked like. The major I had was the key chapters (on the boom and then bust) consisted of whole paragraphs where each sentence contained "perhaps", "possibly", "maybe", or some other word that indicated this was not fact or reasonable assumption. Personally, I would have rather had the author say, "This is what we know..." and "This is what I think..." As is, I have no idea what is known, what is generally assumed, and what the author added to the discussion. And that brings up the final problem -- as presented, the speculation on tulip bulbs in 17th Netherlands just fits too nicely with speculation on modern commodities. Maybe it does fit, maybe it doesn't -- without clear facts in the text, it's hard to decide how much of this history was reshaped by modern experiences.

Overall, I would not recommend reading this book on tulipomania. There are several other books on the topic -- one of them must be better than this. ( )
  LMHTWB | Apr 3, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mike Dashprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abeling, AndréTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peschel, ElfriedeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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They were possessed with such a Rage or,

to give it its proper Name, such as Itching for their Flowers,

as to give often three thousand Crowns for a

Tulip that pleased their Fancies;

a Disease that ruined several rich Families.


(LONDON, 1743), vol. 1, p. 28
For Ffion
First words
One day in the early spring of 1637, a Dutch merchant named François Koster paid the enormous sum of 6650 guilders for a few dozen tulip bulbs.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 060980765X, Paperback)

For history buffs or gardeners who enjoy more than just digging in the dirt, Tulipomania presents a fascinating look at the tulip frenzy that took place in Holland in the mid-1600s. Beginning as gifts given among the wealthy and educated folk of Europe and Asia, the tulip rapidly became a source of incredible financial gain--similar to today's Internet start-up companies or Beanie Baby collections. Stories of craftsmen discontinuing their trade and focusing on raising tulips for public auction, where they sold for prices comparable to that of a manor house, are astonishing. Poets, moralists, businessmen--it seems everyone was involved at some level.

Lack of regulation and poor quality control were just a couple of the details that led to the abrupt crash in February 1637. Tulipomania was the original market bust--people were ruined, debts went unpaid. It was a disaster similar to the stock-market crash of 1929. A brief resurrection of the mania occurred 65 years later in Istanbul, and while it was not the financial obsession Holland experienced, it led to the creation of standards in flower shape and increased the development of new types. You don't need to be obsessed to enjoy this book--an interest in tulips, history, and the futures market ensures that this will be a remarkable read. --Jill Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:11 -0400)

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Follows the plant from the steppes of Central Asia as it headed west into Europe, becoming even more prized by the time it reached the Netherlands.

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