Then again, field trips have always been the only way to go! I came, I saw, I conquered a bit more world history. I learned politics often makes for strange bedfellows, too, none stranger than a satiny, ephemeral blossom called Semper Augustus that drove the Dutch to an infamous feeding frenzy dubbed ‘Tulipomania’.
No, the Dutch weren’t into eating tulip bulbs, although that was the Professor’s original intent when he fled Vienna in 1593 seeking religious sanctuary in Holland with what purportedly was the first tulip bulb to find its way from Turkey to the Netherlands.
While the tulip is commonly thought to have originated in Turkey, the plant probably first appeared farther east in the steppes of western and central Asia, primarily in Armenia, Persia and the Caucasus. Eventually, the tulip spread into areas along the Black Sea, throughout the entire Mediterranean area, and into China. As early as 1,000 A.D., the Turks were cultivating tulips. But I digress.
Tulip Mania refers to the first ever ...
We tend to be a greedy bunch when it comes to making a quick buck, or florins, in the case of the Dutch during the first half of the seventeenth century. Add a bit of prosperity courtesy of the Dutch Golden Age, factor in another round of the bubonic plague (deaths from the plague caused a labor shortage and increased wages for those spared), recognize that a strong belief in social mobility was the order of the day and it stands to reason the ‘greater fool’ will step up every time to pay exorbitant prices in the belief a profit could be made when trading later to an even ‘greater fool’ for an even higher price. The futures market practice is the life blood of every economic bubble on its way to bursting.
In the financial frenzy that ensued, a rudimentary derivatives market, similar to modern-day options and futures contracts, eventually arose so that traders could conduct trade in tulips all year round rather than only during the short growing season. Traders entered into tulip contracts by signing contracts for future tulip purchases before a notary. The very active tulip contract market eventually became an integral part of the overall booming Dutch tulip industry.
And then along came the Semper Augustus. The Semper Augustus wasn’t just any tulip. It was the titan of tulips, and it was doomed to destruction by the very mosaic virus that was responsible for its incredibly exotic beauty. Because Semper Augustus was scarce, it was coveted, and because it was desirable, it was expensive. Just before the bubble burst in February, 1637, the Semper Augustus was trading for as much as 13,000 florins, which at the time could buy several homes complete with tulip gardens.
Today, thanks to Dutch hybridizers, the exotic mosaic pattern is reproduced in tulip look-a-likes minus the virus, such as the red-and-white 'Union Jack' and the lavender-rose and white 'Shirley.'
Ah, what I wouldn't give to own a Rembrandt masterpiece! Alas, I'll have to stick to tulips. Can't wait for next spring!
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