Tulip mania, (Dutch names include: tulpenmanie, tulpomanie, tulpenwoede, tulpengekte and bollengekte) was a period in the Dutch Golden Age during which contract prices for bulbs of the recently introduced tulip reached extraordinarily high levels and then dramatically collapsed in February 1637. It is generally considered the first recorded speculative bubble (or economic bubble); The term “tulip mania” is now often used metaphorically to refer to any large economic bubble when asset prices deviate from intrinsic values.
In Europe, formal futures markets appeared in the Dutch Republic during the 17th century. Among the most notable centered on the tulip market, at the height of Tulipmania. At the peak of tulip mania, in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsworker.
The 1637 event was popularized in 1841 by the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written by British journalist Charles Mackay. At one point 12 acres of land were offered for a Semper Augustus bulb. Mackay claims that many such investors were ruined by the fall in prices, and Dutch commerce suffered a severe shock.
The introduction of the tulip to Europe is usually attributed to Ogier de Busbecq, the ambassador of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor to the Sultan of Turkey, who sent the first tulip bulbs and seeds to Vienna in 1554 from the Ottoman Empire. Tulip bulbs were soon distributed from Vienna to Augsburg, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Its popularity and cultivation in the United Provinces (now the Netherlands) is generally thought to have started in earnest around 1593 after the Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius had taken up a post at the University of Leiden and established the hortus academicus. He planted his collection of tulip bulbs and found they were able to tolerate the harsher conditions of the Low Countries; shortly thereafter the tulip began to grow in popularity.
The tulip was different from every other flower known to Europe at that time, with a saturated intense petal color that no other plant had. The appearance of the nonpareil tulip as a status symbol at this time coincides with the rise of newly independent Holland’s trade fortunes. No longer the Spanish Netherlands, its economic resources could now be channeled into commerce and the country embarked on its Golden Age. Amsterdam merchants were at the center of the lucrative East Indies trade, where one voyage could yield profits of 400%.
As a result, tulips rapidly became a coveted luxury item, and a profusion of varieties followed. They were classified in groups: the single-hued tulips of red, yellow, or white were known as Couleren; the multicolored Rosen (white streaks on a red or pink background); Violetten (white streaks on a purple or lilac background); and the rarest of all, the Bizarden (Bizarres), (yellow or white streaks on a red, brown or purple background). The multicolor effects of intricate lines and flame-like streaks on the petals were vivid and spectacular and made the bulbs that produced these even more exotic-looking plants highly sought-after.
Tulips grow from bulbs, and can be propagated through both seeds and buds. Seeds from a tulip will form a flowering bulb after 7–12 years. In the Northern Hemisphere, tulips bloom in April and May for about one week. During the plant’s dormant phase from (Northern Hemisphere) June to September, bulbs can be uprooted and moved about, so actual purchases (in the spot market) occurred during these months. During the rest of the year, florists, or tulip traders, signed contracts before a notary to buy tulips at the end of the season (effectively futures contracts). Thus the Dutch, who developed many of the techniques of modern finance, created a market for tulip bulbs, which were durable goods.
As the flowers grew in popularity, professional growers paid higher and higher prices for bulbs, and prices rose steadily. By 1634, in part as a result of demand from the French, speculators began to enter the market. The contract price of rare bulbs continued to rise throughout 1636, but by November, the price of common bulbs also began to increase, so that soon any tulip bulb could fetch hundreds of guilders. That year the Dutch created a type of formal futures market where contracts to buy bulbs at the end of the season were bought and sold. Traders met in “colleges” at taverns and buyers were required to pay a 2.5% “wine money” fee, up to a maximum of three guilders per trade. The Dutch described tulip contract trading as windhandel (literally “wind trade”), because no bulbs were actually changing hands.
By 1636 the tulip bulb became the fourth leading export product of the Netherlands, after gin, herrings and cheese. The price of tulips skyrocketed because of speculation in tulip futures among people who never saw the bulbs. Many individuals grew suddenly rich. A golden bait hung temptingly out before the people, and, one after the other, they rushed to the tulip marts, like flies around a honey-pot. Every one imagined that the passion for tulips would last forever, and that the wealthy from every part of the world would send to Holland, and pay whatever prices were asked for them. Many men made and lost fortunes overnight.
Tulip mania reached its peak during the winter of 1636–37, when some bulbs were reportedly changing hands ten times in a day. No deliveries were ever made to fulfil any of these contracts, because in February 1637, tulip bulb contract prices collapsed abruptly and the trade of tulips ground to a halt.
The collapse began in Haarlem, when, for the first time, buyers apparently refused to show up at a routine bulb auction. Tulip traders could no longer find new buyers willing to pay increasingly inflated prices for their bulbs. As this realization set in, the demand for tulips collapsed, and prices plummeted—the speculative bubble burst. Some were left holding contracts to purchase tulips at prices now ten times greater than those on the open market, while others found themselves in possession of bulbs now worth a fraction of the price they had paid.
Source – Wikipedia
Written by Michael Hogue.
Dallas Davison, Michael Hogue and Ali Hogue.