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What Was the Tulipomania?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Tulipomania was a brief period of wild financial speculation which occurred in the Netherlands. It is also referred to as tulipmania or tulip mania. The extent of tulipomania has been somewhat exaggerated by later historians, although it was more certainly widespread, and some people did end up losing their fortunes over tulips. While tulipomania might seem crazy today, some economists point out that there is a sobering lesson hidden in the history of tulipomania, and people would do well to remember it.

Tulips were introduced to Europe around the late 1500s from the Ottoman Empire, and they were an almost immediate hit, as indeed they still are. Many members of the upper classes vied for especially beautiful or rare varieties, and tulips became a must-have accessory for the garden. In the United Provinces, now known as the Netherlands, tulips first appeared in the 1590s, and they soon become highly coveted items.

People who cultivated tulips began to be offered fabulous prices for them, especially if the variety was rare or particularly striking, and by the 1630s, full-blown tulipomania had set in, with individual bulbs fetching stratospherically high prices. One record-setting bulb, the Semper Augustus, sold for 6,000 florins: 40 times the average income for Dutch people of the time. While this price was a bit unusual, prices of 1,000 florins for a single bulb were not unheard of.

As demand for tulips grew, driving up prices, speculation also started to run rampant. Tulips were bought and sold at high prices on the market, sometimes even before they had been planted, with people trading contracts in tulip futures. While tulipomania was probably not as widespread in the Netherlands as some historians make it out to be, it certainly caught up a sector of the population, and when the market crashed in 1637, some people lost their livelihoods as a result.

Tulipomania occurred to a lesser extent in other parts of Europe as well, with isolated pockets of very high tulip prices in regions where the bulbs became scarce. When the bubble burst, prices quickly stabilized; today, only the rarest of tulips are extremely expensive, and most gardeners can afford to plant these graceful and attractive bulbs, should they so desire.

When a bout of mad spending over a single item attracts public attention, it is often compared to tulipomania in the news. People caught up in such trends may struggle to accept it, but they stand to lose substantial sums of money when the craze for the item subsides.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By geekish — On Oct 30, 2011

I actually heard a reference to this Tulipomania in a movie about Wall Street (which was quite appropriate). Well the movie's name was actually "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" and I found out from a friend this was actually a sequel to a movie made *twenty-three years* earlier.

But it had an interesting graphic in the movie of this Tulipomania, mostly noted by the pretty drawn tulips and the line graph showing a crazy upward line, and then that same line coming crashing down. It looked as though it came from the time in which the Tulipomania occurred.

However, you can impress your friends with this little piece of trivia, the picture in the movie could not have been made at that time as I read on a website about the tulip picture that William Playfair who invented graphical methods of statitistics did not publish such charts until the 1700's.

By indemnifyme — On Oct 30, 2011

A lot of people don't know about the "tulipomania" period in the history of the Netherlands. I mentioned it in conversation with someone awhile back and all I got was a blank stare.

I was trying to remember why I know about this, and it hit me: art history class! Tulips were so popular they were featured in a lot of art produced in the Netherlands during this time.

By sunnySkys — On Oct 29, 2011

@Monika - Wow! I've never heard that about diamonds. I've already informed my boyfriend I don't want a diamond engagement ring because of the whole blood diamond thing, but the artificially high price is another compelling reason.

Anyway, this article really made me think. I wonder what people will think in 400 years about all the things we value today. Will they think it's crazy we were willing to spend 30K on a car? A thousand dollars on a laptop? Looking at it that way really puts consumer spending in perspective for me.

By Monika — On Oct 28, 2011

When I was reading this article, I was struck by the similarity between tulipomania and the value we place on diamonds today. Diamonds are artificially inflated in price too!

I learned this quite awhile ago, and I was shocked. The company De Beers pretty much controls the diamond market. They control how many diamonds go on the market and when they do. In the 1930s they used successful marketing to create a demand for diamonds (the diamond engagement ring wasn't that popular before this time). Then they create artificial scarcity to keep the price up.

Also, since all of their advertising campaigns were successful in creating the idea that "a diamond is forever," hardly anyone ever sells their diamond rings. If everyone who has a diamond ring tried to sell it right now, the diamond market would crash!

I actually think this will happen one day, just as the tulip market crashed!

By Oceana — On Oct 27, 2011

I remember looking at a tulip catalog with my mother when I was little. I had my own little tulipomania in my head, because to me, these things represented royalty.

We never bought any, and I assumed it was because we couldn’t afford them. When I grew up, I discovered that I could get a bag of twenty tulip bulbs for only $10, so the price wasn’t the reason. I think my mother just didn’t like digging in the dirt!

When I think back to that catalog, I recall my fantasy of living in a castle with a tulip garden outside. Maybe something in my DNA was recalling the days of my ancestors, when royalty and tulips did go together.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 26, 2011

I wish that tulipomania would suddenly occur in America, because I would become rich! I have over fifty tulip bulbs planted, and they are of many different, beautiful varieties.

Some are red with white stripes, some yellow with orange streaks, and others are brilliant shades of peach, purple, and yellow. They only bloom for about a month out of the year, but the bulbs stay six inches under ground year round.

I planted them in November four years ago, and I was astonished at how big and beautiful the blooms turned out to be the following April. I imagine that the people who lived in the time of tulipomania thought it magical how they suddenly appeared, only to put on a gorgeous show for a few short weeks.

By wavy58 — On Oct 25, 2011

@StarJo - Sure, thievery was a problem! I am fascinated by tulips, and I remember reading about this time frame and the craziness over the flower. People did sneak into gardens at night and dig up bulbs to steal, even though there were specific laws against tulip theft.

I read that innkeepers at the time got rich by trading or selling bulbs to travelers. I imagine innkeepers kept weapons behind the counter because of their valuable stock of bulbs.

It’s crazy to think that something that is so popular among all classes of people and so easily accessible today was once considered more precious than gold. Yes, tulips are beautiful, but are they worth more than you make in a year’s time?

By StarJo — On Oct 25, 2011

Tulips are my favorite flower. I understand how people could go nuts over them, but I imagine their value created problems with stealing. Unless the majority of people were super honest back then, I don’t see how anybody kept their tulips around.

If tulip bulbs were worth more than a year’s income, then wouldn’t people be raiding each other’s gardens in the night with shovels? To grow tulips out where people could see them would be like planting hundred dollar bills halfway in the ground today. You know that people passing by would stop and yank them up!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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