Web and Book Image
copyright, Kellscraft Studio, 1999
(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Click Here to return to
THE TULIP TRADE
From De Koning's History of Haarlem (1635)
MANY, no doubt, have heard of the extraordinary mania for tulips in Holland in the seventeenth century. Dutchmen of all classes, highest to lowest, forsook their ordinary occupations and business, in order to engage in the tulip trade.
It is said the mania began first in France in the year 1685, and thence spread to the Netherlands. Enormous prices were paid, and even houses and land given in exchange for one bulb.
In Haarlem there stands a house, at one time in possession of the Widow de Lange and Van Ek -- it is numbered W. 8, No. 575. It used to be two separate buildings, and one of them was known as the Tulip House, because it was sold for one single tulip. When the last alterations were made to this house in 1858 there was still to be seen a stone set in the gable, upon which was carved a tulip, and below the following inscription : --
This stone was kept as a remembrance of the famous tulip trade of the year 1687, "when one fool hatched from another, the people were rich without substance, and wise without knowledge."
Since that famous year, according to tradition, the road that led to the country beyond the Groot Poort and to the surrounding neighbourhood, where most of the best Haarlemers grew tulips, was called, in remembrance of all the money lost, "The moneyless path." The rage for tulips became intense, and every one was caught by the craze, and positively some were driven mad by it. Though a few made a great deal of money, the majority of the new bulb growers and buyers lost everything they possessed! There is a saying in Dutch, "It is not good to come to black seed, for then comes poverty." (Canaries are fond of eating their white seed first, and then have nothing left but the black.)
Whoever had a plot of ground planted tulips therein. Rich and poor alike -- house-painters, cobblers, tailors, weavers; in a word, nearly everyone either grew or speculated in tulips -- some sold all their tools and instruments to buy bulbs. And indeed they might well look forward to great profits, seeing that the bulbs, which in the beginning cost but a few guldens, had now risen to hundreds and thousands. The most coveted and rare kinds it had now become impossible to buy. For one single bulb 12 acres of land in the Schermer were offered. The Semper Augustus must have been the rarest and most costly of any, the fabulous price of 18,000 florins was once paid for it, and soon after three of these bulbs were again sold for 80,000 florins.
The price of land and the hiring of fields to raise the bulbs in grew very high. A gentleman was offered 50,000 florins a year for his field for seven years, in addition to a share in the profits. Such was the rage for buying and selling, that most of the inns and taverns in the town were turned into places of Exchange and Mart, where bulbs were bought and sold even before they could be taken out of the ground. A book-keeper was employed, who kept a book of all the transactions and of the profits made, which seemed in some cases very large.
Many men, unused to the possession of so much money, became so very extravagant that they spent more than their income, and began to live at such a high rate of expenditure, buying carriages and horses, and living in such a fashion that only men who possessed untold wealth and capital could afford to do it.
What was foreseen by more wise and more thoughtful people came to pass. Everyone having now become bulb-grower, there came to be so many tulips in the market that prices suddenly dropped, and many buyers refused to take the bulbs at the price agreed upon, and many quarrels and disputes arose over the matter. Finally, the States-General of Holland appointed by decree that, from the 27th of April 1636, tulip-sellers had the right to force buyers to buy at a price agreed upon (a standard price?). So this decree stopped very high speculations, and a Semper Augustus, for example, for which previously several thousand florins had been paid, now fetched only 50 florins. There came a reaction, and a great number of people were ruined.
In this way, says De Koning, began and ended a trade or commerce in bulbs, which in nearly all the towns in Holland, but especially in Haarlem, Leyden, Amsterdam, Alknaar, Hoorn, and Enkhuizen, was kept up with such energy that, alone in Haarlem, 10,000,000 florins for tulip bulbs was paid and received, and the States-General of Holland were even weighing the advisability of taxing the industry which brought so much luxury. The little gardens near and in and about Haarlem had both wide and narrow "moneyless paths," all of which date from the time of the tulip mania in the seventeenth century, and remain as witnesses of the folly of our forefathers.
Click the image to continue to
the next chapter of Dutch Bulbs