Tulips, one cup.
If you've ever been to Holland in the spring time, you can truly appreciate the tulip. I was fortunate enough to visit Amsterdam in the spring of 1984, and one of the things we did was take a bus tour to the cheese factories in Edam. And on our way there, we passed field after field of blooming tulips. Acres of solid red, right nest to acres of solid yellow, right next to acres of solid white. For miles.
I was 15 at the time, and I have more vivid memories of the tulip fields than I do of the red light district, which I walked through, of course. (maybe it was because I was with my parents, though.....Women in skimpy lingerie that hides nothing everywhere you look while trying to not let your mom see you drool.....)
But, I digress.
Holland is known for tulips. And well they should be. For it was in Holland where the tulip had it's heyday.
Tulips were first introduced to Europe in the 1550's when a few bulbs were sent to the emperor Ferdinand I of the Holy Roman Empire from the Sultan of Turkey, leader of the Ottoman empire. (see, christians and muslims didn't always hate each other.....well, the Ottomans did attack Vienna several times, but...again, I digress)
Tulips quickly became popular among the wealthy. And, at the time, Holland was undergoing it's golden age. So, much of the wealth in Europe was in Holland. And Amsterdam was central to Dutch society. It was the merchants in Amsterdam who were exploiting the East Indies trade in spices. They were raking in profits of 400%. And, like all people with way too much money are wont to do, they spent their cash on lavish estates to try and outdo each other. And, to brighten up the grounds of their estates, they started planting tulips.
Well, the men who were paid to tend these gardens noticed that when red tulip A pollinated yellow tulip B, the result was a variegated tulip with red and yellow petals. As word of this marvel spread, more and more people started cross breeding tulips.
By the late 1630's, tulips were getting expensive. And a new variety could be worth a fortune. In fact, at the height of this tulpenwoede, (tulip mania), in 1637, a single tulip bulb could be worth 10 times the yearly salary of a skilled craftsman.
Well, as with any artificially inflated economic bubble, it couldn't last. In mid 1637, tulip dealers could no longer find people willing to pay the ever increasing price. This caused the price of tulips to stall. When that happened, people who had invested their fortunes in tulip bulbs started selling them as fast as they could.
The price of tulips fell 99.99% in one year.
Thousands of investors were ruined. And, just like with the housing crisis, the rich people behind the inflated tulip prices were able to appeal to the Dutch Parliament to get a law changed. And, they made the change in this law retroactive to 1636. It stated that any contract for tulip bulbs written after November 1636 were to be considered to be 'Option Contracts'. That means, at any time before taking delivery of the product covered under the contract, they buyer could back out of the deal, having to only pay a small fee to the seller. (no more than 10% of the contract price).
Suddenly, the rich men who lost everything in tulips didn't lose that much. And the poorer people who invested their life savings in tulips were given the shaft.
Does any of this sound familiar? Housing bubble? Banking crisis?
Anyway, life went on. People recovered from the economic devastation.
And here's the funny thing. This tulip mania? It's not the only time it happened. When the Hyacinth was introduced to Holland, the same thing happened. Not on such a grand scale, but fortunes were made and lost then as well.
Flowers, eh? Who knew? I mean, I like tulips, but, I don't like them that much.