Tulips first gained popularity in Holland in 1593 when Carolus Clusius became the Head Botanist at the University of Leiden. Carolus was previ- ously stationed in Vienna, which was just next door to the Ottoman Empire. Once he moved to Leiden, Carolus wasted no time in planting the first tulip bulbs. The fame of this beautiful bloom spread rapidly and the flower was immediately popular with the upper classes.
As the tulip gained ground, competition amongst growers started to produce the most beautiful specimens. Most admired were tulips in vivid colours, which were multi- coloured or had lines, stripes and flames on the petals – ironically we now know that these variations come from a tulip specific virus and are actually imperfections. Just goes to show that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder!
Tulips became a luxury item and a status symbol. People were willing to pay vast sums of money for a single bulb and the prices rose constantly. Soon tulip mania was gripping the country. People were trying to earn their fortunes from tulips, and even sold their houses to invest in special tulip stock exchanges.
The cause of Tulip-mania
Of course this hype had to end sometime and in 1637 the market crashed, leaving most traders with not much more than a bunch of flowers. To- day, tulip mania, Tulipomania or tulip madness is a term used to refer to any large economic bub- ble that cannot last. The Dutch might be cured of this floral mania, but they do still love their tulips. Dutch tulip growers still dominate the world tulip bulb industry: they produce 4.32 billion tulip bulbs each year, 53% of which are grown into cut flowers.
The speculation in bulbs increased as people saw this as a quick and easy route to making their fortune. In 1636, stock exchanges were estab- lished to trade in bulbs and their fu- ture options. Despite attempts by the authorities to limit the craze, trade blossomed and people sold land, houses and valuable objects to in- vest in tulip bulbs. The biggest sell- ers were the Semper Augustus and Viceroy bulbs and by 1635, a sale of 100,000 florins for 40 bulbs was re- corded. This was ten times the average salary of a skilled labourer!
There was something that turned tulips into gold. Some tulips turned out to have a special quality that sent their worth through the roof. Some tulips, for no apparent reason, erupted from a solid color into a swirled, feathery bloom that was incredibly exot- ic and beautiful. No one seemed to know why any single bulb did this, and no one was able to establish a pattern for the change. The trade turned from an exchange of pricey luxury items to speculating on eagle eggs, on the understanding that sometimes, for no readily apparent reason, an egg hatched a griffin instead of an eagle.
The Tulip Virus
Tulip Breaking Virus, or mosaic virus. It was transmitted either by contact with the bulb of an infected tulip or by different spe- cies of aphids. It changes pigmentation by affecting the distribution
The virus did what viruses generally do, it killed the tulip after a few blooming seasons, driving up the price for a newly-broken bulb even higher. The virus turned tulips into lottery tickets of anthocyanin, a pigment that can appear different colors depending on the pH of its area.
Semper Augustus, pictured above, was famous for being the most expensive bulb sold during the period. It cost 13000 florins, at a time when one could get a house and garden for a third of that price.
The collapse of the market for tulips didn’t diminish the Dutch appetite for flowers – in art, at least.
Jan van Huysum’s Flowers in a Terracotta Vase 1736-37 dates from around 100 years after the end of tulip mania (Credit: Jan van Huysum)
Yet, ironically, very few flower paintings of any sort survive from the 1630s. “There really is this break in production of flower paintings in the 1630s and ’40s,” says Wieseman, “and I can’t quite explain it.” Perhaps, for a few years at least, the excesses of tulip mania, and the traumatic memories of it that fol- lowed, were so sickening for Dutch art collectors that they couldn’t stomach the idea of looking at a picture of a flower hanging on their wall.
Jan Breughel the Younger’s Satire of the Tu- lip Mania from around 1640 pokes fun at spec- ulators, depicting them as brainless monkeys
In 1945, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude for Canadians having sheltered the future Queen Juliana and her family for the preceding three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War. The most notewor- thy event during their time in Canada was the birth in 1943 of Princess Margriet at the Otta- wa Civic Hospital. The maternity ward was temporarily declared to be extraterritorial by the Canadian government, thereby allowing Princess Margriet’s citizenship to be solely influenced by her mother’s Dutch citizenship. In 1946, Juliana sent an- other 20,500 bulbs requesting that a display be created for the hospital, and promised to send 10,000 more bulbs each year.
The Tulip Festival is Albany’s signature spring event. Featuring annual tradi- tions rooted in the city’s rich Dutch heritage, nearly one hundred artisans selling their handmade crafts, a fine arts show, delicious food, the KidZone family fun destination, two stages of world-class live entertainment and more than 140,000 tulips in 150 dif- ferent varieties, the Tulip Festival is a sparkling showcase of local culture and business. It all takes place in his- toric Washington Park, the 81-acre “crown jewel” of the City
Albany Tulip Festival
Around 1883, George Gibbs, an immi- grant from England moved to Orcas Island, where he began to grow ap- ples and hazelnuts. Nine years lat- er, he purchased five dollars worth of flower bulbs to grow, and when he dug them up a couple years later and saw how they had multiplied, re- alized the potential for bulb growing in the Puget Sound region. He con- tacted Dutch growers in Holland to learn about the business, only to find the Dutch to be highly secretive about their commercial practices. However, when he shipped off a few a bulbs to Holland, the impressed Dutch growers traveled to Orcas Island to see for themselves how tulips could grow out- side Holland.
In 1899, Gibbs wrote to the United States Department of Agriculture re- garding the commercial prospects of bulb growing in the region, and they took interest. In 1905, they sent Gibbs 15,000 imported bulbs from Holland to grow as an experiment, under a con- tract. The experiment was so successful that the United States Department of Agriculture established their own 10-acre test garden around Belling- ham in 1908, which proved successful enough for the Bellingham Tulip Festival to begin in 1920 to showcase and celebrate the success of the bulb industry.