Contrary to popular thought, tulips didn’t originate in the Netherlands. They arrived as gifts from the Sultan of Turkey just as the Netherlands, enriched by its hugely profitable East Indies trade, was embarking on its Golden Age. Eager to show off their wealth, merchants built estates with luxurious gardens that showcased this dazzling new flower – the tulip. And not just any old plain Jane yellow or white tulips. No. THE tulips to grandly display were the exotic, flamboyant, two colored variety. White with dazzling flames of richest reds, pinks and purples, they were prized for both their beauty and rarity.
Expensive to begin with, they were given exalted names such as “Admiral of Admirals” and “Alexander the Great” and quickly began to sky rocket in price. At the height of Tulip Mania in the Spring of 1637, some coveted single tulip buds were selling for more than 10 times the annual income of skilled tradesmen.
As it turns out the unique, striated beauty of these tulips was caused by a virus. Known as Mosaic Virus, this non-lethal virus broke tulip colors into two or more hues.
The peak of the tulip mania bubble came during the winter of 1636-37. In what had become a wild tulip futures market, some bulbs were changing hands over ten times a day. But no deliveries were ever made to fulfill those contracts. In February, stunned speculators across the Netherlands watched the tulip market collapse. Buyers had shriveled up and disappeared, taking with them dead pipe dreams of getting rich on sick flowers.
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