When I look at Michael Lynn Adams wonderful painting of his mantle with tulips it is easy to see how these beguiling flowers became a mania. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_mania): Tulip mania or tulipomania (Dutch names include: tulpenmanie, tulpomanie, tulpenwoede, tulpengekte and bollengekte) was a period in the Dutch Golden Age during which contract prices for bulbs of the recently introduced tulip reached extraordinarily high levels and then suddenly collapsed. At the peak of tulip mania, in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. It is generally considered the first recorded speculative bubble (or economic bubble), although some researchers have noted that the Kipper- und Wipperzeit episode in 1619–22, a Europe-wide chain of debasement of the metal content of coins to fund warfare, featured mania-like similarities to a bubble. The term “tulip mania” is now often used metaphorically to refer to any large economic bubble (when asset prices deviate from intrinsic values).
The event was popularized in 1841 by the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written by British journalist Charles Mackay. According to Mackay, at one point 12 acres (5 ha) of land were offered for a Semper augustus bulb. Mackay claims that many such investors were ruined by the fall in prices, and Dutch commerce suffered a severe shock. Although Mackay’s book is a classic that is widely reprinted today, his account is contested. Many modern scholars believe that the mania was not as extraordinary as Mackay described, with some arguing that the price changes may not have constituted a bubble. Research on the tulip mania is difficult because of the limited data from the 1630s—much of which comes from biased and anti-speculative sources. Although these explanations are not generally accepted, some modern economists have proposed rational explanations, rather than a speculative mania, for the rise and fall in prices. For example, other flowers, such as the hyacinth, also had high prices on the flower’s introduction, which then fell dramatically. The high prices may also have been driven by expectations of a parliamentary decree that contracts could be voided for a small cost—thus lowering the risk to buyers.
The bicolor tulips depicted in Michaels painting chart the history of their broken coloration to The Tulip breaking virus, also known as the “Tulip break virus”, “Tulip breaking potyvirus“, “Lily streak virus”, “Tulip mosaic virus”, “Lily mottle virus”, “Lily mosaic virus”, or simply “TBV” is a plant virus that is most famous for its infection of tulips (family Liliaceae). It is widely known as a former source of influence among the price of tulip bulbs and flowers during the period of so-called “Tulip mania” in the 17th century Netherlands. The virus causes a distinctive ‘breaking’ in colour of the flower petals, resulting in pale (white or yellow) and/or dark streaks flaring up the base colour. White and yellow flowered cultivars do not display this streaking, although they still can be infected. Other symptoms include leaf mottling (sometimes) and a reduction in vigour. The virus is transmitted by aphids.
In modern times, most tulips sold with “broken” petals are the result of breeding, not the virus. There are over 3,000 registered cultivars of tulips available today.
When I lived in Wisconsin I always had a large bed of White Flower Farm’s stretch mixture of tulips which we enjoyed all spring. The wondrous variation of color, size + shapes made the wet rainy days vibrant. I would pick huge bouquets and, like Michael, allow them to grace my mantel. And, although there are southern varieties of tulips available, the winters are not so dreadful here, nor the falls so urgent in their warning and I seem to be oblivious to the need to plant huge swaths of color until I see them nodding in the florists windows, reminding me that I forgot my trowel duties, did not kneel and dig 1,200 holes and drop the fat bulbs into sleepy hibernation. Perhaps it is just as well…my knees did not take kindly to the entire operation and I do have Michael’s wonderful painting to evoke all those splendid memoires. This delightful painting can be seen at M Gallery of Fine Art 11 Broad Street Charleston or on the web in Michael’s available works album.
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