In the 1630s the Netherlands was gripped by tulipmania: a speculative fever unprecedented in scale and, as popular history would have it, folly. We all know the outline of the story-how otherwise sensible merchants, nobles, and artisans spent all they had (and much that they didn't) on tulip bulbs. We have heard how these bulbs changed hands hundreds of times in a single day, and how some bulbs, sold and resold for thousands of guilders, never even existed. Tulipmania is seen as an example of the gullibility of crowds and the dangers of financial speculation.
But it wasn't like that. As Anne Goldgar reveals in Tulipmania, not one of these stories is true. Making use of extensive archival research, she lays waste to the legends, revealing that while the 1630s did see a speculative bubble in tulip prices, neither the height of the bubble nor its bursting were anywhere near as dramatic as we tend to think. By clearing away the accumulated myths, Goldgar is able to show us instead the far more interesting reality: the ways in which tulipmania reflected deep anxieties about the transformation of Dutch society in the Golden Age. She shows how Dutch citizens became enchanted by the combination of art and science that made up a tulip bulb, and how experts in tulips appeared in communities of merchants and craftsmen. She also illustrates vividly how the plague, the concerns of capitalism, and the loss of trust among individuals in a rapidly changing society combined to create the cultural crisis that was tulipmania.
Throughout this bracing history, Goldgar writes elegantly about everything from intellectual communities to the economics of speculation to the beauty of tulips themselves. Far more than simply dispelling myths, Tulipmania brings the Dutch Golden Age to life.
List of Illustrations
One: Something Strange
Two: Art & Flowers
Four: Grieving Money
Five: Bad Faith
Epilogue: Cabbage Fever
A Note on Money
Anne Goldgar is a reader in early modern history at King's College London. She is the author of Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters, 1680-1750.
"Tulipmania is in every way a model of historical scholarship, an exemplary piece of historical craftsmanship. Every page is rife with rich human detail, and Goldgar's lively and elegant style carries the reader, enthusiasm and curiosity undimmed, to the stimulating conclusion. Above all, this is revisionist history of the best kind."
- Anthony Grafton, Princeton University
"This is wonderful book, beautifully written and sustained by archival scholarship of the highest order. Its devastating and original demolition of the myth of Tulip mania, the fineness of historical judgment and the painstaking reconstructions so effortlessly conveyed on the page make it a pleasure to read."
- John Brewer, author of A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century
"Anne Goldgar's scholarly sleuthing gives a whole new look to the 1630s tulipmania in the Netherlands.The bulb buyers and sellers were good middle-class merchants, not so far removed from knowledgeable connoisseurs and art-lovers. The crash in prices undermined not the economy, but people's confidence in honor and good judgment. Delightfully written, Tulipmania turns the exaggerations of a media event into an exploration of early modern values and anxieties."
- Natalie Zemon Davis
"A standard reference for all historians whenever they deal with this episode in Dutch financial history."
- Larry Neal, EH.Net
"What Anne Goldgar does in her provocative and lively new book is convincingly cast all of these existing narratives into questions. Drawing on extensive research in a wide range of archives [...] she shows that the tulip boom, far from representing a case of mass irrationality, was actually the product of intellectual, familial, and commercial networks among a relatively small and prosperous subset of Dutch burghers [...] [The book] serves not only to rewrite a fascinating historical event, but to shed considerable light on the history or early modern commerce and culture more generally."
- Alix Cooper, Renaissance Quarterly
"A brilliant young spoilsport of a historian [...] decided to examine the evidence rather than buy the legend [...] This book is a gem. Elegantly and lucidly written, it debunks the myth of tulipmania once and for all."
- Richard Mawrey, Historic Gardens Review
"In my view it is a wonderful and delightfully written book offering a totally new slant on the tulipmania in the Netherlands in the 1630s, when the bottom dropped out of the tulip bulb market in just a few days' time."
- M.M.G. Fase, De Economist
"A meticulously researched study of the phenomenon that challenges all of the previously held ideas about the extent of this bubble. There can be no doubt that this well-written and engaging book will become the standard reference on the topic for years to come."
- Donald J. Harreld, H-Net Reviews
"Goldgar's book establishes a new benchmark – the first since 1637 – for interpretations of the tulip mania. It largely fulfills its ambitious interdisciplinary agenda, bringing to life the world of the seventeenth-century floristes."
- Jan de Vries, American Historical Review
"As Anne Goldgar gently informs us in the beginning of her absorbing book, most of what we 'know' about tulip mania is pure fiction."
- Ingrid D. Rowland, New Republic
"Goldgar persuasively demolishes most of the myths and exaggerations surrounding this affair [...] [She] treats it as a microhistorical lens through which we can learn much about the society and culture of the young Dutch Republic [...] Cultural history at its best."
- Christine Kooi, Sixteenth Century Journal
"Goldgar's research can hardly be bettered [...] [The] book is the most authioritative study on the subject and it will be the statutory starting point for fresh research."
- Karel Davids, The Historian
"Goldgar's examination of the role of value and the new ways social status, trust, and expertise interacted in judgments concerning value in a mercantile culture should have important repercussions for the history of science, art, economic thought, social history, and studies of the emerging public sphere."
- Vera Keller, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
"Goldgar's book is much more than just a deconstruction of popular myth in history; it is a magnificent reconstruction of the mentality of the upper middle class in the Dutch Republic [...] A fascinating and indeed convincing reconstruction of the tulip craze. It is well-researched, beautifully written and splendidly produced."
- Klaas van Berkel, European History Quarterly