PRETTY FLOWER, BAD BOOK

TULIPMANIA

Mark Dash

At best this is a book of anecdotes involving tulips, where they came from, prized possessions in the early Ottoman Empire, becoming known in Western Europe, etc. The last 120 pages deal with Holland. Chapter 14, Goddess of Whores, tells about the cultural effects in Holland of the flower. Separating that chapter, the book reveals it is arranged as a subject history of the years 1620-1640, while the tulip boom and bust occurred. Yet there is no mention of the Thirty Years War raging in Middle Europe, a war involving the Dutch and ended with them getting their independence in 1648.

It is never fully explained why tulips only had the boom and bust in Holland – not in Germany, not in France, not in England, not in the regions we know as Luxembourg and Belgium. Found in the middle of the book is text stating that the rules of order and regulation, then existing in Dutch markets, did not govern; most of the tulip traders were amateurs. Yet many of the people were wealthy or well-off. How was trading? Many deals were barter. There is no description of the barter economy in seventeenth century Holland. Where there advantages of bartering rather than using cash? E.g. there were no notifications, no license fees, no property exchange fees, no taxes. No one knows because the text is thin and supercilious.

Also undeveloped is the idea that tulip trading was not done by persons educated and trained in markets. There are suggestions about how the ignorant set up markets, but there is no market analysis. In Holland what were the social effects of someone winning with tulips? Was he or his family accepted as rich. A reviewer noted the book tells about greed, but only in a societal sense: Everyone was greedy – not this person was greedy. The mere fact that an individual speculates does not mean he is greedy. Finally, there is no satisfactory, coherent telling of the effect of tulip mania in Holland.

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