The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused

Topkapi Palace
An Admirael van der Eijck, one of the
most expensive Rosen varieties

No traveller passing through the Netherlands in the autumn of 1636, at the height of the country’s Golden Age, could have failed to notice the hysteria pervading the place. Thousands of people from almost every walk of life were caught up in a literal frenzy of buying and selling.

The object of this unprecedented speculation was the tulip, a delicate and exotic bloom newly imported from the East. The flower bewitched horticulturalists, who discovered they could coax ever more wonderful varieties from it, and found favour with the Dutch – who grew tulips in their gardens and featured them in many of the gorgeous paintings which still define the period for us today.

It was not long before speculators noticed that demand for the most beautiful flowers was pushing up their price. A trade in tulips soon evolved, and for almost a year rare bulbs changed hands for incredible and ever-increasing sums. At the height of the craze, single flowers were being sold for more than the cost of a house.

Fortunes were made overnight, but then lost when, without warning, the market collapsed – with disastrous consequences.

Tulipomania vividly recreates this bizarre episode in European history, tracing the tulip’s story from its origins on the Turkish steppes to its arrival in Europe. Beautifully evoking Holland’s Golden Age, it weaves the very human stories of those caught up in the bulb trade into the tale of one of the most formative episodes in economic history (the bulb trade was one of the most formative episodes in economic history). The book assembles a colourful cast of characters, from Ottoman sultans to Dutch vagabonds – men and women who had just one thing in common: the obsession known as tulipomania.