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Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age

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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 d 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.             “Goldgar tells us at the start of her excellent debunking book: ‘Most of what we have heard of [tulipmania] is not true.’. . . She tells a new story.”—Simon Kuper, Financial Times


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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 d 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.             “Goldgar tells us at the start of her excellent debunking book: ‘Most of what we have heard of [tulipmania] is not true.’. . . She tells a new story.”—Simon Kuper, Financial Times

30 review for Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age

  1. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Johnston

    Not a light read, but a damn interesting one. Goldgar argues that the scholarly work on the 1637 'tulip mania' in Holland has been based on a small number of translations of a equally small number of pieces of propaganda/satirical writing. This has skewed the understanding of the events and personalities of the period, and vastly skewed the popular understanding, where tulip mania is used as an easy metaphor for the failings of the capitalist system in a boom and bust environment. Phew. Goldgar sl Not a light read, but a damn interesting one. Goldgar argues that the scholarly work on the 1637 'tulip mania' in Holland has been based on a small number of translations of a equally small number of pieces of propaganda/satirical writing. This has skewed the understanding of the events and personalities of the period, and vastly skewed the popular understanding, where tulip mania is used as an easy metaphor for the failings of the capitalist system in a boom and bust environment. Phew. Goldgar slowly unravels the collecting culture that existed in Holland in the late 1500s and early 1600s, and the practices of liefhebbers (flower lovers) which were aligned to those of art and curiotsity collectors (this was also the era of the birth of the wunderkammer, the carefully curated and beautifully displayed private collections of natural and man-made wonders). She then equally carefully unravels the activities of the tulip collectors and traders - that they often lived in close proximity, worked in similar business, were often related or tied closely through their interests and businesses. A single individual might grow bulbs, sell them, witness the sale and delivery of other bulbs, vocuh for one side or the other in disputes about bulbs, commission artworks and name specific flowers (interestingly, this was the time at which Dutch citiziens began not only to name different types of tulips, but to assume consistent first and surnames for themselves). Goldgar's careful research leads to findings that create a lot of shading of the black and white lines of the common tale of tulip mania. Yes, prices did climb steeply and drop off. But the trade was confined to a relatively small and close-knit circle - certainly not the farmers, candlestick makers, princes and chimney sweeps satiricised in popular songs - and only one person who traded in bulbs went bankrupt near the Feb 1637 "crisis". Without wanting to go into screeds of detail, the book reminded me how facile my understanding is of so much of the world and it's history. It also underlined to me the danger of using analogies or cliches to explain complex and nuanced situations - the risk you run of people thinking they understand the circumstances, but actually standing on a very thin veneer of understanding.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Radnor

    The author shares her exhaustive research into tulip-mania and debunks it. On one hand the points are interesting, but the exhaustive detail turns it into a slog at times as you wade through the lives of the people who were involved in the investment bubble, and their motivations. The author however does do a good job of making you understand how times were different, and what these flowers meant to the collectors. Tulips at the time fell into the same category as works of art (the whole concept The author shares her exhaustive research into tulip-mania and debunks it. On one hand the points are interesting, but the exhaustive detail turns it into a slog at times as you wade through the lives of the people who were involved in the investment bubble, and their motivations. The author however does do a good job of making you understand how times were different, and what these flowers meant to the collectors. Tulips at the time fell into the same category as works of art (the whole concept of growing a garden of flowers was a relatively new thing, and tulips were an import from Asia and therefore not unlike orchids today). The mania was that of the collector of things rare and beautiful, only with a tulip what bloomed one year might not pop up the next year looking the same, and when the bulb splits the 'child' might not resemble the parent, which created all sorts of problems between buyers and sellers. Additionally a community that had been built utterly on trust (dutch cities had been organized into social subsets based on high trust relationships) were shifting at this same time to one of commodities and contracts, and the reordering of the social structure that made people uncomfortable. While people did get hurt in the crash, no one actually went bankrupt who hadn't already shown a tendency towards economic irresponsibility, and the whole affair was ultimately overblown and distorted. However, that said, the book does tend to ramble on, I think she could have made the argument just as well with 1/2 the pages

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lynne

    Very well done. A must to read if visiting the Netherlands. It has tons of detail that can turn off readers, but I found it fascinating. The author has done some extensive research and convincingly proves her thesis.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Tulipmania in the Netherlands has become a cautionary tale of economic bubbles and fad crazes, but was it really as described in the _Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds_? Goldgar actually goes to the Dutch sources to find out, and uncovers that instead of an all-consuming mania for people from all walks of life as depicted in Mackay, the tulip trade functioned like other luxury trades in the 17th century Netherlands. An interconnected network of families (many Mennonites) Tulipmania in the Netherlands has become a cautionary tale of economic bubbles and fad crazes, but was it really as described in the _Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds_? Goldgar actually goes to the Dutch sources to find out, and uncovers that instead of an all-consuming mania for people from all walks of life as depicted in Mackay, the tulip trade functioned like other luxury trades in the 17th century Netherlands. An interconnected network of families (many Mennonites) with ties to the Ottoman trade and agricultural science, dealt in bulbs like they dealt in any product--with regulation, contracts, auction rules, small claims courts, mediation and diversified investment, as well as took great care to document, name and study their new prizes. The bubble did burst in 1637, but there is a single bankruptcy reported (most of the debt for land) and the market went on in a corrected form. So why the popular delusion? 1637 also saw an outbreak of plague, profound anxiety about the Thirty Years' War, insecurity about newcomers to the urban business landscape and religious doubts about lotteries, stock futures and risky investing. Pamphlets found the tulip bubble to be a perfect metaphor and published widely on the trade as a ruiner of people and fortunes, which later scholars took unthinkingly as the whole truth. When in doubt, untangle the account books.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Excellent examination of this 17th century phenomenon. Puts to rest much of the mythology and hyperbole surrounding stories about tulipmania. Puts bulb trading in context, as an "on the side" activity of merchants, doctors and skilled artisans who were drawn to the tulip for its beauty and rarity as well as its role as a valuable commodity. Sees tulipmania less as an economic crisis --it wasn't -- and more as evidence of a crisis in Dutch society. A nuanced and thoroughly documented work. Excellent examination of this 17th century phenomenon. Puts to rest much of the mythology and hyperbole surrounding stories about tulipmania. Puts bulb trading in context, as an "on the side" activity of merchants, doctors and skilled artisans who were drawn to the tulip for its beauty and rarity as well as its role as a valuable commodity. Sees tulipmania less as an economic crisis --it wasn't -- and more as evidence of a crisis in Dutch society. A nuanced and thoroughly documented work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alexis Kaelin

    Terrific. What is value? How do we know? How can you trust others? What a fabulous book. Goldgar tackles the intersection of commerce, value, knowledge, science, art, nature, religion and culture and pulls it all off beautifully. I'm sad it is over. And what did she title the Epilogue? Cabbage Fever. Terrific. What is value? How do we know? How can you trust others? What a fabulous book. Goldgar tackles the intersection of commerce, value, knowledge, science, art, nature, religion and culture and pulls it all off beautifully. I'm sad it is over. And what did she title the Epilogue? Cabbage Fever.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mantrogo

    Anne Goldgar has written an exceptional book. The title of the book might suggest that this would be yet another description of the those first few months of 1637 in Holland with the usual stories of bankrupted chimney sweeps and grasping swindlers. This is not one of those books. Quite to the contrary, Goldgar demolishes all of those myths with great scholarship and wit. But more importantly, we have a meticulously researched social history of the rising passion and delight for the tulip that sh Anne Goldgar has written an exceptional book. The title of the book might suggest that this would be yet another description of the those first few months of 1637 in Holland with the usual stories of bankrupted chimney sweeps and grasping swindlers. This is not one of those books. Quite to the contrary, Goldgar demolishes all of those myths with great scholarship and wit. But more importantly, we have a meticulously researched social history of the rising passion and delight for the tulip that she uses to shine a mirror on the connections between individuals and groups in seventeenth century Holland. It bears reading along with Deborah Harkness's The Jewel House that also serves to illuminate how science and natural history formed complex interconnections of people that - in many cases - crossed usual social barriers. One of the greatest reading delights of my 2019 came right at the end. Highly recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Luis

    Meandering but informative This is, essentially, an extended argument that the tulip bubble was overblown; and more of a rhetorical device than an actual crisis. The argument is persuasive, but also could have used a stronger editorial hand: this is, itself, a long pamphlet, not a book. Still, an interesting read in a time of new bubbles (and moral judgements).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hettie

    This book was well-written, it just wasn't really for me This book was well-written, it just wasn't really for me

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    This book re-examines the Tulip bubble of 1636-7. Its premise is that everything we all have read in "Extraordinary Popular Delusions", in Burton Malkiel, and elsewhere is based on flawed documents. All of these derive from a single 18th century source (or from MacKay who used this same source) that drew its information from 17th century pamphlets. The pamphlets were written with didactic or moralizing intent rather than as actual history. They exaggerated the spread of the speculation in societ This book re-examines the Tulip bubble of 1636-7. Its premise is that everything we all have read in "Extraordinary Popular Delusions", in Burton Malkiel, and elsewhere is based on flawed documents. All of these derive from a single 18th century source (or from MacKay who used this same source) that drew its information from 17th century pamphlets. The pamphlets were written with didactic or moralizing intent rather than as actual history. They exaggerated the spread of the speculation in society and its economic impacts of the Dutch economy. The book asserts that the Tulipmania we all know never really happened. There was a rise in prices, but the trade was confined to a fairly small community of traders with a high concentration within the Mennonite religious sect. The records indicate few bankruptcies resulting from the collapse in prices. The plague in Holland in 1636 led to inherited wealth and a new attitude toward earthly pleasure also encouraged the bubble. One interesting financial aspect to the actual trade is that for seven months of the year, the bulbs stay in the ground. The trade depended heavily on forward markets and prices. That is why the collapse led to some problems of honor among the merchants - with a forward contract the temptation to renege is high when prices fall. There is also the problem we saw in the repo fails situation in 2008 when contracts are daisy-chained; one failure to deliver disrupts an entire series of trades. The book can be a bit of a long read. Goldgar, the author, is fairly detailed on the development of tulips as objects of beauty, for the newly prosperous merchant class of Holland in the Golden Age. She goes then into the society that engaged in the tulip trade and how small this group was and how disputes were settled. Finally the book begins to address the tulip market. The main point is that the pamphlets that misled later readers reflected uncertainty about the new social mobility, the rise of new classes and the impact on traditional notions such as value and honor made all the more severe by the stress of dishonored contracts. In the end, however, such revisionist history is satisfying. It makes more sense of what is usually cited as simply the madness of crowds.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    I wrote my extended essay on tulipmania and this was by far the most thorough and authoritative book that I could find. Refusing to be caught up in the excitement of the story (like others such as Dash do), Goldgar looks at "tulipmania" in a methodical and historical way. She questions, like any good historian should, the primary source data from which we have drawn so much about the story and in doing so paints a much more realistic picture of the crisis. This book is for those who want an hones I wrote my extended essay on tulipmania and this was by far the most thorough and authoritative book that I could find. Refusing to be caught up in the excitement of the story (like others such as Dash do), Goldgar looks at "tulipmania" in a methodical and historical way. She questions, like any good historian should, the primary source data from which we have drawn so much about the story and in doing so paints a much more realistic picture of the crisis. This book is for those who want an honest recount of the story, not an entertaining fallacy. As a result, it is a bit dry (hence why I only gave it 3 stars; not 4).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Trenchologist

    Definitely comprehensive but so dense. Too dense. There's a lot in the takeaway; I understand tulipmania in context, and historically, so much better. But I found myself skimming, skipping, and reading paragraph and chapter ends to catch the distillation of the thesis and conclusions. For that, it's well researched and a solid argument for turning the stereotyped notion of what tulipmania was, what it caused, and its ripple effects. With beautiful illustrations. There was just a lot to wade throu Definitely comprehensive but so dense. Too dense. There's a lot in the takeaway; I understand tulipmania in context, and historically, so much better. But I found myself skimming, skipping, and reading paragraph and chapter ends to catch the distillation of the thesis and conclusions. For that, it's well researched and a solid argument for turning the stereotyped notion of what tulipmania was, what it caused, and its ripple effects. With beautiful illustrations. There was just a lot to wade through presented in too compact a space. I can see the breaking the book down into more discrete chapters and lessening the reiterations greatly aiding to smooth the read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    An account of one of the first recorded economic bubbles. However, the book was, for my tastes overly technical. I would have been far more interested in a more social history instead of this intersection of art history and economics. The most interesting sections dealt with the individuals caught up in the economic boom and crash. They were too few and much too long between.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tamsen

    I'm excited to read this book. I love tulips, grow tulips, & seek to find and plant rare varieties of tulips. Tulips in Holland were traded much as we trade on the stock market today. The first were thought to be like a radish or a turnip, & the Dutch ate them. I'm excited to read this book. I love tulips, grow tulips, & seek to find and plant rare varieties of tulips. Tulips in Holland were traded much as we trade on the stock market today. The first were thought to be like a radish or a turnip, & the Dutch ate them.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kendall

    so far i'd call this book very ...helpful. i've learned more than i maybe cared to know but do appreciate the author's take on history and how she always manages to keep it contextualized. and she signed it while we were in amsterdam to boot. so far i'd call this book very ...helpful. i've learned more than i maybe cared to know but do appreciate the author's take on history and how she always manages to keep it contextualized. and she signed it while we were in amsterdam to boot.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Belice

    The Dutch Golden Age during the Early Modern period in Europe. Good place to be if you happen to have a sachtel of tulip bulbs handy!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Although it's densely written, with far more detail than most would ever want to know, this is fascinating history. Although it's densely written, with far more detail than most would ever want to know, this is fascinating history.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Catharine

    More supporting documentation than necessary for my level of interest, but a worthy and mostly enjoyable read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Staceyq8

    Interesting overview of the Netherlands and the real story behind the Tulip craze in the 1600's Interesting overview of the Netherlands and the real story behind the Tulip craze in the 1600's

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I read this book while researching a paper on the tulip bubble. It was an enjoyable read - and it changed the way I look at a simple bulb.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nina Pantelic

  22. 4 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michiel Leeuwenberg

  25. 5 out of 5

    Apriel

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marcia DeHaan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Fartnoise Fartnoise junior

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bev Knudsen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joe Petri

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