The tulip has been around for a long time.  It’s been called the holiest of flowers, the herald of spring, an aphrodisiac.  The tulip inevitably pops up during any investigation of early American  pottery, an entire branch of which is often called “Tulip Ware.”  Of all the floral motifs available to the potter, the tulip is one of my favorites.  Particularly the more stylized versions.  Some are hardly recognizable, almost cosmic.  But there’s another reason why I appreciate the tulip motif.

In 1570 tulips were introduced into Holland after a long journey from the northern Himalayas via Persia and Ottoman Turkey.  These were not the tulips of today.  They carried a certain virus that caused radical deformation and discoloration, resulting in blooms of singularly fascinating qualities.  The Dutch had never seen anything like it.  They began trading bulbs with genealogies of particularly spectacular blooms.  Higher and higher prices were paid.  Rather than wait for a bloom to evolve, speculators began trading on the bulb’s expected merits.

A futures market evolved.  What was traded was not the bulb, or even the note certifying that a bloom to be was of a particular genus, but on the value attached to the note.  Then on the value attached to the value of the note.  The bulb itself had long since bloomed and died off, if it ever existed at all.  Fortunes were amassed and spent.  All on credit.  The market for bulb futures notes grew into a Tulip Craze of mammoth proportions.

Is this story beginning to sound familiar?  Would any Dutch trader of the time have difficulty jumping into the Derivatives Market of 2008?  There was easy money to be made.  Just wrap a seductive image around a potent lure such as greed, and it is easy to see how far things can go.  It was the world’s first stock market bubble.

The end came on February 1, 1637.  At a market in Haarlem (tulip “markets” were conducted in taverns) a note was put on the block.  Nobody bid.  An awkward silence followed.  In minutes, everyone in the room was frantically trying to sell.  By the end of the week, the Dutch Tulip Market evaporated.  The economy crashed, leaving a wake of devastation…

I love the tulip motif.  I appreciate it’s formal qualities, and it’s iconography.  But most of all, I keep it at the forefront of motifs I employ as a sort of reminder.  Even if only to myself.

Try not to get too carried away.

tulip 12

TulipoMania.  Mike Dash.  Crown Publishers/New York. 1999.

Tulip Ware of the Pennsylvania-German Potters.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  Dover Publications/New York.  1926.

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3 Responses to “Tulips”

  1. lucyfagellapottery Says:

    Steve, This is great… I’m loving all the history!!

  2. Hats off to Mr. Neesz « This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] defined  late 18th – early 19th century Bucks and Montgomery County PA Germanic “tulip wares.”  Flowers, people and animals that no sane person could get tired of looking at were paired […]

  3. Get Your Blue Dash Up | This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] chargers were complimentary to the Stuarts, nor were decorative themes confined to politics.  Tulips might nod to the House of Stuart but a wide range of floral patterns are boldly splayed across many […]

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