Portrait of Kuiper with red and yellow striped tulips.


Kuiper attempts to blend in with some brindle tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival.

Did you know that in the early 1600s, striped tulips went viral, both literally and figuratively?

In 1593, botanist Carolus Clusius planted some tulips in a university garden in Leidan, thereby introducing them to the Dutch public. He was conducting a research project to see if he could figure out what made some of the flowers stripey. Carolus was happy to share his bulbs with other scientists, but didn’t have enough to share with the growing throng of visitors. Midnight tulip pilfering ensued.

Partially thanks to an overall increase in disposable income, tulip popularity grew over the next several decades. Around 1634, people began trading in tulip futures. You would sign an contract in October when the bulbs were planted, agreeing to pay the farmer for them the following May when they were dug up. The contracts themselves could be bought and sold.

As market prices rose, especially for the rarer (i.e. striped) varieties, people figured they could get rich quick by buying the contracts and re-selling them at higher prices. In a span of 3 months from Nov 1636 to Feb 1637, the price increased by 20x. This sounds insane, but it’s not.┬áIn November, the folks in charge had converted the contracts into options. All of a sudden, if you didn’t think you’d be able to make a profit, you could choose to break your contract for a small fraction of what you would have paid for the tulips.

Naturally, it was assumed that most people would break their contracts, so farmers needed to make sure that the fee for breaking the contract would cover their costs. Since the fee was a percentage of the price, prices skyrocketed. This more or less guaranteed that everyone would break their contract, and the whole system fell apart between Feb and May.

On the more literal side, unlike the stripey varieties we have today which we’ve created with selective breeding, the original brindle tulips were a side effect of the Tulip Breaking Virus. Although it made gorgeous brindly flowers, it also made the plants degenerate, so the varieties most prized during the tulip bubble no longer exist.

Original post: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bhne2sBApPf/

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