Vase of Flowers by Jan Davidsz. de Heem
Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Vase of Flowers, c. 1660, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Fund 1961.6.1
 

Incredible as it may seem, the first speculation crisis in modern capitalism arose over the Dutch love of tulips. At the height of "tulipomania," one could have purchased a lifetime of goods—seventy-seven tons of grain, four oxen, eight pigs, twelve sheep, two tons of butter, three tons of cheese, a good supply of wine and beer, a bed, and a new wardrobe—for less than the cost of a single rare bulb.

Tulip bulbs could not be sold in the winter and spring when they were planted in the ground, and speculators began to trade them on paper. All levels of society bought into the market, becoming paper millionaires. A selling panic in February 1637 sent prices crashing. Growers, and quite a few buyers, were ruined. Though the economy as a whole remained strong, the tulip became symbolic of the perils of excess.

Vase of Flowers by Jan Davidsz. de Heem
Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Vase of Flowers (detail)

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