Financial bubbles are nothing new. The first extensively recorded economic bubble was that of ‘Tulip mania’, a period in the Dutch Golden Age when contract prices for the recently introduced tulip bulbs reached dizzying heights and then suddenly collapsed. In February 1637, the date inscribed on this manuscript (TCD MS 1706), the market imploded. The breakdown began in Haarlem when buyers failed to attend a bulb auction, most probably deterred by the bubonic plague then raging in that city. The overheated market for tulips evaporated immediately although the financial crisis was restricted to a fairly small group of speculators.
TCD MS 1706 is a Tulip Catalogue from the library of Hendrik Fagel, chief minister of Holland, purchased for the College by the Erasmus Smith Charity in 1802.
The tulip depicted here, the ‘Viceroy’, was priced at 3,000 guilders, approximately ten times the annual wage of a skilled craftsman in Holland at that time.
Felicity O’ Mahony and Estelle Gittins