“Holland” is the theme of the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show, but did you know that hundreds of years ago that country was in a state of unrest over its celebrated tulips?

It’s referred to as tulipmania, or “tulipomania” by some.

“I find tulipmania is easier to say,” says Janet Evans, the associate director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s McLean Library and curator of a special Flower Show exhibit on what may have been one of the world’s first documented speculative economic bubbles.

“Bank of America is proud to be the exclusive sponsor of the 2017 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, ‘Holland: Flowering the World,’” says Jim Dever, Philadelphia market president, Bank of America. “Our exhibit on the show floor explores the rich history of the Dutch floral industry and the exciting chapter known as ‘Tulipmania.”

Among the items in the tulipmania exhibit are reproductions of satirical pamphlets circulated by 1630s Dutch moralists about the foolishness of, for example, trading a house for three tulip bulbs; artwork lampooning the greed and vanity that fueled tulipmania; digital portrait reproductions of highly coveted tulips, including varieties with white striped petals that the unsuspecting public did not know were actually diseased plants; and other pieces of the tulipmania story.

“It’ll be visually pretty striking,” Evans says.

According to Evans, the prosperity of the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century brought in seashells, spices from Asia, American tobacco and a certain flower that was more intensely colorful than any that were native to Europe at that time. The tulip became a collectable and a sought-after status symbol, causing prices of the bulbs to soar.

“It’s very hard to imagine. But if you see it was considered rare, it makes sense,” Evans says. “[Traders] assigned these hierarchies — what was rare, what was very rare.”

The tulip bubble of 1634-1637 burst, and the values returned to normalcy. However, unlike what some historians had previously written about tulipmania leading to a national economic collapse, “not that many people were bankrupt over it,” Evans said, citing several recent books she’s read on that part of the Netherlands’ history.

“It was more of a social crisis than an economic crisis,” she says of buyers who endured the embarrassment that came from overpaying or skipping out on their payments.

Contradicting what had been written about tulipmania in the past, Evans learned the trading tended to be in urban areas, rather than in rural areas, and most of the traders involved tended to be merchants, traders in other commodities, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, and skilled artisans such as brewers or bakers.

“Gardeners love novelty — they always have. And there are rare plant auctions even to this day,” Evans says.

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