In the beginning of 1637 a madness seems to have overcome the Dutch. Everyone was buying tulips and the prices of bulbs were skyrocketing; even the most casual of daily conversations contained references to the prices for various strains, hybrids and colors. For a while one single tulip bulb was selling for more than ten times the annual income of an ordinary laborer. In the rising market extraordinary wealth could be accumulated in a matter of days. Soon what was bought and sold was not only tulips, but the right to buy or sell tulips at a certain price at a future date. The Dutch were seized by “tulipmania.”
Today we may associate tulips with Holland, but originally the flower grew wild in Anatolia, in today’s Turkey. In 1554, the first bulbs were sent from the Ottoman Empire to Vienna and from here the flower soon spread to Germany and the United Dutch Republic. The first attempts to grow tulips took place in Leiden in 1593 and it turned out that the flower survived well in the harsher climate of northern Europe. Soon tulips became a status symbol for members of the commercial middle classes. The flower was not only beautiful and unusual, but, given the Ottoman connection, also very exotic. When commercial cultivators entered the market, prices began to rise. This was where the speculation in the tulip market began.
The “Tulip Period” is the name commonly given to the short era, 1718-1730, when the Ottoman Empire began orienting itself towards Europe. It was a time of commercial and industrial expansion and when the first printing presses were established in Istanbul. In the Ottoman Empire too there was a tulip craze. In Ottoman court society, it was suddenly very fashionable to grow the flower, to display it in one’s home and to wear it on one’s clothes. The tulip became a common motif in architecture and fabrics. In the Ottoman Empire too prices of bulbs rose quickly and great fortunes were made and lost. This was the first commercialized fad to sweep over the caliphate and the beginnings of modern consumer culture.