Monday, April 14, 2008


click photo to enlarge
"Nobles, citizens, farmers, mechanics, seamen, footmen, maid servants, even chimney sweeps and old clothes women dabbled in tulips."
from "Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay (1814-1889), Scottish poet, journalist and song-writer

The present turmoil in the financial markets demonstrates that mass delusion is a recurring feature of mankind. Today's fantasy infects not just financiers, bankers and politicians, but the general public, and hinges on the belief that we can lend and spend money that we don't possess without any adverse consequences ensuing. In his book of 1841, noted above, Charles Mackay wrote about a number of delusions of his day and earlier, including The Mississippi Scheme, The South Sea Bubble and Tulipomania. Looking at today's money markets and reading through Mackay's work one is reminded of the cynical saying about the value of history: "the one thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history"!

Tulipomania centred around the growing of tulips in the United Provinces (now the Netherlands). This began following the introduction of the bulbs into the country from Turkey in 1593. Such was the interest in the bulbs that they became a coveted luxury item and status symbol. Exotic colours were bred and named after famous Dutch admirals. The price of bulbs rocketed. In 1635 40 bulbs sold for 100,000 florins: this at a time when a ton of butter cost only 100 florins. Individuals could make so much money through tulips that speculation began, with people selling contracts for bulbs not planted. Eventually the bubble burst and many were ruined. Tulipomania is widely thought to have precipitated the economic depression that affected the Low Countries in subsequent years. All this sounds very familiar in the light of the 1990s "dotcom" crash and the current falling house prices precipitated by reckless lending and borrowing.

Today's image is of some rather humble tulips that cost very little to buy and nurture. I intercepted them as they journeyed between my garden and the living room, and set the Wedgwood Queen's Ware vase up in front of a black background for a still life photograph. The trick in making tulips stand up (rather than flop as they are inclined to do) is to push a pin through each flower stalk. But I wanted them to arch a little, so these are pre-pin-prick tulips!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f16.0
Shutter Speed: 1.6
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -2.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off