CHAPTER 14

Goddess of Whores

No one in the United Provinces loved tulips more than Claes Pietersz. of Amsterdam, who was probably the most fashionable physician in the whole of the republic. Other men might grow the flower, trade it, and even make their fortunes from it. Pietersz. changed his name because of it. He became, quite literally, Dr. Tulip.

Claes Pietersz. began styling himself Nicolaes Tulp (the Dutch word for the flower) in 1621, when tulips were just coming into vogue among the wealthiest and most discerning members of the regent class. He used the flower as a personal emblem too. When he was elected an alderman of Amsterdam in 1622 and had to choose a coat of arms, Tulp had his shield adorned with a delicate, scarlet-flamed Rosen tulip. His alderman’s seal stamped a red wax flower on the hundreds of official documents to which he gave his approval. And when he returned home after a long day in the service of the city, it was to a painting of the tulip—one of the finest of the fabulous Admiraels, it was said—that adorned a signboard swinging to and fro over the front door of his fashionable house on the Prinsengracht.

In time, young Dr. Tulp (he was in his late twenties when he changed his name) rose to a position of great eminence. He became a friend of Rembrandt’s and was the subject of one of the painter’s most celebrated canvases, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, which shows him as a distinguished surgeon busily dissecting the body of a recently executed criminal. Contemporaries knew Tulp as a botanist, a vigorous promoter of the medicinal benefits of tea—which he prescribed as an antidote to lassitude and cramps—and a successful politician who was four times burgomaster of Amsterdam. He was also a notoriously stern Calvinist, whose principled disdain for the intoxicated revels that were traditional at even the loftiest of Dutch weddings led him to sponsor a piece of legislation for which he is still occasionally remembered today: Amsterdam’s “sumptuary law” of 1655, which made it an offense for wedding feasts to involve more than fifty guests or last longer than two days.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Dr. Tulp instinctively hated the drunken excesses of the tavern colleges. In private he remained a connoisseur until the end of his long life; indeed in 1652, on the occasion of his retirement from the surgeons’ guild, he presented a silver beaker in the shape of a tulip, with a lizard climbing its stem, to his old colleagues and asked that in the future it be used to propose the final toast at the guild’s numberless banquets. But in public, after 1637, Nicolaes Tulp preferred not to be associated with the famous flower with which he shared his name. The sign outside the house in the Prinsengracht came down, the coat of arms was less prominently displayed. Dr. Tulip felt ashamed of the excesses of the tulip mania.

There were many who shared Tulp’s sentiments. Adolphus Vorstius, the professor who occupied Clusius’s old chair of botany at the University of Leiden and lectured twice each week in the hortus there on the properties of its plants and herbs, came to despise the vulgarity of the traders and their hysteria for bulbs and took to destroying every tulip he came across, hacking away at the flowers with a staff. Even outsiders who had taken no part in the mania themselves often shared the connoisseurs’ low opinions of the florists. During the final stages of the bulb craze, many ordinary people began to refer derisively to the members of the tavern colleges as “kappists.” This was a considerable affront; for the Dutchmen of the Golden Age, the name summoned up the image of a fool clad in a jester’s cap.

Not all the critics of the tulip mania confined themselves to jokes and insults. Some, particularly the more religious members of Dutch society, took an altogether sterner view, accusing bulb dealers of casting aside the Christian principles of charity and moderation. Even before the final collapse of the market for tulips, a number of the most vociferous opponents of the mania had gone into print with their criticisms of the bulb trade. Their medium was the pamphlet, and beginning in the final months of 1636, presses throughout Holland poured forth a flood of broadsides on the subject of the flower craze.

Most of these productions were ribald satires. With few exceptions their central character was the Roman goddess Flora, who had always been the most licentious of deities. According to her myth, Flora had been a notorious courtesan in the earliest days of Rome, who left so much of her immoral earnings to the city when she died that the grateful Romans deified her. She became both the goddess of flowers and the protector of prostitutes, and Dutch pamphleteers delighted in nothing more than drawing obvious parallels between the Roman whore and the valuable tulips that had been passed from hand to hand so rapidly at the very height of the mania. Flora, they reminded their readers, had made a practice of selling herself to the highest bidder, and her price had risen constantly until it was so steep no man could afford to keep her to himself for long. Though each of her lovers was richer and more generous than the last, she ruined them all with her demands for ever more lavish proofs of their devotion. Even after she ascended to the Latin pantheon and married the west wind, Zephyr, Flora had proved incapable of mending her ways. Before long she cuckolded her new husband by dallying with Hercules.

Faithless companion, grasping mistress: perfect metaphor. In the eyes of the pamphleteers, Holland’s bulb traders were just the latest in a long line of men who had abandoned themselves to the goddess of whores, only to be betrayed by her. Many of their publications alluded to the florists’ dire financial straits and bore titles such as Flora’s Sick-bed or the somewhat more explicit The Fall of the Great Garden-Whore, the Villain-Goddess Flora. Others contained the fictional complaints of traders who had found themselves in thrall to a false and pagan idol. In one broadside a weaver speaks angrily of how Flora seduced him. In another, revealingly titled Charge Against the Pagan and Turkish Tulip-Bulbs, Flora and the other earth-spirits decree that the tulip and all other herbs and plants should return to their original places in the scheme of creation, lest plagues of vermin and foul weather be let loose on the land. The overall tone is one of bitter antagonism toward a goddess who had promised everything, yet left those foolish enough to trust her with less than nothing.

At the same time that pamphleteers were pouring forth a torrent of sarcastic verse, the first of several memorable works of art, each rich in the details of the tulip trade, appeared, revealing more about the sort of ridicule the ruined florists must have endured after the crash. It was a painting by Pieter Nolpe (which was later turned into a copper engraving by an artist named Cornelis Danckerts) ponderously entitled Flora’s Fool’s Cap, or Scenes from the Remarkable Year 1637 when one Fool hatched another, the Idle Rich lost their wealth and the Wise lost their senses. Nolpe’s work shows bulb dealers gathering in a drinking house called At the Sign of the Foolish Bulbs, which is actually a gigantic jester’s cap. The sign outside the inn shows two men fighting. In the foreground men carrying baskets and pushing wheelbarrows full of bulbs are on their way to dump the now-worthless tulips upon a dungheap; three gardeners stand and watch, while just behind them Beelzebub, armed with a fishing rod, casts about for worthless tulip contracts. In his right hand the devil holds an hourglass that indicates that the sands of time have quite run out for the tulip trade. In the background of the picture stands a derelict house, and the goddess Flora can be seen riding past on a donkey, gesturing at the members of an angry crowd to keep their distance. She is, the text below the picture explains, being driven off “for her whorish immorality.”

Similarly pointed attacks on the excesses of the bulb trade continued to appear for years afterward, so this artistic evidence supports the contention that the mania had a considerable impact—even on those who had taken no active part in it. In 1640 Chrispijn van de Passe (the same van de Passe whose Hortus Floridas had helped to establish the fashion for tulips more than twenty years earlier) engraved a famous illustration entitled “Floraes Mallewagen” (“Flora’s Fools’ Chariot”). This picture shows the goddess, drawn as a young girl in blooming health and a low-cut dress, riding a luxuriously appointed sand-yacht packed with carousing kappists dressed in jester’s caps. These allegorical figures bear labels such as “Vain hope,” “Tippler,” and “Hoard it all.” The sand-yacht itself is drawn tearing across the beach outside Haarlem and is adorned with the signs that hung outside some of the local taverns involved in the mania—the White Doublet, the Little Hen, and four or five others. An ape climbs the mast and defecates over the florists below. Flora, who is seated in state in the stern of the vessel, carries a bunch of the most sought-after tulips: Generael Bol, Admirael van Hoorn, and (of course) Semper Augustus in one hand; others, including a Gouda and a precious Viceroy, wait on the sand to be crushed beneath the sandyacht’s wheels. The contraption is heading straight for the sea, but a crowd of would-be tulip dealers run behind the yacht, desperate to join it on its short rush to destruction. They are weavers, and in their haste they are trampling underfoot all the tools of their old profession. In the four corners of his engraving, van de Passe placed small insets. One shows the bulb grower Henrik Pottebacker’s famous garden at Gouda, the others tavern-trading scenes in Haarlem and Hoorn. The central feature of his piece, the fast-moving sand-yacht, is itself a powerful metaphor for the fatal wind trade.

In the same year that van de Passe engraved his fools’ chariot, Jan Breughel the Younger painted an ambitious work titled Allegory upon the Tulip Mania. Breughel was the most influential painter of flowers to emerge during the Golden Age. Although some modern critics find his style a little stiff, his flower paintings are always vivid and enlivened by the inclusion of small details, such as insects crawling upon the leaves. Certainly the Allegory is an exceptionally lively piece, as packed with incident as any cartoon by George Cruikshank or James Gillray. Two dozen simian florists are portrayed indulging in all the rituals of the bulb trade. One points at some flowering tulips; another holds up a flower in one paw and a bag of money in the other. Behind them a group of monkeys fight over who should pay for the now-worthless bulbs, and one speculator is carried to an early grave. On the right-hand side of the picture a pair of apes share one of the florists’ traditional banquets while another is hauled before a magistrate for defaulting on his debts. In one corner a particularly disgruntled monkey urinates on a flower bed full of tulip bulbs.

These scabrous satires undoubtedly had a considerable impact. Even a hundred years later the tulip mania remained a raw and vivid scar upon the national psyche of the Dutch, and thanks in good measure to the pamphleteers and painters of the Golden Age, the very idea that bulbs could ever have been traded for colossal sums strikes many as perfectly ridiculous today. Nevertheless, the pamphlets of the mania, at least, are important not so much for what they were—ephemeral single sheets, often enough, which were illustrated with one shoddy woodcut, quickly and cheaply printed on low-quality pulp, and peddled by hawkers for a few stuivers apiece—as for the reasons they were produced. A few had been written simply to entertain; in the Dutch Republic, where literacy rates were high, pamphlets were a useful and profitable sideline for men such as Adriaen Roman, the official government printer of Haarlem. Roman, who published the three dialogues between Waermondt and Gaergoedt, could hope to sell perhaps 1,000 or 1,250 copies of a typical broadside, and bestsellers such as the Samenspraecken, which were reprinted on several occasions, could reach as many as fifteen thousand people. The majority, though, were produced specifically to influence public opinion.

Pamphlets of the latter sort were typically funded by wealthy men who lacked the literary skills to pen something of their own. Instead they paid hack writers to put their views into verse and printers to publish and distribute the results. The actual authors of these works—men such as Stephen van der Lust, a professional playwright from Haarlem who churned out four pamphlets on the mania, and Jan Soet, a satirist with a vicious pen who wrote two—were often impoverished writers who wrote in rhyme or dialogue in order to appeal to the common man. Their words were meant to be read aloud to audiences gathered in taverns and other meeting places. Their shadowy patrons, on the other hand, were generally regents and patricians who had their own very specific agendas.

A smaller number of pamphlets, on the other hand, seem to have been designed to drum up support for the old growers and connoisseurs, who had been just as horrified by the mania as the sternest critics of the bulb craze. These broadsides, which bore tellingly defensive titles such as A new song about the connoisseurs who don’t go to the tavern and because of that wish to be distinguished from the florists, attempted to show that true tulip lovers bore no responsibility for the mania and were still deserving of respect. On the whole, though, their arguments must have sounded hollow to those who looked on the whole bulb trade with horror and distaste. It was the harder-hitting and more vitriolic broadsides that were the better sellers.

While the writers and artists of the United Provinces poured scorn on those who had lost everything they owned to tulip mania, the authorities of the republic were slowly coming to terms with the problem of averting the financial catastrophe threatened by the collapse of the bulb trade.

The first difficulty was deciding who should resolve the thousands of outstanding tulip contracts. The only certainty was that the vast majority of these agreements would have to be nullified; in almost every case the would-be buyers no longer had the desire or, more importantly, the money to fulfill them. But whether the bulb contracts should be canceled on the terms proposed by the growers—10 percent of the agreed selling price—or those favored by the florists (who hoped to pay nothing) was another matter altogether.

In normal circumstances it would have fallen to the regents of each of the towns caught up in the mania to decide which proposal to accept, or to substitute a solution of their own. But so far as the governors of these cities were concerned, the mania had the makings of a particularly tricky problem, and their response was far from resolute.

In Haarlem, the town we know most about, the city council approved three separate resolutions in the space of little more than a month, proposing that disputes between florists be resolved in three different ways. The regents’ first decree, issued on March 7, annulled every transaction that had taken place within the jurisdiction of the city since the previous October, without apparently making provision for the payment of any sort of compensation to the sellers. Less than five weeks later, in a second resolution that effectively reversed the first, the city fathers ruled instead that “those persons who have bought tulips in eating-houses will be obliged to pay for their transactions.” (The councilors did not explain how thousands of nominally bankrupt florists would find the money to comply.) Then, within a week of publishing that decree, Haarlem’s regents changed their minds for a third time. On this occasion, instead of proposing yet another solution, they resolved to wash their hands of the matter. They referred the whole problem to their immediate superiors, the members of the provincial parliament, the States of Holland, sitting at The Hague, petitioning the States for a ruling and suggesting that it adopt the compromise originally suggested by the growers at their meeting of February 23.

Such indecision was quite uncharacteristic of the sober governors of Haarlem, and in all likelihood the changes in the city’s policy were the product of vociferous lobbying by the various interested parties: growers demanding the right to seek full payment, florists begging for relief. The subject must have been endlessly debated throughout the spring of 1637, with the councilors repeatedly harangued by tulip dealers anxious to press their own solutions to the problem. The frustration that they felt is illustrated by a resolution of March 17 that banned both the printing and the sale of inflammatory pamphlets on the mania and ordered the booksellers and printers of the city to surrender their stocks of the offending broadsides to be burned. The regents’ willingness to hand the matter over to a higher authority suggests they recognized the impossibility of conjuring a compromise acceptable to all.

Similar protests probably occurred elsewhere, and other Dutch cities joined Haarlem in petitioning the States of Holland to find a solution that minimized the losses to both growers and florists. By the middle of March the burgomasters of Hoorn were asking their representatives in The Hague to do what they could to speed the decision-making process. But the States, like the cities, soon realized that the tulip mania was a unique problem and one that required careful consideration. Its members had little information on which to base a solution; judging from the example of Haarlem, where only two of the fifty-four regents who governed the city in 1636–37 had any involvement in the mania, few would have participated in the bulb trade themselves, and the scant summaries of events that some cities appear to have forwarded to The Hague cannot have provided sufficient detail. The States called for further information, and while it waited, it turned its attention back to other matters.

For more than a month, then, from the middle of March to the end of April, everyone caught up in the mania—growers and florists—endured an agony of anticipation. Tulips that had been worth fortunes only a few weeks earlier were in flower throughout the United Provinces, but while they brightened the damp Dutch spring, hundreds of florists were consumed with the fear that they would be forced into bankruptcy, and thousands of agreements, worth millions of guilders, remained unsettled.

For those who had actually participated in the mania, the most pressing concern was to survive the impending financial catastrophe. But they also wanted to understand why the market had crashed. Of course, few admitted, even to themselves, that they bore responsibility for their plight. They preferred to see themselves as victims, and like victims everywhere they found explanations that exonerated them from blame.

Many came to believe that the bulb craze had been some sort of fraud. At one extreme were those who simply thought they had been cheated by their fellow florists or perhaps by the auctioneer at their college. At the other stood a smaller group of people who convinced themselves that the tulip trade was itself a conspiracy. One anonymous author suggested that the market had been created and controlled by a shadowy cabal of twenty or thirty of the richest growers and dealers, who had deliberately manipulated prices to their own advantage. How such a group could possibly have hoped to coordinate their activities across the dozen towns infected by the mania was not explained.

Blame for the mania was also placed elsewhere. The same writer who had hinted at the existence of a cabal also suggested that some of the worst excesses of the tulip trade were the result of the manipulations of bankrupts, Jews, and Mennonites, three groups that stood apart from the rest of society and thus made convenient scapegoats. Bankrupts, after all, had failed to adhere to the sacred Dutch principle of living within one’s means, been forced to account for their transgressions, and might well be looking for revenge. Jews, though considerably better treated in the United Provinces than in Germany or France, were nevertheless closely connected in the popular imagination with money lending and other forms of profiteering, and they had long been prohibited from mixing too freely with the rest of the population; the men were actively discouraged from conversing with Dutch women, and it was illegal for them to hire Christian servants. Mennonites, too, were outsiders. They were an Anabaptist sect easily distinguishable by their dress (they clothed themselves entirely in black, favoring long jackets and baggy breeches). In addition to opposing infant baptism—something the orthodox Dutch regarded as both a moral obligation and an absolute necessity at a time when child mortality was still extremely high—Mennonites were pacifists who steadfastly refused to bear arms. This made them unpopular at a time when the United Provinces was still at war with Spain.

None of these accusations stand up to scrutiny; indeed, there is no real evidence that any group—other than perhaps the tulip growers themselves—had promoted the bulb craze to further their own ends. It is true that some Mennonites had involved themselves in the mania; one, Jacques de Clerq, a merchant who traded with the Baltic and Brazil, was buying and selling tulips for as much as four hundred guilders a bulb as early as the winter of 1635. But many other members of the sect were highly critical of the tulip trade and urged those who dealt in bulbs to cease. Similarly, there were actually very few Jews in the United Provinces, and the only one known for certain to have been heavily involved in the tulip trade—the renowned Portuguese grower Francisco da Costa—appears to have been a man of unblemished reputation. As for bankrupts, even if a few had managed to squirrel a little money away from their creditors, none of the records of the time suggest that a single one played any part in the mania.

Probably only a minority of florists believed in such conspiracy theories. But a number do appear to have suspected that individual dealers had forced prices up artificially in order to maximize their profits. Price fixing was popularly supposed to be accomplished by age-old means of fake auctions. These affairs were supposedly organized by cunning traders who opened the proceedings by “selling” bulbs for record prices to their own accomplices in order to stimulate excitement and persuade others to buy at inflated rates.

A number of florists laid the blame for the mania at the feet of the growers. Some were accused of stoking up interest in tulips by selling bulbs with a guarantee that they would buy them back next year for more than they had cost. Others, it was claimed, passed off worthless vodderij as valuable bulbs. A grower from Amsterdam who was suspected of this sort of fraud is said to have tampered with the bulbs he sold, running them through with needles so as to damage them so badly they would not flower and reveal his deception. The man was eventually caught when one disgruntled purchaser made a close inspection of his tulips and discovered tiny puncture marks on the surface of the bulb.

It is perfectly possible that methods of this sort were indeed practiced upon occasion, but surely not so cynically and so regularly as to have a significant effect on bulb prices. In truth there was no need to concoct elaborate conspiracy theories to account for the excesses of the bulb craze. The greed, inexperience, and shortsightedness of the florists themselves were all that was required to turn tulip trading into tulip mania.

It was the last week of April before the Court of Holland finally concluded its review of the tulip mania. Eight weeks had passed since the growers had met at Amsterdam to propose their own solution to the crisis, three months since the collapse of the flower trade throughout the province. Yet when the learned judges of the Court returned their findings to the States, they began by admitting that they still did not fully understand what had caused the bulb craze or why things had gotten so badly out of hand.

The Court of Holland was, however, certain of one thing: It wanted as little as possible to do with the tangled and intractable wrangles thrown up by the mania. Instead, it recommended that disputes between buyers and sellers, florists and growers should be referred back to the towns to be dealt with locally wherever possible. The Court suggested that city magistrates should begin by gathering detailed information about the flower trade. Only when they had a better understanding of what had happened in their towns should they hear disputes, and while the necessary data was collected, all contracts for the purchase of bulbs should be temporarily suspended. If, in the event, there were cases that could not be dealt with at a local level, they might still be referred to The Hague; but this, it was implied, was a remote contingency. The Court’s verdict was clear: The cities should solve their problems on their own.

Presented at last with some definite suggestions, the States of Holland wasted little time in acting on them. On April 27, only two days after the Court presented its proposals, the representatives at The Hague agreed on a resolution that incorporated all the main recommendations and made them binding on the cities of the province. A letter explaining the resolution was sent by fast messenger to all the towns of Holland. Thus, by April 28, the burgomasters of each of the cities affected by the mania finally received instructions as to how to deal with the hundreds of disputes still awaiting resolution.

The key point was the Court of Holland’s suggestion that all contracts for the sale of bulbs be suspended while the mania was thoroughly investigated. As originally proposed, this recommendation was plainly intended as a temporary measure; indeed the Court acknowledged that, once they were properly informed, local magistrates might decide that the contracts signed in the colleges could be enforced. In that event, it noted, disgruntled sellers should be permitted to pursue defaulting customers for payment. Yet as it turned out, the towns involved in the bulb craze never did compile detailed information on the tulip craze as the Court requested, and no further action was ever taken at The Hague. What had been intended as an interim measure became the basis for the liquidation of the mania.

This was very good news for the florists. Most cities implemented the States of Holland’s resolution by ordering their solicitors and magistrates to have nothing more to do with the mania. In Haarlem, for example, the regents who governed the town ordered that attorneys and notaries should cease to issue writs on behalf of tulip traders, and the messengers who normally served protests and summonses were instructed not to handle any that related to the bulb craze. Similar orders were issued in Gouda and the three West Friesan towns of Enkhuizen, Medemblik, and Hoorn.

The florists of these cities who believed they had no option but to default on their obligations could now do so without fear of retribution, and hundreds of poor artisans who had more than half-expected they would be forced into bankruptcy took full advantage of this fantastic piece of good fortune. A handful of those caught up in the mania were rich and honorable enough to meet their obligations, it is true, including the Alkmaar man who had bought seven thousand guilders’ worth of bulbs from Henricus Munting and now exercised his right to pay just seven hundred guilders to cancel the contract and return the tulips to their original owner. But as the Haarlem lawyer Adriaen van Bosvelt cynically observed, honest florists were hard to find. Throughout Holland, van Bosvelt wrote, “a great number of persons [are] unwilling to pay or come to a compromise.” Even those who did offer to settle at least part of their debts did not come close to parting with the 10 percent the growers wanted. The handful who did pay a little offered no more than “one, two, three, four, yes, even five, which was the utmost, out of a hundred.”

The blanket ban on tulip cases quickly had the desired effect. Growers and florists were forced to settle their disagreements among themselves, and the regents ceased to be bothered by the fallout from the mania. But even now it was a long time before the last dispute was settled. We know that in Haarlem the process of liquidation dragged on through 1637 and for the whole of 1638, not least because some tulip traders proved more reluctant to settle their differences than the States of Holland hoped. It was probably the same in other cities.

Many of those caught up in the mania did seek their own solutions, as the regents had hoped. A large number of agreements were canceled with the consent, if not the approval, of all the parties concerned; in Alkmaar, in fact, all tulip contracts appear to have been nullified in this way. The growers did what they could to recover their losses by putting thousands of bulbs that had never been collected up for sale. (Not surprisingly, few people were still interested in buying them, but a handful of the rarer tulips did eventually sell to connoisseurs for decent sums.) The unfortunate Haarlem dyer Jacob de Block, who had been required to honor his guarantee to Geertruyt Schoudt, took his pound of unsalable Switsers off to Amsterdam in the hope of disposing of the bulbs there.

Some, though, were determined to fight for their lost fortunes. The most fortunate were those who had bought and sold bulbs in the colleges of Amsterdam, which—apparently alone among the towns caught up in the mania—still allowed tulip cases to be brought before its courts, and within a few weeks a few of the growers of the city began to take advantage of this dispensation to sue their former customers.

One of the most active litigants was Abraham de Goyer, the scion of an old regent family and a grower who kept at least two gardens: one on the Cingel, just outside Amsterdam’s Regulierspoort, and the other on the Walepadt, by the city walls. On June 10 he demanded 950 guilders from one Abraham Wachtendonck for the four bulbs of Laeten Bleyenburch and the pound of Oudenaers that Wachtendonck had purchased the previous autumn. The next day de Goyer began an action against Liebert van Acxel, who had agreed on October 1 to buy the offsets of a De Beste Juri and a Bruyn Purper for eleven hundred guilders and a Purper en Wit van Quaeckel (one of old Jan Quaeckel’s Violetten creations) for 750 guilders. In order to bolster his case, the grower asked a notary named B. J. Verbeeck to accompany him to his garden on the Walepadt, where the two men lifted all the bulbs and confirmed that the Purper en Wit van Quaeckel and the Bruyn Purper had developed two offsets apiece. De Goyer seems to have expected trouble with yet another of his other customers, since he also asked Verbeeck to confirm that he had lifted an Admirael Liefkens with one offset that he had been growing in the garden of a man named Willem Willemsz.

A few other growers with business in Amsterdam also took the opportunity to assert their rights. Hans Baert of Haarlem sought 140 guilders for the two thousand aces of Groote Gepumaseerde he had sold to Hendrick van Bergom of Amsterdam. Jan Admirael, who had gone to such lengths to persuade Paulus de Hooge to buy his bulbs, changed his tune when de Hooge failed to pay the money he owed and sought the advice of his lawyer, and Willem Schonaeus of Haarlem demanded nearly six thousand guilders from François Koster, the balance of the sum the hapless Koster owed on a substantial quantity of vodderij and a handful of piece goods he had ordered on February 3:

Four pounds of Switsers

6,000 guilders

2,000 aces of Maxen

400 guilders

1,000 aces of Porsmaeckers          

250 guilders

 

6,650 guilders

Nor did every florist accept the ban on tulip cases in cities such as Haarlem. A handful found pretexts for bringing their disputes to court in different guises. One such case got under way in November 1637: Having waited until the last possible moment before his bulbs had to be replanted in the vain hope of receiving his money, a local grower named Pieter Caluwaert knocked on the door of the merchant Jacques de Clerq and attempted to hand over the pound of Witte Croonen, two pounds of Switsers, five Oudenaers, and three Maxen that he had agreed to purchase nearly a year earlier. When de Clerq declined to accept the flowers, Caluwaert began proceedings against him, presumably on the grounds that he had refused to accept a delivery.

All in all, though, only a tiny minority of tulip cases ever found their way to court, even in Amsterdam. The reason was simple: Few of the florists possessed enough money to be worth suing. De Goyer, Admirael, and Baert sought payment from wealthy customers who possessed the means to pay their bills. The great majority of the florists who had been caught up in the mania were not so well off, though, and there would have been little point in dragging them through the courts.

Even so, there were still many who refused to tear up their tulip contracts and accept their losses. At the end of January 1638, a full year after the crash, hundreds of cases remained to be resolved. These disputes were proving highly disruptive; they soured relations between people who had once been colleagues or friends and were a constant and embarrassing reminder of the excesses of the mania. There seemed little prospect, moreover, that they would ever be resolved unless the local authorities took some further action.

On January 30, therefore, the governors of Haarlem set up an arbitration committee to consider the remaining tulip cases. Panels of this sort already existed throughout the United Provinces; the arbitrators were commonly called “friend makers,” and as Sir William Brereton discovered on his tour through Holland in 1634, they could be found in most Dutch cities and were specially chosen for their integrity and common sense. The friend makers, Brereton discovered, “had authority to call any man before them that hath any suit or controversy; they are to mediate in a friendly manner, in a way of arbitration, and are to compose and conclude differences.” They had the additional advantage that, unlike the traditional courts, they offered their services for free.

Some of the records of a similar arbitration court in Amsterdam have survived to indicate the sort of verdicts that the friend makers handed down. In one case, contested between Jan Admirael and Wilhelmus Tyberius, the rector of the Latin School at Alkmaar, the arbitrators ordered Admirael to pay Tyberius 375 guilders to settle their differences. The terms of the arbitration, though, were fairly generous; the Amsterdam grower was given ten months to come up with the money and mildly requested to let that be an end to the matter.

At first the burgomasters of Haarlem granted their friend makers only limited powers to resolve the outstanding tulip cases. The new panel, which had five members, sat at least twice each week and could subpoena witnesses who were reluctant to appear before it. But its decisions were not binding, and many warring florists proved reluctant to accept the compromises it recommended. From the surviving evidence it appears that little progress was made in working through the backlog of disputes in Haarlem.

It was only in May 1638 that the regents of the city finally took the matter properly in hand and issued—for the first time since the abortive growers’ meeting almost eighteen months earlier—definite guidelines for resolving all outstanding disputes. Buyers who wished to free themselves of their obligations, the city council ruled, could cancel their contracts by paying 3.5 percent of the original sale price. Ownership of the bulbs would then revert to the growers. This was the most affordable and workable compromise yet suggested, and the council backed it up by ruling that the friend makers’ verdicts should henceforth be binding in all cases.

The compromise meant that even florists with debts running to thousands of guilders could clear their obligations by paying a hundred guilders or less, a sum that even the poorest could pay off in installments. And while inherently unfair to the growers, it did guarantee them a minimal payment that in all likelihood covered their costs and left them little worse off than they had been before the mania erupted.

The tulip mania thus ended, as the Court of Holland had wished, not in a flurry of expensive legal actions but in grudging compromise. In the end it had been a craze of the poor and the ambitious that—contrary to popular belief—had virtually no impact on the Dutch economy. No general recession followed in its wake, and the vast majority of florists emerged from the liquidation shaken and chastened but little better or worse off than they had been before the mania began. Their paper profits and their paper losses effectively canceled each other out, and even the richest florists were never formally punished for defaulting on their obligations.

Indeed, by far the most striking thing about the handful of cases that did find their way into the hands of the lawyers of the province was that there were no celebrated trials, no verdicts, and no records of any convictions. The growers and their customers invariably settled their differences out of court. Even in Amsterdam the liquidation of the mania was not a legal matter but a process of compromise and reconciliation agreed by the florists themselves.

The last known case resulting from the bulb craze was heard in Haarlem on January 24, 1639. A grower named Bruyn den Dubbleden demanded 2,100 guilders from his customer Jan Korver, of Alkmaar, payment for a pound of Gheele Croonen at 800 guilders and two pounds of Switsers worth 1,300. No verdict is recorded. Presumably this means that den Dubbleden, like other growers, was compelled to settle at 3.5 percent, and that a contract that had been worth seven years’ wages to a Haarlem artisan only a couple of years earlier was canceled for a payment of 73 guilders 10 stuivers.

Even now a tiny minority of cases remained unsettled for reasons that have been lost to history. The hapless artist Jan van Goyen was one of the unfortunate few who continued to suffer for dabbling in the bulb trade. For the rest of his life burgomaster van Ravensteyn pursued his former customer relentlessly for the whole of the money he was owed. Van Goyen handed over one of the pictures he had promised, but he had invested almost all his available capital in tulips, and with the crash in prices he no longer had any prospect of repaying his debts. Having produced little art in the three years he had devoted to speculating in the property and bulb markets, the painter was forced to return to his easel to feed his family.

The simple pressure of earning a living for his family made it impossible for van Goyen to pay off all his debts to van Ravensteyn, and when the burgomaster died in 1641, he still had not received most of his money. Even then the artist received no respite; van Raven-steyn’s heirs continued to demand payment. The pressure on van Goyen proved so unremitting that his precarious finances collapsed into disorder, and he was forced to organize public auctions of his work on at least two occasions when he needed money in a hurry.

Jan van Goyen lived on until 1656, two decades after the collapse of the bulb craze that had ruined him, and he was still insolvent when he died. He left a substantial body of brilliant landscapes, many of which would probably never have been painted had he made his fortune in the tulip trade, and a debt that still totaled 897 guilders.

He was the last known victim of the tulip mania.

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