In an auction held in Holland in February 1637, 99 lots of tulip bulbs fetched a staggering 90,000 guilders, more than $3.5 million in today's money. Tulipomania had reached its height, and its story is told in just one of the fascinating sections of Anna Pavord's wonderful book on this most seductive of flowers.
Pavord's passion for the flower is evident from the opening pages of the book, where she tells of scrambling across the hillsides of Crete in search of an obscure, indigenous purple tulip. The story of the discovery of this tulip leads into Pavord's extraordinary history of this beautiful, enigmatic flower. As with all the best love stories, Pavord's is told from the perspective of the object of affection--in this case, the tulip--from its adoption by the Ottoman sultans of Istanbul in the 18th century to its present cultivation by the Wakefield Tulip Society.
Along the way, incredible stories of people's investments in the flower emerge, the result, as Pavord explains, of a unique feature of the tulip. Its variegated colors are produced by a small parasitic aphid, which weakens the plant but produces its gorgeous hues. The tulipomania that gripped 17th-century Europe was a form of futures trading, as people purchased tulip bulbs at increasingly inflated prices with the hope that they would flower into the most beautiful and kaleidoscopic colors imaginable. Tulip is an extraordinary book, beautifully illustrated and offering a fascinating story of our obsession with the most ephemeral of objects. Buying tulip bulbs will never be the same again. --Jerry Brotton [via]