In an auction held in Holland in February 1637, 99 lots of tulip bulbs fetched a staggering 90,000 guilders, more than six million pounds in today's money. Tulipomania had reached its height, and its story is told in just one of the fascinating sections of Anne 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, as she scrambles across the hillsides of Crete in search of an obscure, indigenous purple tulip, whose discovery leads into Pavord's extraordinary history of this beautiful yet enigmatic flower. As with all the best love stories, Pavord's is told from the perspective of the tulip, from its adoption by the Ottoman sultans of Istanbul, including the downfall of Ahmed III in 1730, so indulgent was his desire for the flower, to the present cultivation of the flower by the Wakefield Tulip Society.
Along the way incredible stories of people's investment in the flower emerge, the result, as Pavord explains, of the unique feature of the tulip. Its variegated colours are produced by a small parasitic aphid, which weakens the plant, but produces its gorgeous colours. The Tulipomania which 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 colours imaginable. The 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