In this special four-part podcast series, Richard Lummis and myself consider business leadership from a different angle, that of great economic disaster. This podcast series was inspired by the Great Courses series of lectures entitled, Crashes and Crisis: Lessons form a History of Financial Disasters, hosted by Professor Connel Fullenkamp. In this podcast series, we will consider the Dutch Tulip Bubble from the 1630s, the South Sea Bubble of 1720, the Mississippi Bubble of 1720 and the 1907 Panic. Today we begin with the Dutch Tulip Bubble.

Tulips had been imported into what became the United Provinces of Holland in the late 1500s from Turkey. They became quite fashionable with the smart set at the time (i.e. royalty and the aristocracy) and by the early 1630s prices in Holland were already quite high. Then two things happened to create the bubble of 1634-1637. First the small group of tightly knit Dutch traders who bought and sold tulips were overrun by speculators.

Second and perhaps more significantly, a type of formal futures market was created where contracts to buy bulbs at the end of the season were bought and sold, beginning in mid-1636. But this market was sanctioned or regulated as their trades were not made on formal Dutch exchanges. Different groups of traders began to meet together in taverns where they did not have to put much money down and the contracts were not legally enforceable. This significantly lessened any downside in not getting carried away in bidding.

Traders were required only to pay a 2.5% “wine money” fee, up to a maximum of three guilders per trade. Neither party paid an initial margin, nor a mark-to-market margin, and all contracts were with the individual counterparties rather than with the Exchange. The entire business was accomplished on the margins of Dutch economic life, not in the Exchange itself.