Letter: Don’t compare tulip mania with cryptocurrencies – Financial Times

Would you please consider changing your style guide to prohibit the use of “tulip” as a derogatory comparison for bubble-like assets such as bitcoin?

Your article (“‘Digital tulip’ or new asset class? Bitcoin’s bid to go mainstream”, Big Read, February 10) referred to “the infamously frivolous 17th-century Dutch tulip bulb mania”. But historians in recent decades have persuasively put paid to this “infamous” story. Indeed, as Professor Anne Goldgar showed in her lauded 2007 book, Tulipmania, much of the traditional tulip tale is no more than an unfounded myth.

A small group of tulip-loving collectors did apparently bid up the prices of some unique bulbs in Holland in the mid-1630s. However, no reliable sources exist to indicate what the prices fetched actually were.

In fact, most of the evidence suggests that few if any buyers actually paid up or took delivery of the bulbs that supposedly went for astronomical sums in 1637, the traditional peak of the “bubble”.

In the end, when the dust settled, there were no serious financial consequences for Holland, or the United Provinces as it was then known, nor for the tulip-loving burghers involved in the trade.

Even the tulip growers who could not sell their bulbs were at least left with beautiful flowers to adorn their houses.

Will bitcoin-holders be able to say the same? I think not.

Joseph von Zanten
Department of Political Economy
King’s College London, London WC2, UK