The Tulip Book of P. Cos


In the entire world, 43 tulip books are known to exist. They are all manuscripts, made by different illustrators, and therefore unique.

Of these books, 34 were made in the Netherlands during the first half of the seventeenth century. This period saw a rapid development of the range of cultivated tulip varieties. 'Broken' tulips, showing a flame pattern, were all the rage. We now know that these patterns were the result of a viral infection. Speculation rose in the year 1637 to an extent that bulbs were sold faster than they could grow.
Prices spiraled to a ridiculous level for bulbs of which neither buyer nor seller had seen the flower. This tulipomania got out of hand so badly that bulb growers themselves asked the government to ban the trade.

The Special Collections of Wageningen UR Library has one of the rarest of these tulip books. The tulip book of nurseryman P. Cos of Haarlem is a manuscript nursery catalogue of tulips and a small number of other flowers, published in 1637. In comparison with other tulip books, this one is special because the names of the tulips are mentioned. The most expensive one, the Viseroij, was sold for Dfl 3,000 and Dfl 4,200. Fifteen or twenty times a year salary of a schooled craftsman then. Compaired with the inflation within the real estate market over more than 3,5 centuries that would be about 2 to 3 million dollar in US dollars of today. And that in those days! For these prices at the height of the tulipomania you could buy a nice estate along the canals of Amsterdam or, at the end, be ruined for the rest of your life.

You can search more information on tulips, tulip breeding and their history in the Netherlands at the Wageningen Tulip Portal.

The correct citation of the book is:
Verzameling van een meenigte tulipaanen, naar het leven geteekend met hunne naamen, en swaarte der bollen, zoo als die publicq verkogt zijn, te Haarlem in den jaare A. 1637, door P. Cos, bloemist te Haarlem. - Haarlem : [s.n.], 1637. - 75 pl.

This book was part of the Krelage Collection. This former private library also contained numerous tulipomania pamphlets ridiculing the craziness of this speculative trade.

Contents of the tulip book

The manuscript contains 54 gouaches of tulips, followed by 12 added drawings of tulips some by [Pieter] Holsteijn the Younger and Pieter Schagen, 7 watercolours of carnations and 2 drawings of other flowers.

For most tulips, names are written at the bottom of the illustration with the same paint. For some tulips, names are indicated by a riddle, a drawing or a rebus. Later on the weight and the prices for which the bulbs were sold was added with a more modern pen. The weight of each bulb is given in 'aasen', an aas being 0,048 gram. Prices are given in guilders. Small bulbs were sold by the 500 or 1000 aasen. 17 tulips have the same prices and weight mentioned as some of those on the list of the auction at February 5th in Alkmaar for the orphans of Wouter Bartelmiesz. Winckel.

The virtual tulip book

If you want to take a look at the beautiful pictures from this unique manuscript, you can leaf through the book, or use the contents list(not actually present in the book).

mail icon Wageningen Digital Library, 31 August, 2007