Peculiar Facts From 500 Years of Finance

Posted on May 30, 2014 | AAII Journal

Lesser-known but notable events that not only have led us to the present day, but also had an impact beyond the financial markets.

If you are like most people, you learned history in classes that largely covered facts related to dates, places, and people…and you probably couldn’t wait until the school bell rang.

Sadly, children’s exposure to history is often framed in a way that is less interesting and engaging than it could be, and it robs students of a curiosity about the past that could benefit their own future by understanding the richness of the human experience.

When it comes to the intersection of the financial markets and human history, there is a kaleidoscope of tales drawn from centuries of market mischief, mishaps and mayhem. This article reveals a few less-known but notable events drawn from the past half-millennium that might pique your own interest in the rivers of time that have led us to the present day.

You are probably acquainted with the fabled “tulipmania” that gripped Holland during the early 1600s. What most people don’t know is that two viruses played central roles in this drama.

The tulip bulbs themselves were classified into three groups: the single-colored, the multi-colored, and the “bizarres.” This last category is most important, as bizarres were the rarest and most sought-after tulip. The reason these unusual flowers came about was due to a virus that interfered with the plant’s ability to create a uniform color on the petal. It is today known as a “breaking” virus, since it breaks the plant’s lock on a single petal color without killing the plant. The effect on the flower was striking, producing mosaic-like flames of color on each petal. Of course, the Dutch of the time knew nothing of such things; they merely took a strong liking to these rare and unusual flowers.

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