Fine Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori
Tulipomania blooms in art & antiques
Every year, the mildly fragrant tulip announces the coming of spring. Tulips are celebratory in their form and suggest some historically-interesting symbolism regarding prosperity. Botanist Carolus Clusius brought the first tulip bulbs from Constantinople, Turkey, to Leiden, the Netherlands, in 1593. Originally used in medical research experiments, the exotic flower sparked great economic and social interest. High-priced sales of tulips and their onion-shaped bulbs spread throughout Europe. Tulipomania resulted as well-to-do Dutchmen developed a taste for the buds and the bulbs as a luxury item. Some socialites regarded the precious bulbs as even too valuable to plant.
By the 1630s, both the tulips' popularity and price had increased significantly. Even expensive property and other transactions took place all in the pursuit of tulips. The flower served as a status symbol reflecting a taste for the expensive.
Tulip imagery and iconography suggested luxury in the history of art and antiques. In art or antiques, tulips are the flowers that may have once adorned the beloved objects found in a king's mansion or a duke's manor house.
Privileged petal. Since the late 1500s, the tulip has been the flower of the privileged. Following Rembrandt and Vermeer, many Dutch baroque painters such as Rachel Ruysch, Willem de Heem, and others painted floral still lifes featuring tulips for a new breed of art collectors. At international auctions, this type of 17th century floral art commands six figures from collectors. Today, the favorite flower of the Dutch helps promote Holland's tourist industry and gives art and antique lovers a recognizable image to look for when seeking out great pieces.
Tulip motifs can be found on many diverse antiques: Tiffany lamps, colonial appliqué quilts, Newcomb pottery, trinket boxes—an 18th century example recently sold for $5,000—tollware, barn door hinges, etc. A tulip's appearance in the history of art and decorative art, that is antiques, says high status and high style.
Close to home. In American antiques and vintage objects, tulipomania took place as the flower became popular with collectors. Americans' interest in tulips peaked in the 19th century as images of tulips could be found on historic birth certificates, or frakturs, blanket chests, and functional redware vessels. Tulips decorated these pieces as an indication of the owner's wealth or as signs of the hope for achieving a life of privilege.
In the 20th century, tulips extended prosperity symbolism to American GI s and their young families after World War II. In the historic suburban Levittown, the tulip form decorated wrought iron porch railings, kitchen tables, and mailboxes. For vintage 1950s style object collectors, tulips were the decorative elements of choice for Hull cookie jars (values to $1,200), Blue Ridge china ($75 per plate), and embroidered café curtains ($20 per pair).
Flowers and finances. Even early 21st century banks embrace the tulip image. As a logo, the prosperous tulip icon is often chosen to represent savings and financial institutions. The icon subliminally indicates wealth to a bank's customers. So if you want to collect antiques and prosper, look for the sign of luxury—look for the tulip. Happy spring!
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, award-winning TV personality, and TV talk show host, Dr. Lori presents antiques appraisal events nationwide and on luxury cruises worldwide. Seen on The Tonight Show, also watch Dr. Lori on the Fine Living Network and on the national TV morning show Daytime, weekdays on Atlanta’s ABC 2 WSB-DT at 9 am, Tampa’s NBC 8 at 10 am, and Jacksonville’s CW 17 at 6 am. Visit www.DrLoriV.com, become a fan at www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori, or call 888-431-1010.
American redware pottery
vessel with incised tulip motif, circa 1840.