The Great mirror of folly now digitised

Het Groote tafereel der dwaasheid or the ‘Great mirror of folly’ as it is known in English, is a unique Amsterdam publication complied around the year 1720, by an unnamed publisher, as a record of the aftermath of the West’s first stock market crash. No two volumes of this book are the same because different ephemeral items such as the prints, songs, poetry and broadsides which proliferated that year, were gathered up into bindings of varied arrangements and contents. The resulting book is something akin to a kaleidoscopic view of the financial misadventures of Europe in the 18th century.

In the university’s copy, the image of the ‘Flora’s Fool’s cap’ is placed at the end of the volume, yet it recalls the famous tulip mania episode which occurred earlier in 1637 that saw the price of tulip bulbs rise spectacularly and then collapse, equally dramatically. This event is regarded as the first financial bubble and is satirised in the print which depicts tulip speculators arranged around a giant fool’s cap.

Another well-known image in the compilation shows the ‘Very famous island of Madhead,’ a map drawn in the shape of a fool’s head which satirises the three countries that incurred the greatest losses during the Mississippi Bubble and South Sea Bubble. England, France and the Dutch Provinces suffered devastating investor losses when these speculation schemes collapsed toward the end of 1720.

The volume contains many biting and fascinating responses to financial crises, some of these rare items can be found nowhere else. The University of Melbourne’s copy is now digitised available to explore online.

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