Often the tulips themselves were never even seen and were still in the ground. (Unlike bitcoin, of course, they had the potential to actually exist.) The tulip craze snowballed, attracting ever-higher prices and ever more investors wanting a piece of the action.
Like the investment and housing bubbles that would surface - and burst in their investors' faces - centuries later, the craze didn't last. In the last few months of 1637, a few investors began to sober up, concerned that the high prices could not be sustained. They cashed out their stocks, and soon others did the same; within weeks the tulpenwoede collapsed like a house of cards.
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The prices plummeted so quickly that tulips bought one day and delivered the next would be refused on the grounds that they were now worth 1/3 less than what they paid for them the previous day.
Panicked investors, from noblemen to farmers, who had invested their life's fortunes in tulips were left holding stores of tulips that were now worth a fraction of what they paid - if they could find a buyer. Many were financially ruined, and the whole fiasco became an infamous textbook case of investment speculation gone awry.