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Oregon Rare Books Initiative - An Entirely Reasonable Madness: The Crash of 1720 and the Great Mirror of Folly

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 4:45pm to 5:45pm

Knight Library, Browsing Room
1501 Kincaid Street, Eugene, OR

Catherine Labio - Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado at Boulder

1720 was the year of the first international stock market crash.  In Paris the value of shares in John Law's Compagnie des Indes (aka the Mississippi Company) collapsed in the spring.  In London the South Sea Bubble burst in the summer. Investors flocked to the Dutch Republic instead.  On October 6, 1720, following a riot, the magistrates of Amsterdam forbade further trading in new companies.  Within weeks an anonymous consortium of Dutch publishers published the first version of Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheid (The Great Mirror of Folly), a compilation of the many texts and images that had been published the previous months on the subject of the windhandel, or trade in wind, code for worthless shares.  The highly successful publication helped crystallize the belief that the events of 1720 had been driven by irrational beliefs and behaviors.  Economic historians have tried to dispel that myth, but fiction has long trumped fact, in part because of the success and ongoing fame of the Tafereel.  What is certain is that the publishers of The Great Mirror of Folly behaved very rationally and profitably when they created this monument to financial folly.  In the process, they also enshrined some of the metaphors and images that have been used for almost three hundred years to make sense of stock market crashes. 

Event Type

Lectures & Presentations, Presentation


Oregon Humanities Center, Clark Honors College, UO Libraries



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