In Watts’ Six Degees there is a description of the great tulip craze of 1634 in the Netherlands.    One bulb fetches an extraordinary amount of value: armor, a complete bed, a ton of beer and a last of wheat and a last of rye, among other things.

It has been bugging me.  A last, acccoridng to the OED is:

2. A commercial denomination of weight, capacity, or quantity, varying for different kinds of goods and in different localities. Cf. G. last.
Originally the ‘last’ must have been the quantity carried at one time by the vehicle (boat, wagon, etc.) ordinarily used for the particular kind of merchandise. As a weight, it is often stated to be (like the Ger. weight of the same name) nominally equivalent either to 2 tons or to 4,000 lbs. In wool weight it is 4368 lbs. (= 12 sacks). A last of gunpowder is said to be 2,400 lbs. (= 24 barrels), and of feathers or flax 1,700 lbs.

The equivalence of the last of wool with 12 sacks seems to have led to an association of the word with the
number twelve. Thus a last of hides was formerly 12 dozen (also 20 dickers of 10 hides each); of beer 12 barrels; of pitch 12 (sometimes 14) barrels; of cod and herrings 12 barrels (but of red herrings and pilchards 10,000 to 13,200 fish).
As a measure for grain and malt, the last was in the 16th c. 12 quarters, but is now 10 quarters = 80 bushels.

That is one hell of a financial bubble!

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Filed under economic sociology, Network Dynamics, words

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