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The Nature of the FutureAgriculture, Science, and Capitalism in the Antebellum North$
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Emily Pawley

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226693835

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226693972.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 15 October 2021

Coining Foliage into Gold

Coining Foliage into Gold

Chapter:
(p.103) 5 Coining Foliage into Gold
Source:
The Nature of the Future
Author(s):

Emily Pawley

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226693972.003.0006

Chapter Five examines the workings of future storytelling, focusing on the mulberry bubble of the late 1830s. During this period, mulberry trees became a focus of financial speculation, not only through the networks of improvement, but also throughout U.S. financial centers. Speculators aspired to create a future empire of silk production, before prices plummeted. This chapter challenges the suggestion that such moments are deviations from normal, rational capitalism. Rather “manias” offer a chance to examine structures of credibility creation. The chapter sets the multicaulis mania in the global context of repeated silk fevers, then follows the particular variety Morus Multicaulis through global botanical networks into the networks of improving print culture. It connects the rise of the tree to the Panic of 1837 and shows how features of the variety itself, its leaf size and its easily calculable reproduction sustained forms of speculation, justified by new calculations about the nature of national consumption. Eventually, rising tree prices became their own justification, a rise punctured by a larger banking collapse. The chapter questions the retrospective justifications that sort successful attempts to create futures from those that fail, judging the first as rational and the second as fevered.

Keywords:   silk, mulberries, speculative bubbles, speculation, Panic of 1837, botanical gardens, nurserymen

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