Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheid – The Great Mirror of Folly

Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheid – The Great Mirror of Folly

To understand the Tafereel is a journey into history, greed and consequences. It is a key book on the folly of following speculative financial trends and a lesson that resonates through time. It is also a treasure hunt for any collector fortunate enough to own a copy, as each volume is unique with different combinations of text, engravings and collation of contents.

Mississippi map, Detail - Het Groote Tafreer der DwaasheidFor me, the Tafereel represents a modern day parable. While taking my Executive MBA at Ottawa University (1998 -2000), the module on The Fundamentals of Corporate Finance was taught by a visiting professor, Prof. Dominique Jacquet, of the University of Paris. We covered the fundamentals of free cash flow and value. He taught us how to see the real value of a company based on its fundamentals. In his lectures and discussion he also demonstrated “bubbles” and how the fundamentals can be fatal if ignored for too long. The tulip mania and the Mississippi bubble were covered. He demonstrated that many of the fundamentals in the then current High Tech bubble were flawed.

I had enrolled as a private student in the course (I paid my own way!) unlike 70% of the class, that were “sponsored” (paid for) by the High Tech industry, chief amongst them managers from various levels at Nortel Networks. This was at the height of the High Tech bubble in Ottawa (1999) and the demand from these companies for MBA training led to our group being split in two with classes meeting on alternate days. High Tech ruled with class stock pools (Nortel being a main item) and talk of the next big thing dominating discussions. (And yes I too lost some $5000 on a speculative play on the stock of one of my team mates.) We all know the story. The bubble collapsed taking Ottawa’s largest High Tech employer Nortel Networks and many others within a few short years. Many of my classmates were suddenly unemployed.

We have only owned our copy of the Tafereel for a few short months and are just now starting to learn about it. We have learned that the text of the Tafereel, like the prints, enjoyed an organic growth with each surviving copy representing a snapshot in the bibliographical publishing history of the volume.

We believe that our copy was most likely printed in the 1740’s, Owing to the following factors:

  • The paper that the text is printed on and the plates themselves are all thin and match paper from the 1730’s – 1740’s. Later copies were printed on thicker paper.
  • The text is complete for Parts One – Four, but lacks Part Five completely. As the binding is contemporary Part Five was never bound in.
  • The binding is contemporary, has never been restored and is consistent with the first half of the Eighteenth Century.
  • The title page is in the Second State of four.
  • The prints are of various sizes with the larger “super plates” bound along a central fold, indicative of a copy in between a late and early state.
  • Plates 26 and 29 are cut and pasted onto a folio sheet (middle state) as later copies had the four images printed on a single sheet.
  • The engravings are for the most part strong fresh impression

Finally, we speculate, that the inclusion of the supplemental plates of James III the Old Pretender as well as the map of the Mississippi all point to this copy being prepared for someone in the Court in Exile. Based in Avignon, France from 1715 onward, James III was a big promoter of the Mississippi scheme, among the major French investors in the Mississippi bubble.

We should note that many copies of the Tafereel referenced in our research did not contain the Mississippi map. Rare Book Hub lists two maps at auction in 2008 and 2010. We believe that our copy is of particular interest as the map is a superb impression on wide margined paper. We also invite you to check out the copy available on the Yale University website.

While identical to our copy in many ways we believe it to be a slightly later copy given the strength of the engravings. This of course only scratches the surface on the history of our particular copy and we invite those with greater experience in the Tafereel to view the archived photographs and help increase our understanding of our particular volume.

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